From befriending failure when it comes to new ventures, to the importance of listening to customer needs, Rachael shares her 6 top tips for start-ups and explains how dressing down at the office doesn’t mean dressing sloppy…
This week we speak to Rachael Holtzberg, a senior manager in Digital Strategy at Monitor Deloitte. Rachael leads the Monitor Deloitte Growth Labs™ offer for EMEA, helping clients identify new growth opportunities emerging from the digital economy by applying innovative lean start-up techniques. With a path blending traditional strategy, innovation and growth consulting, Rachael enjoys the freedom to apply a more agile, start-up approach to her role.
Could you tell us a bit about your role within the digital strategy department at Deloitte, and how you came to this position?
I am a Senior Manager in the Digital Strategy practice at Monitor Deloitte. We help clients identify new growth opportunities emerging from the digital economy. For some clients, it’s about evolving their current business to unlock new value from digital and for others, it’s about identifying new growth opportunities and business models as their core business is threatened by new digital entrants.
“It’s really exciting to bring creativity into the boardroom in a way that both causes discomfort and inspiration!”
My path involved a blend of traditional strategy consulting, innovation and growth consulting and a dabble in the world of start-ups. I found the digital strategy team at Monitor Deloitte offered access to big clients with big challenges, yet also gave me the freedom to use a more agile and start-up approach to solve these problems. I run the Growth Labs™ part of our business which focuses on finding the next generation of digital investments for clients, primarily through using ideation, paper prototyping and a portfolio approach to new growth. It’s really exciting to bring creativity into the boardroom in a way that both causes discomfort and inspiration!
What are your top tips for start-ups considering their own digital strategies?
1. People: Hire people who want to be there. Look for individuals who aren’t motivated just by money, they will be the most dedicated when it matters, they will bring passion, and they will help you make the right decisions, not just the easy ones.
2. Revenue model: Don’t work for free. In the early days before you have proven your worth it can be tempting to do things for free – whether you are a budding photographer, or an experienced coder, everyone will ask you for your time and few will offer to pay for it. When you work for free you diminish your self-worth and your market worth. I am not suggesting passing up good opportunities because your customer can’t pay, but make it clear up front you expect something in return for your effort. Whatever you do, do not do it for free.
3. Advice: When you’re starting a business, everyone will want to give you advice. Be careful who you listen to and who you ignore. The most important people to listen to, in fact, the only people to really listen to, are your customers. If they love what you’ve made, you’re better off than 90% of the hopeful start-ups out there.
4. Making money: That being said, meeting customer needs is only half of the equation. You need to make sure your business can create value from the solution (hence my point above about not giving anything away for free). Stay nimble in the early days, keep track of your one off investments and aggressively track your business run costs. Look at your business from multiple scenarios to ensure you’re not tied to one growth path. What if a competitor steals your idea? Do you have enough loyal customers to survive? If you scale, do your costs / complexity scale with you? How will your business function when you have 100 customers? What about 10,000?
5. Test test test – learn learn learn: Build in layers – it’s more important to get something out there than to wait for all the features to be available. Focus on the key attributes that will make or break your business, build those first. If it’s too expensive to build those features in full, find other ways to test the need. It’s more important to get something out there than to wait for perfection. Understanding an unmet need in the digital environment doesn’t always start with a digital solution. For one of my clients, I literally scribbled different messages on a chalk board to test if it increased footfall into their shops. This was a low cost way to test our hypothesis, and it worked!
6. The “F” word: Failure is our friend when it comes to new ventures. Don’t give up just because one of your hypotheses fails. Take that learning and iterate around it. What is it really telling you about your customers or your ecosystem? How can you turn this into a monetisable opportunity? Recognise that your end result might not look like what you thought, but it still could be something really special.
“Compassion, curiosity, thinking about a problem from multiple facets, taking a step back to understand the motivations of the individual and multi-tasking are all skills that have helped me be successful in my role and are skills that my male counterparts often lack.”
As one of the most senior women at Deloitte, what advice would you give to other women looking to progress within your field?
It’s a really delicate balance being a female in business today. In 90% of situations I would say don’t see yourself as different. The moment you feel you are different because you are a female people will start treating you differently or expecting different things. However, don’t overlook some of the softer skills we naturally bring to any situation. Compassion, curiosity, thinking about a problem from multiple facets, taking a step back to understand the motivations of the individual and multi-tasking are all skills that have helped me be successful in my role and are skills that my male counterparts often lack. Without celebrating these abilities, decisions and results can often be one-dimensional.
In general, I always advise colleagues to do what comes naturally. If you’re friendly by nature, bring that side to work. Don’t hide it because you fear it’s a “female” trait. In my case, I am high energy, I am passionate, and at times I can be assertive. I bring these traits to work every day in an authentic way.
In consulting it is sometimes easy to get carried away with the way things “should” be done. When it comes to innovation, it’s more important to act as if you were running your own business – within reason of course. When we are on the forefront of industry, the answers might not be there yet. When a colleague is stuck with a complex problem, I often ask them “what would you do if it were your business”. The answers they come up with are brilliant. Of course we have a duty of care to our clients, so these answers are often just the starting point, but certainly take us in a direction traditional frameworks would have stifled. It’s really thrilling to see a result that comes from an empowered individual, rather than purely from a structured process.
“In general, I always advise colleagues to do what comes naturally. If you’re friendly by nature, bring that side to work.”
Can you identify one digital trend that all brands should be aware of?
