Deliberately different, by design: the Tecknuovo growth story
Over the past 20 years, a wave of alternative business models has shaken up a range of sectors that were all too set in their traditional ways. Online shopping disrupted retail. Software gurus disrupted music. Smartphone apps disrupted cabs. The list goes on.
As this wave of disruption continues, no industry can afford to cling on to stagnant practices of the past – and consulting is no exception.
Why have we set our sights on this industry as ripe for reshaping? Read on…
Tecknuovo is hardwired with the uncompromising, values-driven ethos of our CEO and co-founder Gus Sargent. A prodigious networker, Gus spent his early career channelling that flair at a leading London recruitment company, achieving results that far exceeded expectations. “After I started in 2010,” he says, “I quickly became their fastest-growth graduate. I got up to around 20 runners and, within a couple of years, was generating over £1,000,000 in annual gross profits for the business. That’s recruitment nirvana – it doesn’t happen very often.”
He recalls: “When I left, I had 70 contractors out with my clients, providing significant revenue. I’d built up a network of superb, ethical, values-driven people and, because of my results, the company let me work in my own bubble. So, it may have looked like a strange decision to quit. But there was a huge gulf between the values of the people in my own network and the general character of the recruitment industry itself.”
Gus then launched a tech consultancy and served as head of its e-commerce and payments practice – but soon spotted an opportunity to do recruitment his own way, with the help of a familiar face. “Our co-founder Kieran Blackstone was my good friend at university,” he says. “As well as being a recruiter, he’s also quite technical. I called him up and he was interested in working with me. We began trading on 1 July 2015, and that was the start of Tecknuovo.”
In its earliest incarnation, Tecknuovo targeted the nascent DevOps market. This was the company’s first foray into being Deliberately Different. “There was only one other company in London that was focusing on DevOps,” Gus says, “and we came up with a simple strategy: blend in. We were never the jackets and ties-type, but we moved even further away from that. We became very embedded in the tech Meetup scene, running events and making contact with brilliant engineers who we ended up placing with our clients. We were the nice guys – part of the crowd. No three-piece suits.”
In its first four years, Tecknuovo’s annual turnover followed an impressive, upward curve:
However, Gus was concerned that the company wasn’t meeting its full potential. “We’d got to 20 recruiters,” he says, “but it was difficult to see how we could dramatically scale the business in that specific form.” Kieran added, “The more that we were working for the end clients the more we understood the typical frustrations of consultancies and the fact that we were just feeding into this model.
We were being engaged at the end of the consulting period quite a lot of the time, and we often had the challenge that we were being asked to find a unicorn skillset on a budget that didn’t fit the requirements. Instead, we needed to work with the end client to educate on building capabilities within their businesses; we started to bring on skilled contractors to pair with the permanent hires who had the right attitude and aptitude but not all the experience. And we found this worked really well.”
Gus continued, “This brought us to a fork-in-the-road moment: either do something radically different to recruiting, or just become like everyone else. Which was basically, hire in the three-piece suits and start cold-calling, mail-shotting and crunching spot business, because you don’t care about the client – all you’re focused on is sales and driving margin.”
The latter, Gus stresses, was antithetical to his entire worldview. “My whole ethos,” he says, “is that every single client interaction has to be of incredible value. If you call me for the 100th time on any given day, I’ll treat you like you’re the most important person in my life – and I’ll be every bit as alert to your needs as I was in your first call. That was the approach of the business I’d built – but it just wasn’t scalable in the pure-play recruitment space.”
“The conversation we had,” Kieran explained, “Was how we could create a new type of technology consultancy that was all about value for the client.? How do we leverage our network to provide the maximum benefit?
The answer, we realised, is to simultaneously solve their today's problem, which is the complex delivery, and tomorrow's problem, which is how they’re going to run everything after the project has finished.
Year of renewal
One of these key pieces – carried out over eight months in 2020 – was to help HMRC design, build and launch a vital, new infrastructural system for managing supply-chain logistics in the wake of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.
Prior to that watershed, goods from the EU had passed through UK borders frictionlessly. In the post-transition world, HMRC would be responsible for applying an entirely new set of checks and security protocols to goods arriving from the EU. Yet to enable the smooth flow of trade, it was essential for those processes to be just as frictionless. In partnership with HMRC, Tecknuovo scoped and delivered the suite of technologies that would make that work: the greenfield Goods Vehicle Movement Service (GVMS).
An ambitious project of a scale and complexity unlike anything Tecknuovo had previously attempted, the GVMS required the company to optimise the inherent talent-sourcing skills that had seen it through its recruitment years. The set-in-stone transition date of 1 January 2021 presented an immovable deadline and, compounding the pressure, the project took off at the very same time as the COVID-19 pandemic. Plugging into its inbuilt networking power, Tecknuovo mobilised a 40-strong, multidisciplinary team of external, technical contractors to develop a system capable of processing the high volumes of data that the new goods checks would require.
