Among his many leadership responsibilities, Jaffe manages TAPE’s corporate development, M&A and IDIQ activities. TAPE specializes in systems engineering and provides technological; program and management support; and training solutions to government agencies.
In this conversation with ExecutiveBiz, Jaffe walked us through the opportunities he sought to capture when launching TAPE, how his previous executive experience with small businesses and in government contracting has informed how he’s grown the company, and the keys to positioning a firm in the GovCon market.
Bill Jaffe: It was a confluence of a couple of different things that really led us to make that choice. One was that the use of service disabled veteranâ€‘owned preferences had just really begun to get started and my co-founder is a serviceâ€‘disabled individual.
The second thing was that the founding partners had kind of spent a lifetime doing this. We understood the landscape. To an extent, the circumstances in Iraq and Afghanistan contributed. I had also worked with a number of key vendor large business folks and I knew we could get off the ground running in a successful fashion.
That was an important part to changing from a businessâ€‘toâ€‘business consulting arrangement to a businessâ€‘toâ€‘government situation.
The first thing was to build the kind of company that we wanted to be. That meant there were some initial opportunities that we turned down, because we did not feel that we could do an adequate job.
That’s one side of the equation, but also because we simply didn’t have the bandwidth to take them on. We wanted to be clear that we were not going to sacrifice the desire for revenue, and as a result of that, wind up with something that wasn’t a fit for us, in terms of culture, employee capabilities, and how we saw ourselves as a company.
I had worked at a number of other highly successful 8A companies before we founded TAPE. And there were a number of things that those successes taught me. But there were also a number of things that those two or more different companies did unsuccessfully that taught me, as well.
The premier problem that faces folks is how to capitalize when you get your first real contract and you’re hiring employees. We had a couple of things going for us. We made a conscious decision not to spend other people’s money.
So, we sold the house that we had in McLean. That was another of those confluence of good things. We sold it at the top of the market, took the cash and lived in a much different circumstances in a townhouse. At one point, there were eight people in that townhouse working for TAPE.
That capital formation in the early stages, capital support, in terms of being able to pay payroll is critical. The government has really accelerated its payment structure for small businesses in the last few years.
But, in the early 2000s, it was not uncommon for things to go 60 and 90Â days. That’s a substantial amount of money for a small business to accumulate.
ExecutiveBiz: How does your experience at other firms help you in your current role?
Bill Jaffe: I worked for two highly successful 8A companies before we founded TAPE. One was SETA Corporation, which eventually sold to Apptis. My role was pretty much that of as an operational vice president business developer.
I grew up in the organization from a project manager and learned all the things about how to organize and win new business from that point of view. I had a function, which was systems development and systems engineering, and I built a whole bunch of business around that, which performed all the capture, bid and proposals work.
The two cofounders at the second company I worked for â€“ GAITS, Global Analytic IT ServicesÂ â€“ were much more marketing and business development folks. They were out on a pretty continuous basis working the details and so the dayâ€‘toâ€‘day management became my responsibility as a senior advisor.
That really helped me to see the inside of things like, â€˜how does the accounting get structured? How does the legal stuff happen? How does the contract stuff go forward?â€™ Those were things that I had not been as thoroughly exposed to.
Both of those companies reached the top five in the Washington Technology Fast 50 lists, as did TAPE.
Bill Jaffe: There are some companies Iâ€™ve been associated with, in particular GAITS, that benefitted dramatically from being a protÃ©gÃ©. TAPE did not really benefit as much.
We were a protÃ©gÃ© to what was originally PEC and then became Nortel after an acquisition. There were some benefits, but it really didn’t translate into revenue. Similarly, we were a protÃ©gÃ© to SAIC, and they worked very hard on a number of activities in one of their business sectors. But, again our joint efforts did not turn into success.
On the other hand, we’ve had great success as a mentor. We started out mentoring a small company through the GSA mentor/protÃ©gÃ© program and worked together with them on a number of things.
Most recently, we are working with two companies, not yet in a formal mentor/protÃ©gÃ© relationship, but eventually it will turn into that.
As we have grown and become thisÂ midâ€‘tier company, those relationships are definitely going to be the ones that will help us to maintain business that was won at codes and size standards that we are no longer eligible for because we’re just too big.
Bill Jaffe: The thing that has been the hallmark of our success is developing a relationship with customers. So often, entrepreneurs get startedÂ and they have some kind of certifications and they have this belief that the certification is enough.
But it’s not. What is needed is not a certification. What is needed is a customer relationship, because that is where you learn the necessary hot buttons, bits and pieces, the things that go beyond and lead us to the specific success that is a revenueâ€‘generating proposition.
The thing I always advise entrepreneurs is to develop relationships. If they have a Rolodex, get those people on LinkedIn. Get them together. Visit with them. Send them a note.
Make continuous contact with people, especially with government folks. It’s important to talk to the people who have money, but as a really small business, most of your customers are really the large businesses that are going to be your primes in subcontract arrangements until you’re big enough to step out on your own.
So, it’s really critical to go back to the folks that you associated with in former companies and former circumstances and who are now presumably directors and vice presidents and so forth on these bigger companies and renew those relationships and build those relationships as well.
It’s about taking all those information pieces and putting them together. There is a phenomenon that happens all the time, where I know I work very hard on a back and forth with someone, and then all of a sudden I find another touch point from some totally outside notion. I’m sitting in a meeting somewhere, and somebody mentions it, and all of a sudden I’ve got another avenue.
The genius of the GovCon world is that we’ve built so many places where you can go and talk to customers and to primes and to folks who are in the same situation as you.