Taking a fresh approach

Research and recruitment consultancy FreshMinds, founded six years ago by two bright young graduates, Caroline Plumb and Charlie Osmond, has never looked back. It has doubled in size every year, reached £5 million turnover and lists 30 of the UK’s top FTSE 100 corporates among its clients.

Research and recruitment consultancy FreshMinds, founded six years ago by two bright young graduates, Caroline Plumb and Charlie Osmond, has never looked back. It has doubled in size every year, reached £5 million turnover and lists 30 of the UK’s top FTSE 100 corporates among its clients.

In early 2000, Caroline Plumb and Charlie Osmond, both Oxford students nearing graduation in engineering and management studies, decided to turn convention on its head (not for the last time). They walked away from potential careers as management consultants, and decided instead to launch their own consultancy.

When they started FreshMinds Osmond and Plumb had almost no experience of working life and a limited set of contacts beyond their Oxford peer group. But they had confidence in their idea – to set up an unrivalled network of ‘Minds’, the brightest executives, MBAs and graduates in Europe, and match them to corporate clients with appropriate research or recruitment needs. Caroline Plumb recalls: ‘The idea for FreshMinds was based on the premise that we knew an awful lot of very talented young people in the first few years of their career who we didn’t think businesses were making the most effective use of.’

By using their pool of creative and intelligent young analysts for project work on a flexible basis, Plumb and Osmond believed they could win all ways – keeping the Minds themselves engaged and interested by avoiding the hum-drum of long-term employment, meeting client needs better by ensuring every client got a bespoke service, and reducing fixed costs and overheads so that their pricing could be competitive.

Their fellow graduates thought that they were taking an enormous risk setting up in businessso early in their careers, Charlie Osmond recalls. ‘But actually it was the least risky time to set up our own business – we had no responsibilities, no partners, no mortgage and no debts – apart from student loans, which actually we didn’t have to pay off as we weren’t earning enough money.’

Plumb and Osmond’s relative naivety meant they could be quite fearless. Plumb explains: ‘We went into the business saying what we wanted it to be was either a spectacular success or a spectacular failure – the worst thing that could happen would have been for it to be just OK.’

In December 2000, just seven months after launch, they revised their plan to grow the business organically and accepted one-off funding in return for a 20 per cent stake in the business, a deal that also provided welcome business advice and legal support from the three men behind the investment. ‘I guess people starting this kind of business wouldn’t normally start with funding that early. But on the other hand they would normally have a base of clients because of their previous experience,’ Plumb suggests. ‘When we left university we didn’t know anybody to advise us and support us. Bringing in some money enabled us to compete at a similar point.’

‘You have to believe that it’s all going to come right in the end, no matter how wrong things are going at the moment. It takes you back to the Henry Ford quote: “whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re probably right”.’

It is a simple message but focus and determination dominate the entrepreneurial ethos of the FreshMinds founders. There is a blithe enthusiasm about the entrepreneurial pair, underpinned by plenty of self-confidence. It is a combination that has helped produce year on year three-figure growth and supported the company in snapping up some big name clients, from consultancies and high street banks to, more recently, government departments.

Whether due to their lack of experience or their sheer determination, Plumb and Osmond have shrugged off the doubts and inhibitions that might have pre-occupied more sage entrepreneurs. For instance, they view discussing their own creative ideas with outsiders not as a threat, but as a powerful opportunity. ‘When people start a business they talk about going it alone, but it should be the antithesis of that,’ Plumb says. ‘It’s about creating networks around you and knowing you don’t have to do everything by yourself. The important thing to know is what you’re good at and you can then find somebody else to do the bits you’re not good at.’