Completed weeks ahead of schedule, resulting in savings for HMRC, this sweeping overhaul of UK border procedures enabled Tecknuovo to redefine itself as a force for transformation – a shift of identity that has propelled the company through subsequent change initiatives at client partners such as Virgin Media O2, the Department for Work and Pensions, David Lloyd Clubs, British Council, and Thames Water.
Year five- £23.5m
Facing the unexpected
Reflecting on the HMRC project, Gus says it embodies a key promise that has underscored all of Tecknuovo’s transformation engagements: “Deliver every time. Whenever the client needs us, we deliver on the timelines they want us to meet – and better. If we say we’re going to have 40 people landing on site on a specific date, they’re all going to be there, and they’re all going to be of a certain quality and calibre. We’re going to do everything we can to set them up for success in relation to the desired outcomes, and in line with the agreed delivery cadence and governance processes.”
In terms of how Tecknuovo’s HMRC team dealt with the coronavirus challenge at a point when the pandemic was still relatively new, Gus explains: “We had to completely change the on-site working arrangements to fit around COVID. For example, to comply with the client’s security rules, external suppliers are required to use HMRC laptops. So, we had our team arriving in threes and fours so they could maintain social distancing, go up to the workspace in separate lifts, pick up their laptops and commence. Within a week, we’d adapted a process we’d never even designed before to ensure it was COVID secure.”
Gus notes: “On the morning of the start date, one gentleman on the team experienced some anxiety because of the COVID situation and was reluctant to go on site. We explained to him all the ways in which we had reworked the arrangements and he felt comfortable enough to attend. Everyone on the team landed when they were meant to, and the individual who’d expressed those concerns was highly successful on site.”
As a result of the pivot, Tecknuovo’s annual revenue for 2020 trebled that of 2019. Revenues for 2021 and 2022 are forecast at £40m and £70m respectively. The scale that Gus had sought is ramping up in real time – highlighting the wisdom of the company’s departure from the conformity of the recruitment scene.
Crucially, Tecknuovo’s capabilities ensure that its client projects are not simply ‘one and done’ interventions, but self-sustaining endeavours in which a 360-degree attention to detail yields lasting transformational impact.
For example, in its work with a Telecomms client – which focused on the phased upgrade of an online customer service platform – Tecknuovo’s delivery team introduced product mapping, A-B testing and validation techniques that enabled the client to iterate the new system strictly in line with data gathered from user journeys. This meant that any further tweaks would respond to the realities of customers’ experiences, rather than the preconceptions of stakeholders – keeping the platform malleable for future enhancements geared entirely to the demands of the client’s audience.
That iterative spirit also drives Tecknuovo’s facility for securing buy-in around the whole concept of transformation among clients’ senior leadership teams. As Tecknuovo’s people and operations director Wayne Palmer explains, the company’s approach draws heavily on the power of storytelling. "The difficulty in obtaining client buy-in is that everyone has a very different set of objectives and priorities depending on how their organisation is structured." He says “So, in most cases, you need a unifying message that takes into account everyone's unique needs, wants, and aspirations for the transformative endeavour they are undertaking."
For example, Wayne notes, "I've seen this with several different telco companies that were attempting large-scale transformations. He says “While operating at different levels of complexity, they took a very similar approach in terms of attempting to create a compelling narrative that drove each transformation. One organisation used an intrapreneurship model; essentially bringing an entrepreneurial mindset to an established organisation, where they attempted to create a bottom-up insurgency within a Centre of Excellence (CoE). By adopting a very experimental agile-based way of working that was completely isolated from the rest of the organisation, they needed to develop mechanisms of interacting with the larger organisation around them. The only way we were able to do so was by creating a deep narrative about what we were trying to achieve, and reinforcing it with each piece of work entering the CoE on a case-by-case basis." As a result, the CoE moved from being one that no one wanted to fund to one that safeguarded hundreds of millions of pounds of investment in less than 18 months."
That methodology, Wayne points out, has a wider strategic purpose. “By using the building blocks and elements of a conventional story, we developed a narrative that offered a simple mechanism to comprehend the project and its goals immediately, regardless of your technical expertise."
For those and other reasons, Gus believes that Tecknuovo is ideally positioned to transform not only its clients’ systems, but the wider consulting industry. “We’re smaller, we’re agile and we’re adaptable,” he says. “But on a wider level, the gap in the market for us is that there’s a fatigue around how large consultancies deliver outcomes. More often than not, they don’t have enough people, or access to talent. But one of our core principles is that it’s not technologies, but the right people, who are fundamental to successful transformations. So, we approach the whole process with a very different mentality.”
