This one is sure to set off a round of “say what’s”: Michael Wolf, the former president and COO of MTV Networks (NYSE: VIA), is launching a new consulting firm called Activate — with technologist and high-profile blogger Anil Dash as partner. Nothing surprising, of course, about Wolf being a consultant. He joined MTVN from McKinsey & Co., where he was managing partner of the global Media, Entertainment & Information Practice, and before that was at Booz Allen Hamilton. It’s the pairing — and the goal of a firm that runs counter to what many people might expect of Wolf.
The pairing: It’s not quite the last one you might imagine but there’s nothing obvious about Wolf and Dash partnering — unless you realize they both know entrepreneur Jack Hidary. Wolf is on the board of Hidary’s iAmplify.com; Dash and Hidary are both involved in mixing technology with government and non-profit activism. When he heard Wolf wanted his new firm to focus on technology along with entertainment/media and communications, he played matchmaker.
The anti-McKinsey: “Consultants in the past were fear consultants,” Dash explained during a joint phone interview. “The model of the McKinsey’s of the world is not that interesting from an innovator’s standpoint.” Wolf called it “dramatically different” when I reminded him that people often perceived hiring him and his former firms as a precursor to cost slashing. They say they’re entering the field at a time when companies have already been cutting costs and now, in consultant-speak, want to help companies drive change, create new strategies and transform themselves. In boutique consultant-speak, Wolf describes it as “the things a large consulting firm can’t do. It’s helping companies rapidly prototype new ideas. It’s being able to take a piece of equity in return for the help and working with venture capital and private equity firms. It’s also focused entirely on growth.”
Activate is based in New York, where the two both live, but they hope to open an office in Silicon Valley later this year. (Maybe they can time share with Quincy Smith’s Code Advisors.) Wolf says they have clients but won’t make them public.
Wolf hasn’t exactly been laying low since his unexpected departure from MTVN in early 2007 but a lengthy non-compete that expired last fall kept him largely focused on serving on boards like iAmplify or Max Levchin’s Slide and participating in various conferences or high-profile events like Davos. (We were on a panel together at the NBA Tech Summit earlier this month.)
Dash was the first employee at blogging platform Six Apart, Ltd., leaving as chief evangelist to be founding director for Expert Labs, an independent non-profit creating web technology “to help the U.S. government tap into the expertise of the public.” He’ll continue that work as well.