If you’re a mom and pop business and always wanted a fancy consultant on your payroll for tasks ranging from accounting to building a mobile-social media strategy, there’s a new startup just for you.
Hourly Nerd.com is an online marketplace that offers MBA students for hire from the nation’s top business schools. Fees range from $10 to $50 an hour, ballpark. Those with more experience on their resumes charge up to $75 to $100 an hour.
The startup is the brainchild of 3 Harvard Business School students: Rob Biederman, 26, Peter Maglathlin, 27 and Patrick Petitti, 29. And like many entrepreneurial light bulb moments, the idea was born from necessity.
An MBA degree can be pricey and students have the time to devote 8 to 10 hours a week to short-term projects. Meanwhile, small-business owners are broadly at an interesting inflection point in a U.S. economy that’s trying to gain traction.
Most mom and pops have cut costs to the bare bones since the recession. Many have no short-term hiring plans – a traditional driver of past economic recoveries.
Main Street needs to expand business organically again – but can’t afford hires. And they certainly can’t shell out for help from a fancy consulting, accounting or investment-banking firm.
That’s where Hourly Nerd.com comes in.
“Small businesses need to start growing revenue again because there’s no more cost cutting,” co-founder Biederman said. “They need to explore ways of growing revenue without committing to a full-time hire.”
How Hourly Nerd.com Works
The startup features a database of about 450 MBA students from the top business schools in the country, as well as international MBA students. No riffraff here. The co-founders said quality of students is important to their business model’s success.
Top students are matched with small-business projects, ranging from bookkeeping to building a social media strategy to better reach customers.
The startup idea, part of a Harvard class project, launched in February and quickly gained steam through word of mouth. Initial business clients included a Boston area florist, deli, gym, restaurant-bar and startups. Hourly Nerd.com has about 30 projects under its belt – and counting.
Even in such a short time after launch, the startup is noticing smaller mom and pops generally need help formulating concepts and strategies. In contrast, larger small to medium-sized businesses with millions in annual revenue seek help on specific projects and tasks, said Petitti, a co-founder.
Lest you forget, the 3 wunderkinds still need to finish their MBAs. Additionally in May, Hourly Nerd.com is scheduled to transition from a Harvard curriculum requirement to a for-profit business. The trio is planning for a first round of financing.
American Entrepreneurship, Thriving?
The Hourly Nerd.com trio is innovating, while Main Street broadly remains stuck in the doldrums. Constantly changing business technology and software tools don’t help.
Co-founder Biederman, whose father is a small-business owner, has noticed some entrepreneurs need help mastering the latest financial tools and spreadsheets. “It’s something that would take a couple hours for them, but I was able to problem solve really quickly,” Biederman said.
Beyond technology hurdles, small-business employers have been facing headwinds from Washington. There has been a heavy cloud of uncertainty about anticipated spending cuts and costs associated with Obamacare that go into effect in 2014.
Fred Deluca, the founder of privately held Subway Restaurants, said the government is simply out of touch with small-business owners. Policies including Obamacare discourage entrepreneurship, and he would not have been able to start his franchise in today’s environment, Deluca told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” in February.
But unlike larger private sector businesses, smaller employers usually don’t have buffers such as large cash reserves to ride out federal budget cuts. Most of the smaller firms also can’t pivot business strategies to ride out downturns. So their strategy has largely been staying in a holding pattern – including hiring decisions.