Gus also emphasises that scenarios in which consulting companies lock on to clients for years at a time, in what amount to parasitic relationships, are completely anathema to Tecknuovo’s values.
“Our entire service offering is zero-dependency,” he says. “When you work with us as a partner client, part of what you buy is our exit point. So, we are very honest with our clients. If we think you’re about to go down a rabbit hole, we’ll advise against it. Most consulting firms won’t – because the client’s about to create them three-or-four years’ worth of road, and a salesperson is about to make a massive commission.”
He notes: “We don’t hire any salespeople on commission. In fact, we don’t have any salespeople at all. Our model is that we hire and deploy transformation specialists as our engagement leads – people who have been the buyers, understand what the clients are trying to achieve and can work with them to deliver on those objectives. But no one at Tecknuovo takes a commission.”
Hitting the Teck Bar
As Tecknuovo’s new incarnation has crystallised, so too has its values system – which the company frames as five, key character traits:
- Make genuine connections
- Have the courage to act
- Embrace the pace
- Move information freely
- Be curious, always
So, as Tecknuovo’s delivery teams are comprised of external contractors rather than in-house staff, how does the company ensure that individual team members will work in line with those values? Gus explains: “We have an associate network, which we’ve built with the skills that served us in recruitment. The assessment process for our associates naturally includes technical tests – but there are values-based ones, too. Are you enjoyable to work with? Are you dedicated? And crucially, can you work in multi-supplier environments? If we can’t get along with other suppliers, the game’s up – we’ll never be bought again.”
He notes: “Our associate model gives us a huge, pre-vetted talent pool of values-driven individuals to tap into. These people are motivated by a desire to help. If you have a systems launch happening over the weekend, you won’t even have to ask if they’d mind turning up – they’d want to be there anyway. If the client throws in a few grads or apprentices from their side, our associates will take them under their wing. No matter how good you are on the technical side, if that’s not your underlying character, you’re not going to deliver the quality of outcomes we want our clients to experience.”
As such, Gus says: “When we’ve approved you as a Tecknuovo associate, you’ve hit what we call the "Teck Bar.”
Speedboats v oil tankers
Looking ahead, then, what’s Gus’s ambition for Tecknuovo? “In the medium term,” he says, “we want to be the Number One delivery-based consultancy in the UK. In the industry as a whole, we’re still not on many people’s radars. But we’re punching well above our weight, and we’ve got some amazing case studies. Given our agility, responsiveness and ability to scale up and down fast according to our clients’ needs, we think of ourselves as a flotilla of speedboats, compared to the oil tankers of the big consulting firms. And what some of our internal people, like Wayne, are doing is driving us to a more strategic place.”
In terms of how that strategy links with Tecknuovo’s nous for networking, Wayne explains: “One of the things Tecknuovo aims to do is preserve what we call dynamism, or a dynamic operating model, which we'll be fighting hard to retain as we rapidly scale. Whatever market opportunities that are brought to us, we remain in a position to flex and adapt considerably more quickly than any of our competitors. As a result, not only do we succeed, but so do our clients. If there are problems to be solved, we'll be in a position to find that solution by approaching the problem differently.”
He adds: “Our associate model by nature allows for bespoke teams of experts in their field to be brought together and quickly accomplish any problem for the client. They are independent, not just in terms of being our associates, but also in terms of the way they think and their thought patterns, as well as the emotional intelligence they bring to a situation. Our associates are chosen for a reason: they are specialists in their fields. We want to take in all that wonderful knowledge and create the correct architecture, delivery pattern, quality assurance approach, and solutions.”
Designing the future
Alongside the push to widen its footprint in the consulting sector, Tecknuovo is eager to secure a reputation as a great place to work – another ambition that hinges on their ethical outlook. Gus explains: “When you go into a business that has its values on the wall in neon writing, but no respect for them among the staff, you can sense the disconnect straight away. It’s never just one thing that forces someone to leave a company. It’s always 100 little factors – from how the appraisal or holiday systems work to the way bosses talk to employees. All those tiny things build up over time, and can wear people down.”
However, he points out: “There’s a way of designing and rewarding work, and treating staff, that doesn’t actually feel like work. If you can create a business that lives its values, has the right working patterns and trusts everyone to do a great job – where everyone knows why they're there and understands how they can grow and contribute to the greater good – then you’ve got awesome organisational design. We want to be the sort of business where clients and other consulting companies look at us and say, ‘Wow – we want to operate like that.’”
An energised workforce will be key for fuelling Tecknuovo towards its longer-term goals. “Going global is a serious consideration,” Gus says. “In five years’ time, we may think, ‘We haven’t even started yet – let’s crack the Asia-Pacific.’ But we’ll have to be at the top of the market. For me, it’s not about the cash – but the challenge. And I would like to achieve what most people think is impossible. Why not? That sounds like fun to me.”