Constructive Disruption: A Fresh Alternative to the Expert Consulting Model

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Written by David Clemens

In the fast paced environment of Washington there is often a need to hire additional staff at a moment’s notice. Often times, however, this need is slowed by the constraints of the classic consulting model where big firms and big retainers are the norm. To this point there has yet to be an “uberization” model successfully applied to consulting, until now.

Enter Dūcō. In Latin Duco means to lead or guide. The website gives users access to 200+ individual experts who provide consultation services at an efficient price. The current roster sports experts from more than 15 countries and in dozens of U.S. cities specializing in everything from geopolitics to energy. The response time for service is equally noteworthy, 96% of Dūcō’s experts say they can get on a call within 12 hours.

The Dūcō model is unique in that it facilitates short-term business consultations faster and cheaper than any other current consultant model. The revenue model is also just as simple: experts choose their hourly rates and Dūcō takes a small admin fee. This low-cost approach is an appealing alternative to the current consulting model, which relies on high retainers, project fees, and overtime—usually designed to cover the expense that comes with covering the pricy overhead of traditional brick-and-mortar firms.

Wendy Anderson, a Dūcō expert and the former Chief of Staff to Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, explains: “Like every other industry, expert consulting needs to move into the 21st century. People want to have a world-class level of service at their fingertips.”

Future plans for Dūcō include moving beyond consultative phone calls into basic business consultation products (feasibility studies, and market entry plans) and other services. In a year, Dūcō seeks to be the go-to hub for expertise on global trends. Further down the road the company seeks to offer multiple consulting services based on its bench of experts available to access global intelligence.

The ultimate goal is to be known as a clearinghouse; think of it as the “OpenTable” of consulting. Existing consulting firms will also have a presence on the site as they too can become members, resulting in increased business to them as well.

The concept of Dūcō is the brainchild of CEO Sidney Olinyk and COO Alicia Sloan. Sidney’s career in Washington, DC spans national security, foreign policy, and leadership development—from the Pentagon to civil society to Washington’s startup community. She served at the Department of Defense as an Obama Administration political appointee and has private sector experience including serving as the Vice President for Sayara International. She also was as the first employee at the Washington, DC startup, Measure, the leading Drone as a Service company.

Co-founder Alicia also has a decade of national security experience, advising policymakers through her work for the Intelligence Community, the Department of Defense, and Capitol Hill. Her work and analysis on the Middle East has garnered praise from senior policymakers and awards, including one by the CIA as one of the top foresight products of 2015. She is also a recipient of Meritorious Unit Citations from the Director of National Intelligence and the Director of the CIA. Alicia speaks Arabic, French, and Spanish and has lived in Amman, Damascus, Mexico City, and Paris, all of which contribute to her methodology of approaching complex questions in foreign affairs.

The two met six years ago through the Truman National Security Project in Washington, DC, where both are still security fellows. A few years later they reconnected at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where Sidney was serving as the Chief of Staff for Middle East Policy. Both have gained an extensive global network through their careers and time living abroad while meeting hundreds of high ranking government and military officials, entrepreneurs and C-suite executives, renowned professors, and other leading thought leaders. It was only natural to start a business that put their vast network to good use.

We met Dūcō’s co-founders in Washington, DC and asked them about their business and what’s next. Here is what they had to say. [This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

What was the impetus for starting Dūcō?

One day—a typical day—our inboxes were full of a dozen requests for introductions to experts in our network.  We made a joke, which actually identified the problem: is this really how senior professionals and global companies connect with experts in the 21st century?  People also pay consultants, sometimes tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars a month, for connections; or they use Google and LinkedIn—which don’t vet experts and aren’t built for transactions so they don’t guarantee a response.

In an era when everything is on-demand, there was no way to connect with vetted experts for global intelligence.  It’s a very simple idea: in a few clicks, you can directly connect with a former White House official or three-star general.  Never before have these types of individuals been so accessible. We built a system so that the world can tap into our rolodex—no retainer, no account manager.

What are the startup challenges in a scene like Washington? Is Washington a good city for women entrepreneurs? Why Washington and not Silicon Valley or another tech-friendly town?

We think of ourselves as a global company more than a Washington-based company.  We already have experts in more than 15 countries and in dozens of U.S. cities.  But our headquarters is in Washington, and so are many of our experts.  Being in Washington has allowed us to focus on our “supply”—scaling very impressive experts.  That has been a huge benefit.  We will likely open offices in Silicon Valley and in a few other global hubs at some point, but considering our networks and resources, Washington has been a good place to start.

Being female entrepreneurs in Washington doesn’t feel much different than sitting around a conference table full of men at the Pentagon.  National security and the tech industry are male dominated and most days, you just get to work—you don’t have time to overanalyze it.  We are both proud feminists, Alicia has two daughters, and are we grateful that it’s easier to be professional women today than it was for our mothers.  We want to be part of this progress and hope the momentum doesn’t slow down.  Everyday our mission is to make the biggest impact we can and we lean on women and men who support us.

Neither one of you has a tech background. How did you overcome the tech hurdle?

Correct: we do not have developer backgrounds and it’s in everyone’s interest that we don’t start trying! Kristian Bouw and Mike Keung are essentially our fantastic CTOs and we work with them everyday.  The hurdle for non-techies is to find your Kristians and Mikes—they take our vision and translate that into code.  We stay plugged into and learn from tech trends and on-demand products, and they redirect us if we don’t fully grasp a technical concept.

Is Washington’s old-fashioned consultancy model ready for disruption?

When I was interviewing an executive at a Fortune 500 company for our market research, she told me that if she needs a ride to get across town, she can be staring at a taxi but will still use her phone to call an Uber. She doesn’t want to deal with the hassle of the transaction—explaining where she’s going, pulling her credit card out of her purse, etc. She prefers using Uber’s technology—it’s quicker, more accurate on route and pricing, and she likes getting that electronic receipt because it’s easier to reimburse.

Now apply this sentiment to what we’re doing: we facilitate short-term business consultations faster and cheaper than any current business model.  Our revenue model is simple and runs like a micro-market: experts choose their hourly rates and we take a cut.  This low-friction, low-cost approach will be an appealing alternative to the current business consulting model, which is based on retainers, long-term contracts, and project fees.

What are some services that Dūcō provides, which fall outside of the traditional consulting role? 

Remunerated phone calls are our signature product.  How many times have people asked to “pick your brain”?  Folks will still do that for friends (and friends of friends), but at some point, whether it’s a cold-email, or a comment on your Twitter feed, people are going to want to respond, “Sure, but schedule a call with me through Dūcō.”

What area’s/topics are Dūcō’s strong suit? 

Quality:  We provide vetted experts—some of the most impressive professionals in their fields.  We have incredibly knowledgeable experts on geopolitical issues in Russia, China, the Middle East, and on cyber security, energy, and defense—to name a few.

Speed: 96% of our experts say they could get on a call within 12 hours.

Finally, technology has enabled us to automate and streamline processes, so in addition to being quick, we have lower overhead so are also significantly more affordable.

Fill in the blanks: if money was not an issue I would love to do ___________ with the company.

We have a number of technical upgrades we are eager to implement and are eager to meet investors willing to help us achieve our vision.

Editor’s Note: Diplomatic Courier is partnering with Dūcō’s experts to produce a special edition on foreign policy issues in a Trump administration and what to expect in the first 100 days. The edition will be released on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017.

Photo: Founders Sidney Olinyk and Alicia Sloan introduce Dūcō to General James Jones.