One… That would be tough! Generally speaking, I don’t think any brand should ignore the power of data in today’s world. Consumers are getting more comfortable with sharing their data and we are getting better at processing and interpreting data. Anyone who doesn’t have a data strategy is already behind. Data when fully understood and combined with creativity unlocks huge potential for businesses. The answer “we just don’t know” isn’t acceptable anymore. If you don’t know, you better believe someone else does and they are already taking steps to monetise that information. The winners in the next five years will be those who are harnessing data to inform decisions, and the winners in the next 10 years will be those who have changed the way they work, either through new technologies like bots or new business models that exploit data, those who create new sources of value from data will be the next unicorns.
You studied in New York, and now have dual-citizenship in both the US and UK. Having worked for organisations with offices in both New York and London, how do you think the markets differ, and how has this influenced your way of thinking?
I wouldn’t say the markets differ that dramatically, sure certain industries have nuances that are different. And the sheer size of the US brings in more complexity. However, navigating the industry differences is the easy part! The personalities are the more challenging part to get right. Each culture has its own belief system, and that comes through in every interaction. Having humility when in a new environment is what I have found makes it easiest for me to transition between the two cultures. An open mind is a must. Approaching situations with genuine curiosity has helped me break down barriers, no one wants to be told their way is “different”, they hear that their way is “wrong”. It’s better to ask open and honest questions about how they got to their answer to understand why things are different and where required work towards a common ground.
“The first step [to achieving the perfect work-life balance] is not feeling guilty – balance is about choices, and someone will always lose.”
How do you maintain the perfect work-life balance?
Kind of an unfair question! I haven’t quite discovered the perfect work-life balance. But I am getting closer to figuring it out. The first step is not feeling guilty – balance is about choices, and someone will always lose. There aren’t enough hours in the day for most of us to have the perfect anything. It’s easy to feel guilty about missing a workout for a meeting, or leaving the office to meet friends before answering every email. We are human, and we have to trust that if we make an honest decision based on what we are feeling in that moment, then it is the right decision. The second step is taking an honest evaluation of your work and life choices and asking if they align with your genuine needs. Does your work enable you to prioritise other things on occasion? Does your work keep you mentally engaged enough that you really value the time you get outside of work? Does your commute to the office enable you to have the freedom to do more than just work Monday through Friday?
In consulting, our day can change quickly. It’s not unheard of to be asked to fly halfway across the globe with less than 24 hours’ notice. In a given day it’s possible to have a 7am team meeting and a 10pm conference call, it’s an unfortunate reality. To encourage my teams to keep balance, we always start every project with objective setting. Each person is encouraged to have a project objective and a personal objective. This way we can help each other maintain balance. Mine is typically “I want to go to the gym two mornings a week”, a colleagues might be “I want to leave early on Monday for French lessons”. Sharing our personal objectives means we can actively support each other in meeting them. My colleague will cover an early morning conference call for me so I can make Pilates, and I will make sure not to set a deadline that interferes with her French lessons.
Theory is great, but on a practical level when I made the move back to consulting my 2-hour-a-day gym routine disintegrated. To find balance, I removed as many barriers as possible: I belong to a gym that’s open early and late, has an branch near my flat and one near my office, I always travel with running shoes and a foam roller, and I never feel guilty if I prioritise sleep over the gym… Almost never!
What do you feel has been your greatest achievement to date and what are your ambitions moving forward?
I don’t think I have a single greatest achievement. Maybe I am still waiting? Every day I am happy and fulfilled feels like a great achievement. Not because it should be difficult, but because sometimes it just is difficult! We live busy lives, we multi-task like no other generation, something is always being de-prioritised. It’s easy to feel frustrated, it’s easy to feel disengaged, so the days when things just feel good all-around make me feel accomplished.
It’s really easy to get caught up in climbing the ethereal corporate ladder, but at the end of the day, when I call my parents or send a group text to my sisters, if I have a story to share that makes them smile (or more often cringe) then it’s been a worthwhile day.
My ambitions moving forward include changing the face of consulting. Every day I try to change both the perception, and the execution of consulting. We’re in the business of solving problems and helping people do things better. But, we can always be more flexible, look for new ways to solve problems and find new ways to generate value. This is an important challenge for firms like ours to always improve the services we provide.
In terms of dressing for work, what challenges do you face in dressing for the creative digital department compared to the more traditional strategy department?
In my environment, as in many, the dress code is set by the senior levels. My boss is a man and wears a t-shirt and a hoodie on most days. As a woman it would be hard to communicate the same presence by wearing a hoodie. But at the same time if I were to go to the other extreme I would come across as rigid. Finding that middle ground can be really tricky. In most client settings I will be the “underdressed” one, deliberately – despite my parents advice “it’s better to be over-dressed than underdressed”. So it’s important to own it, not to make excuses. Dressing down doesn’t mean dressing sloppy. It’s important to still iron your clothes, even if it is a t-shirt. If you wear loud nail polish, make sure it’s not chipped. And if you’re wearing trainers, leave the yoga pants at home.
Do you have any go-to styles for your 9-5 wardrobe?
Black jeans, v-neck t-shirt, Nike trainers, and lots of necklaces to hide the fact it’s also my go-to lounge wear! I tend to bring a pair of dressy shoes and a blazer to the office on the off chance I need to visit a client with a dress code. Most of my clients are aware that digital strategists typically don’t even own a suit, but I still like to respect their dress code whilst bringing my own personality and creativity.
And finally, what are your favourite pieces from The Fold’s AW16 collection?
Definitely the 100% Camel Wool Rosedale Coat – which I bought on the spot after the shoot. I also love the double-breasted EC1 Elgin Jacket – it made me re-consider working in a more corporate environment for a second… But only a second!
Hair: Easton Regal
Photography: Kylie Eyra
Accessories: Rachael’s Own
Shop Rachael’s Favourites