Mark Hess is not reinventing the wheel, yet his approach to mid-market consulting is undoubtedly innovative. After studying economics and mechanical engineering, earning an MBA from the Tuck School at Dartmouth, and working for Bain & Company, he began his own entrepreneurial venture, which “hatched over beer and pool,” as many great ideas are.
Mark recognized the need for Bain-level consulting at a lower cost and smaller scale. So, he founded Maven Associates in 2010 to provide tier-one consulting to the midmarket.
“We’re able to bring a talent level, a perspective, and the tools that are normally found in a Fortune 500 company to the midmarket at a price point that fits,” Mark said.
“We’re bringing in a fresh perspective, but it’s also a perspective that includes a bias toward analysis over internal debates.”
Why the midmarket? Mark and his mostly contracted consultants are energized by problem-solving and the opportunity to shape strategies and build solutions that impact the entire business. They adapt robust, tried-and-true frameworks from big consultancies to meet the needs of midmarket clients to overcome challenging issues and get leaders to a decision point.
“Executives have a day job, and it’s really difficult to get the time, focus, and bandwidth to move a project forward,” Mark noted.
“We’re one hundred percent dedicated and involve multiple people to get a project done.”
To realize his mission and ensure exceptional quality and real-world results, Mark only enlists consultants who are alumni of Bain, BCG, or McKinsey.
“Focusing on alumni from those three organizations really helps us maintain the quality of the work that we’re able to do,” said Mark.
This commitment does not go unnoticed. Danai Brooks, owner and CEO of Komline, has leveraged Maven’s due diligence and consultancy to make strategic investment decisions.
“We look at hundreds of companies and need to boil it down to ones that we really want to make investments in. And so, in that process, we need a lot of different filters, and Maven is one of those filters,” he said.
“Sometimes [Maven’s] reports that are 20 or 30 pages might be more informative than a 100-page book from a big firm that throws more resources at it.”
In addition, Maven’s contractor model gives the firm’s clients access to a wide pool of consultants – some with specific industry or functional expertise – across three core services.
The first is growth strategy. Mark and his team research the competitive landscape to guide clients looking to improve their value proposition, lift their margins, and balance various growth opportunities and risks.
The second is operational improvement.
“It could be pricing. It could be what their cost structure is, both overhead and variable. It’s really looking at anything that might help drive an improvement in bottom-line margins,” explained Mark.
The third core service is due diligence for private equity, which involves assessing the size, growth rate, profitability, and markets of the target. Maven’s process includes interviews with experts, customer calls, and other secondary and primary research tactics.
“Hiring Maven, you get quality similar to what a Bain private equity team would give you, but at a price point that’s going to work for your size.”
The firm also offers annual planning and facilitation for select clients.
Alongside his consultancy expertise, Mark brings hands-on, owner-operator experience to his clients, both as the founder of Maven Associates and an active owner of Austin-based green dry cleaner, EcoClean.
“It’s a different thing when you’re sitting in the driver’s seat, and you’re the one who has to pull the trigger,” said Mark.
“I have the real, lived experience of making very difficult decisions, everything from changing the executive team to making major changes or improvements to the business.”
Rand Stagen, founder of the Stagen Leadership Academy, ex-colleague, and client of Marks agrees with this sentiment.
“Mark has the capacity to really appreciate the world that his clients live in. He empathizes with the grittiness, the challenges of being a high-growth mid-market company,” he said.
Recently, Maven’s commitment was recognized by Texas-based multi-strategy investment firm and client Satori Capital. Maven was honored with the peer-selected Guiding Principle Award, ‘Be a Great Partner,’ which is awarded annually to a Satori partner that creates value for others first, lives authentically, positions stakeholders for growth and success, and communicates transparently.
“Mark has a talent for assembling great teams with the right experience who do the deep research and ask the right questions to generate industry insights,” said Rugger Burke, Principal of Private Equity at Satori.
“Not only are they collaborative, but they have earned our trust as we give them direct access to the most sacred of our relationships.”
Looking forward into 2023 and beyond, Mark sees the ongoing effects of COVID on growth areas for the midmarket
“There are new winners, new losers, and companies need to get out in front of the changes that are driving that,” said Mark.
This means companies are tasked with developing new resource strategies for staff, balancing the challenges, advantages, and disadvantages of work-from-home. In addition, companies should focus on how they can better leverage technology to enable internal communications, marketing, and client interactions.
Mark covers timely insights in Maven’s two quarterly newsletters: the Maven Newsletter, which highlights insights and case studies, and the Valuation Newsletter, which explores the three big levers driving the valuation of a business.