NEWARK, NJ (May 17, 2018) – OM Group’s CEO Sowmya Hariharan was named the Small Business of the Year by New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Procurement Technical Assistance Center (NJIT PTAC). She accepted the award at the center’s annual conference. Below are her remarks.
Thank you NJIT PTAC for this Small Business of the Year Award. It is an incredible honor.
OM Group has been considered by many as an overnight success. We went from 2 employees in 2015 to almost 50 today, so actually we had about three years of “overnights” – that's 1,095 mostly sleepless nights, but who’s counting?
During those days and nights when we – my sister, Sangita who is the vice president for OM Group and my second in command and I – when we were laying the groundwork for the company we often said, “That would’ve been good to know a lot earlier!”
So, I thank the NJIT PTAC very much for inviting me here today and giving me this opportunity to share those learnings with you.
To be successful, you need to know what success looks like for you – not for your family, not for your coworkers, not for your customers or vendors – but what success looks like for you.
Once you decide what your company success will look like – or what your ultimate goal is – then you can lay out the plan and then work on the plan to get you there.
Remember that it’s not the beautifully laid out playbook with the nice diagrams and color coordinated tabs, but the execution that is important.
For OM Group, we set a goal to be a top federal government contractor offering leading edge IT services. OM Group has been in business for over 17 years but we were primarily focused on the commercial markets. To move to the government space meant completely restructuring the company.
To achieve our success, we had to first invest the time to learn the differences between commercial and federal markets
We were just starting out, and a lot of the training out there is expensive. That’s where the SBA and the PTAC came in with their offers of free, incredibly informative training events. One of the best training events we attended was on DCAA accounting organized in Atlantic City by the NJIT PTAC.
The SBA offers classes on the basics of federal contracting and responding to an RFP. I found these especially helpful. Also, the business opportunity specialists at the SBA and the procurement specialists at the PTAC are a fountain of knowledge and are always ready to help you.
Use these resources!
Much of the success we enjoy now came through knowledge gained by tapping into these resources.
Once we had the information, there was still the not-so-small matter of getting your foot in the door of federal contracting. We had no past performance in the government space.
Knowing this was a part of our bigger plan for success, we approached prime contractors to explore teaming options and worked as subcontractors. It was our performance as a sub that paved the way for our prime contracts.
Another factor to consider is location.
For us, it made sense to be in proximity to the DC area since we were focusing on federal contracts. So, we opened a satellite office in Reston, VA. Though we have employees working on client sites, in six states, a fair amount of our team works out of the Reston office.
Once you have a clear goal in mind, you open yourself to those opportunities that will get you there.
Look around you today. You see lots of capable, intelligent, ambitious small business owners. These are your competitors!
Ask yourself: How can I set my company apart from this amazing competition?
At OM Group, we have earned a reputation for offering a lot more than the skills laid out in the RFPs. We are known for ensuring that our processes exceed standards for our clients, and that we are fair to everyone in our business, including paying subcontractors on time.
Trust me when I say that your reputation is key, and there are no short cuts.
We invested early on in certifications like the CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration) and ISO (International Organization for Standardization)to show our buyers that we have processes that meet and exceed the standards. A lot of the contract vehicles need these certifications as a price of entry.
It is easier to put these processes in place when you are smaller; much simpler to scale as you grow.
With your goal in place and your competitive advantage, you can now move fearlessly forward!
This just might be the hardest lesson to learn.
I am confident that virtually every single one of you will hesitate out of fear of failure – if you haven’t already.
But do not worry, as a small business owner, you will have plenty of opportunities to be afraid.
I just hope you will remember this lesson and walk through the fear next time.
Let me tell you a brief story about a decision we made at OM Group, despite our fear of failure. OM Group has its roots in software development. We know software. Our customers saw the great value we brought in this area.
As we were transitioning to government work, we saw in the commercial sector that the Cloud was huge. Yet, the federal government was just getting started on its cloud migration.
We decided to bid on the ACCENT contracting vehicle for Cloud Transformation and migration opportunities with the Army. It was a full and open competition. We would be competing against other small and large businesses.
We were a small 8(a) company with about 15 employees, confident only in our knowledge when we presented our proposal. It was scary but we decided to go ahead anyway. We had nothing to lose ad everything to gain.
