Human Resources

Toptal: A new "machine assisted" frontier for management consultants?

“It sounds ridiculous,” says Saalim Chowdhury CTO and co-founder of Skillbridge, which was acquired by Toptal at the start of April, “but I genuinely believe Toptal will become competition for McKinsey and Accenture [in future]”.

I’m talking to Chowdhury over the phone from San Francisco and he’s explaining why online platforms are the new frontier in consulting talent.

“If you were building a consulting firm today you’d build it how we’re building it,” he says.

Skillbridge is a freelance platform for high end business consultants. The talent matching process is “machine assisted” which means machine learning helps sift through the data to find the best possible candidates. This is always in partnership with human workers though, says Chowdhury who warns: “It all falls down” if human input is entirely removed.

Now Skillbridge been incorporated into Toptal as ‘Toptal Business’ to provide a specific niche area of talent. The acquisition came about via a chat “in a bar in Las Vegas”, explains Chowdhury, but adds they were a perfect match because both organisations are focused on attracting the highest quality candidates.

The aim of the approach is to stand in contrast to the “race to the bottom” favoured by many online portals where it is hard to find decent skills as an employer and equally difficult to find proper compensation as a freelancer. Instead, Toptal’s big boast is that it only accepts 3% of applications it receives and builds its platform on top notch specialist talent.

Everything is moving online these days but Chowdhury believes wider trends within the consulting space are also having an impact on the industry. He explains, when he was a consultant he ended up spending 30 – 40% of his time doing business development which wasn’t what he enjoyed, what he wanted to do, or what he’d spent years training for.

He believes consulting has reached a “tipping point”: clients are becoming more and more demanding and require more and more niche, converged skills. While getting projects right first time is crucial as the “cost of failure is huge”.

Chowdhury adds a gradual “legitimisation of the white collar space” is facilitating a better quality of life for talent, especially young people.

“People in their mid-20s can’t afford mortgages in central London and New York,” says Chowdhury so “they’re optimising for quality of life [instead]”.

These are educated individuals who’ve worked hard for their skills, he explains. This means “over the next five – 10 years we’re going to see an epic shift” in the way they approach their careers as they don’t necessarily want to work ridiculously long hours for large companies. 

There has always been a bias towards major world cities for management consultants but as more and more people work outside the office – and can find the work online – there is now more chance for qualified individuals to earn money from anywhere.


Further reading:

What will the workplace of 2026 look like?

Industry leader talks tech-enabled recruitment

Prizes & body-data: A bizarre world of tech-fuelled hiring


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