An Interview with Michael Waitzman, Founder of Bench SME

Michael Waitzman founded Bench SME in 2016 as a better way to connect independent consultants to companies with project needs. Here, he talks about how his career experience inspired him to create the app.

Let’s start from the beginning. How did you get into independent consulting?

MW: I began my consulting career as an SAP consultant with IBM. It was a great place to build on my existing professional foundation. IBM provided both classroom training - I earned a FICO certification - and valuable hands-on project experience. I was lucky to be able to work my way up through the organization until I was eventually the lead on my project teams. This was key to my long-term success. To that end, when I was laid off in 2009, I was fully prepared to do independent contracting work.

What about your early experience as an independent made you start thinking about changing the system?

MW: It was a tough market for SAP consultants in 2009. Independent contracting provided me interim access to income. I also thought that it would allow me to continue to build upon my skill set while engaging in a search for long term employment. However, that was not my experience.

My contracting role happened to be with a large staffing firm. As I worked with this firm, I realized that its interviewing and onboarding processes were lax - especially when compared to IBM. I felt like my skills and needs were secondary to the recruiter and account manager sitting across the table. I knew that I wasn’t being properly positioned for the work I wanted and was capable of delivering. It seemed like my resume was just one of many in a pile.

Because of this, I went back in-house with JPMorgan Chase before moving to a smaller consulting practice. It was at this last small firm that I started to dig into the the team building process. While working with clients, I saw a true imbalance between project scope and the experience of the consultants being submitted by staffing firms. I knew there had to be a better way to serve both the clients and consultants at that point, I just didn’t know how.

As I built Bench SME, I took all of these experiences into account. I wanted to design a process that would both put the best consultant in front of the client AND the best client in front of the consultant.

Can you identify any specific issues that you felt needed to be addressed in the traditional consulting industry?

MW: I think there’s absolutely a place for traditional consulting. I love the idea of having the ability to go to a whiteboard and work as a team, client and consultant. The outside knowledge and subject matter expertise offered by an external team is mission-critical to most organizations. I would argue that any organization that doesn’t recognize the value of true consulting partnerships will eventually stunt its growth.

It was in staff augmentation that I really saw a problem. Until Bench SME, data-driven matching hadn’t been front and center to the staffing process - as it should. By introducing our technology to staffing, we’re creating a mutually beneficial environment in which consultants are recruited for the right work, and for the right organization.

And how does Bench SME specifically put that into action?

MW: Bench SME addresses this by digging deeper into the needs of both parties. We want the actual project scope to match the consultant’s skills, both hard and soft, as well additional external factors that we deem are a requirement to deliver the work. When filling a role, we want either the highest level of quality and precision within budget, or no match at all.

So what does that mean for the consultant?

MW: The consultant sees value in finding roles more quickly, and most importantly, roles that fit their capabilities and interests. There’s also a control aspect; consultants can decide whether or not to respond to a project, and they know that the client has already seen their profile and chosen to reach out. What I’ve found is that building Bench SME has actually provided a unique opportunity for consultants to share in the ownership of their next project.

What about on the client side? How do you create value there?

MW: What I talked about with regard to the consultant is not limited to that one side. For clients, accuracy, efficiency, and the ability to deliver are paramount to the overall success of a project. The current state of hiring requires a non‐expert recruiter to source the candidate via some type of generic description placed on a job board. My core goal with Bench SME is to utilize technology to overhaul that antiquated process. Simply speaking, I believe Bench SME can improve the staffing experience from both a project success and a budgetary perspective.

If you could give one piece of advice to consultants who want to go independent with Bench SME, what would it be?

MW: Take the time to fill out your profile in a way that reflects how valuable you are. Be as robust as possible, we utilize each piece of data. Every single word is analyzed in a way that will allow you to be matched with the best position to succeed.

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