Why did Johnson Controls trust you enough to bring you in?
Because I knew a bunch of things they didn't know. The problem they were running into was that federal regulations surrounding airports are massive. The federal government released FIPS 201, which specified new personal identity requirements for federal employees and contractors.
I dissected that document and knew everything that I could possibly know about it. And also did the same thing with the Code of Federal Regulations for airport security. I knew it inside and out. Intellisoft was trying to build a product that would work to help enforce either those two regulations.
So when I had conversations with potential clients, I was trying to learn more about the practical application of these things. But inevitably, I would say things in those conversations that they immediately were like, “Oh wow. You know these requirements really, really well.”
When you decided to dig into that documentation, did you know it would be competitive advantage?
Massively, because I'd had conversations with people who did know it a lot better than I did and was embarrassed when I would say something, and they would reply, “No, it actually says this." Well, not anymore. I decided that's never going to happen again. It’s almost like going to law school, understanding those laws.
Give us a rundown of your client acquisition experience.
It was pretty slow. We did some some small work for the State of South Carolina outside of what we really wanted to do, which gave a little bit of recurring revenue that basically kept us afloat. We had saved money, and in the meantime, we were shooting for the stars on this other stuff.
It took us four solid years to land the first big fish, which was St. Louis airport. After that, it was gangbusters. Within two weeks we also got a contract with New Orleans airport. Within a couple of years we also picked up Dulles International and Ronald Reagan Washington National airports.
Then we were able to leverage our knowledge and pick up the Pentagon, which was insane, but it was great. The Pentagon is basically one D.C. Metro stop down from National Airport, and part of the Pentagon’s vetting process is, “Who are these guys working with?”
How did operations change when you suddenly landed the big clients?
It was a crazy situation, because we’d never pretended to be a big company.
One of the things that happened immediately was I wasn’t in sales anymore. In the early days, client acquisition was a lot slower because I was bouncing back and forth between sales and service delivery modes. It was definitely an odd, odd beginning where I never printed my title on a business card, ever.
Thanks for sharing. Cheers to odd beginnings and big fish endings.