Not only were we one of the initial 50 successful offerors on the contract, we also came out ahead of our 49 other competitors to win the first task order on the contract. We received an award, under the ACCENT contracting vehicle, to migrate 80 applications to Azure cloud for the HQ Dept of the Army
This was a big boost to us. Here we were – a small, woman-owned, disadvantaged business – suddenly playing in the big leagues!
Because we set our goal to be a big player in the US government IT Services and we had a plan in place, we already had strategically hired resources. We could ramp up quickly and deliver on the task, solidifying our reputation in the field.
This brings me to our next lesson:
Just as you invest time in your business, it is equally important to invest in resources that will help your company grow, and timing is very important. You have to use your resources wisely, especially when you are just starting out. If you have barely started, it is definitely not recommended that you go out and hire a business development executive as you need to have something to sell.
Early on you have to recruit talent who are capable of wearing multiple hats. Use the technical lead and project managers to attend events and talk knowledgably about the requirements. We have had program managers who do business development as well.
When you find good talent, retain them.
At OM Group, we have set up our infrastructure to be competitive. We offer a comprehensive benefits package and a workplace conducive to growth because we want our people to want to stay. As long as deliverables are being met, our employees can take advantage of flexible work hours and location. We offer paid parental leave, something that even a lot of large companies don’t offer. We offer paid military leave for our veterans to use during their training.
Our employees look forward to coming to work each day. We have monthly birthday celebrations; we acknowledge personal milestones. It is a fun place to work. We call it our work family.
In fact, one of our employees took the initiative to register interested folks in the company to run as a team in the Army 10-miler in October in DC, and has also volunteered to train the runners on her own time as she is a certified fitness coach.
We have an amazing team of talented employees and they have played a huge part in getting us here. The point is, if you invest in your team they invest back in you. It’s a two-way street.
I cannot stress enough, the importance of networking – and not just any networking – you must network with purpose.
Ask yourself what sort of network you need around you to be successful? Where do your potential customers gather? Where do your potential employees gather? Where do your potential vendors gather? What networking groups will help you enhance your skills?
Find where these strategic groups are, and show up regularly, not just when you need something.
And take notes! I never travel without my notebook.
Networking events such as this one today, for example, are great opportunities to build relationships. The important point to remember is that you cannot expect networking events to result in a contract. The opportunities to work together will come from the trust and credibility that you establish in the relationships made during these events.
In fact, it was in one such event – the Lakehurst Small Business Roundtable – that we met a company that was graduating from the 8(a) program. We developed a great relationship with them and now are working with them on a contract with the US Navy.
You have to get your name out there, showcase your capabilities. It takes a lot of time, but it is an investment that yields returns.
Once you have set your goals, set yourself apart from competitors, begun to work fearlessly, built a great team and networked like crazy, you are well on your way to success. But there is one more lesson I have learned: Always be looking for the next big thing.
Especially in the field of technology, things are ever-changing. However, in this world of constant business disruption, I don’t think any industry is immune to change.
One opportunity that really helped me prepare for the future was the SBA Emerging Leaders program.
It is an intensive seven-month course that requires small business owners to commit to 100 hours in class time and projects in order to take their businesses to the next level. It is an incredible tool to grow your business. The time commitment was brutal, but it was an investment that paid rich dividends.
You have to learn how to stay on top of the trends in your area of business. For example, at OM Group, we are working on ways to incorporate DevOps, Big Data analytics, and Artificial Intelligence, or AI. I don’t know which opportunity will be next, or exactly how it will look, but we are excited to see where this business takes us next.
As small business owners, we have so many opportunities and so little time. I feel it is important for all of us to share our stories and our lessons.
If you are anything like me , you will probably only recognize that you should have learned these lessons after you have made the mistake.
A few weeks from now, I can hear you say, “Oh! THAT’S what Sowmya meant.”
That’s OK, because at least you can fail fast, correct course faster, and succeed even faster.
I am immensely enjoying this small business journey, made even sweeter as I work with my best friend, my confidant, and my sister, Sangita. Together we learn important lessons, support each other through rough times, and grow as people and business leaders which is what the journey is all about.
I believe that if you are truly successful, you will never get that final client or make that final sale – but you can be finally happy in your journey.
Good luck to all of you. May all of your contracts be perpetual and come with automatic renewals!