Interview with McKinsey alum and AirDev founder Andrew Haller

25 July 2019 5 min. read
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Four years ago, Andrew Haller quit his job at management consultancy McKinsey & Company to co-launch his own Silicon Valley startup. In this period, his firm, AirDev, a San Francisco-based custom web and mobile applications builder, has developed a track record across dozens of US enterprises, from individual entrepreneurs and startups to established businesses. sat down with Haller to understand more about his business and life outside consultancy.

A step back – what was your motivation to leave your job at McKinsey for entrepreneurship?

I wanted to quit my post-MBA job in management consulting because my co-founder and I believe that the way software is built – and who builds it – will undergo a fundamental change over the next five to ten years. We hope to prove the case and lead the movement.

So what does AirDev exactly do?

AirDev is an ultra-rapid software development firm led by business-savvy generalists. We’ve developed a way to build custom applications incredibly fast – the feedback we hear is 5-10 times faster than traditional teams. That translates to typically delivering builds on the order of a few weeks instead of many months, and we use that speed to help companies and entrepreneurs iterate intelligently and efficiently to find product-market fit. 

We say that working with AirDev is like having a killer associate on your team who can run with very little direction, but also happens to be a full stack developer.

Interview with McKinsey alum and AirDev founder Andrew Haller

AirDev also has a product suite for consulting firms. What offerings does AirDev provide to consultancies?

That’s correct. There are two main ways we work with consulting firms. The first is building digital applications during traditional engagements. For example, a performance management dashboard across business units for a change management engagement, or a scenario analysis tool to be used by an executive team at their strategic planning retreat. These are used either to enhance a given engagement, or as leave-behind products to continue the relationship with the client beyond a given engagement. We’ve supported multiple teams at top-tier firms this way.

The second (and fastest-growing) way we work with consultancies is partnering with them to launch new digital products for their clients. We do this both for the digital arms of top consultancies, as well as with boutique management consultancies that want to offer a new capability to clients. For example, a firm doing a growth strategy case for a private equity-owned portfolio company might identify five adjacencies for incremental revenue growth. Often one or two of those revenue opportunities are digital in nature, and they’ll bring in AirDev as a joint venture or white label partner to build the digital product for their client.

We’ve seen huge growth in digital offerings at the top firms – think BCG Digital Ventures, McKinsey Digital, Bain Adapt, etc. – and see more and more independent and boutique consultancies wanting to offer the same capability to clients hungry for digital innovation, without the hassle and ongoing commitment of having to hire an in-house team of engineers.

Where do you believe lie the largest opportunities for consulting offerings on the back of rapid technology development?

So often now, management consulting engagements intersect with digital pain points at large companies. Commonly, that intersection either occurs when consultants are identifying new vectors for growth, or identifying process improvements that are best implemented in an integrated digital tool. We also see consultancies successfully productizing a portion of their services offerings – diagnostics and knowledge sharing tools work well – as either lead-nurturing tools for prospective clients or leave-behind tools with past clients.

Consulting firms are, however, investing heavily in their own IT capabilities. Why do you believe consultancies should insource such tech solutions from a small player instead of leveraging their own in-house experts?

The two big reasons here are (1) speed, and (2) staying lean.

“We help consulting firms build digital applications during traditional engagements and partner with them to launch new digital products for their clients.”

In terms of speed, we consistently hear from consultancy clients that AirDev teams build faster than their traditional developers. This is because we standardize and modularize the components of applications in a design framework we’ve built called Canvas, and we leverage the power of visual programming. When consulting teams are able to get an application in 2 weeks instead of 3 months, they can iterate many more times in a given engagement and ultimately deliver a better product to the client.

The second reason is about staying lean. By this I mean not taking on the fixed cost, management distraction, recruitment and retention challenges, and utilization concerns of bringing on engineering headcount. AirDev resources are easy to spin up or down, and for clients that find lots of value in our work, we offer training and support so their own people can build applications.

Lastly, you’ve been away from the consulting industry for over four years, now. How has your background in consulting helped you with setting up and advancing AirDev?

Certainly the client services aspect of my past consulting work has been invaluable. At AirDev we’re often dealing with sensitive client intellectual property, and the training I got in my past work on how to manage that concern professionally and with clear processes has been helpful.

More importantly perhaps, we’ve worked hard at AirDev to take our consulting background and break the process of software development into predictable, easily understood steps. Too often, agencies portray application development to non-technical buyers such as consultants as a sort of wizardry or art, surrounded by opaque processes. We’re taking an opposite approach and break all projects into clear weekly milestones with transparency through our management portal, feedback periods, and money-back guarantees.