Private Sector vs Entrepreneurs

The distinction here is subtle and often contrived.

We’re using it here to differentiate types of clients, but, really, what we’re talking about is a distinction between the types of projects.

When we speak of “entrepreneurs” or “entrepreneurial,” generally, we’re talking about building something new, something that doesn’t exist. We’re inventing something.

Obviously, that fits the model of the typical entrepreneur.

This is the guy or gal who has an idea that’s going to change the world (or at least change their world), revolutionize an industry or solve a complex problem.

Think Facebook.

In instances like this, the idea is the company.

Facebook was an idea for an online social network and that product became the company “Facebook.”

This is our typical entrepreneur client.

On the other hand, there are private sector clients.

For us, these are usually small-to-mid sized industry agnostic companies.

However, most of these clients share many of the traits of an entrepreneur.

Generally, we are originally contracted to solve a problem for this company – to invent something that no one else in their industry is doing or making – to give them a competitive advantage.

Think of this as a type of intrapreneurship.

Much like with an entrepreneur, the project starts with an idea or even just a problem.

And implementing that idea or solving that problem is a collaborative effort between us and the client.

So while the scope might be different – an entrepreneur may want to provide a product for the general public while an intrapreneur is trying to benefit the company – the projects and project approaches are quite similar.

In fact, these projects can often change to traditional projects as they evolve.

To illustrate, let’s explain the other type of private sector project we tackle.

This type or project involves taking something over and fixing or improving it.

We’re not inventing anything here. We’re simply making something better or more efficient.

For example, a doctor’s office may have had custom appointment scheduling software written for them by an in-house developer or another firm.

For whatever reason, the software grew old and now needs to be re-tooled.

The doctor’s office can hire us to do just that.

Now, let’s circle back to our earlier point about how these projects can change from one type to another.

Let’s take the appointment scheduling software and say that a doctor’s office has this idea for a completely new type of appointment scheduling software.

Maybe this is a mobile app that can sense your biorhythmic feedback and can automatically schedule an appointment with your doctor if the app senses you’re getting sick.

As you can see, this idea could come from a single person looking to revolutionize the medical industry or a single office that wants to better service their patients.

The point is, the project starts as an idea only.

In a collaborative effort, we build the app with the client (regardless of if that client is a company or a person) and help them launch it.

What happens next is one of the big differences in the type of client.

With an entrepreneur, we know have given them a prototype. The entrepreneurs job is to then illustrated the usefulness of the prototype by getting people to actually use it.

At this point, there is a proof of concept – now that proof of concept needs to be shown to have potential.

If it does, the entrepreneur will be able to raise money from investors to further development and bring the product to the mass market.

With a private sector client, they’re not trying to prove the concept to investors because they have money – and they themselves are the users, so once the prototype is built, we move straight on to the next phase which is incremental changes and tweaks to make the app better and better.

Assuming the entrepreneur is successful in raising investment, both projects generally hit a maintenance/enhancement phase.

This is where the project changes from an “entrepreneurial/intrapreneurial” one to an “improvement” project.

All this is to say that, with subtle differences, the project usually dictates the differences not the client.

But there are some general guidelines

  1. You will only ever get “entrepreneurial” projects from an entrepreneur. These projects may later become “improvement” projects but they never start that way.
  2. You can get both “entrepreneurial” and “improvement” projects from private sector clients.
  3. Entrepreneurial projects, if successful, will eventually become improvement projects
  4. Entrepreneurial projects from private sector clients have a better chance of succeeding than entrepreneurial projects from an entrepreneur because the scope is smaller and the projects are already funded.
  5. If you’re working on an entrepreneurial project for an entrepreneur, expect a long break in work between the completion of the prototype and the go-to market phase because the entrepreneur will have to prove the concept and raise money for it.

Finally, if you’re still struggling to see the difference between “entrepreneurial” and “improvement” projects, it might help to think of it in terms of construction.

An entrepreneurial project would be like building a new house on an empty lot.

An improvement project would be more like a remodel or a repair – like fixing the roof.

Both types of projects are important and lucrative, but both require a different approach and methodology.

For companies like ours, it’s a good idea to keep a healthy mix of both to diversify your portfolio.

Entrepreneurial projects have a much higher upside in terms of revenue but also carry much more risk. You’re not getting paid a lot up front, so if the project fails, you don’t make a lot of money. At the same time, your contracts are backloaded, so if the project is a success, you get a healthy return.

Improvement projects are much more straight forward. The upside isn’t nearly as big but neither is the risk.

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Public Sector vs Entrepreneurs

As we said, Gunner Technology works with three different types of clients: Public Sector, Private Sector and Entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs are like the private sector, but as we’ll see today, they’re a totally different animal.

Working in the public sector and working with entrepreneurs is really night and day.

Early Work

Government contracts have unique expectations up front.

After landing a contract from one of the millions of public sector job boards, you’ll know exactly what you’ll need to build.

Every feature, explicitly laid out.

And you’ll know exactly what your budget is.

Despite popular opinion, governments don’t have an unlimited amount of cash to throw around.

Agencies don’t have limitless budgets.

So you’ll know with absolute certainty how much money is coming your way in addition to knowing exactly what you need to build.

That’s totally different from working with entrepreneurs.

With entrepreneurs, you’re going to be working with folks who want to change the world.

(And we love that.)

Entrepreneurs have a vision.

And Gunner Technology’s bread and butter is making those visions a reality.

So there won’t be an explicit set of features with an entrepreneur.

And the sky’s the limit as far as features go too.

You’ll obviously have a certain set that have to be built to generate the Minimal Viable

Product or MVP.

But every entrepreneur has a wish list a mile long of stuff to add to their projects.

And that’s why the budget guidelines might be a little bit looser.

Obviously, like the government, funds aren’t unlimited.

But there are more budget decisions to make than with the public sector.

Unlike the public sector, you’ll need to make tough choices about what can be built based on the amount of capital available.

So instead of knowing exactly what to build (and exactly how much you’ll earn) like the public sector, with entrepreneurs you’ll be talking about what you’re going to build and negotiating how much it’s going to cost.

User Base

You’re also going to be look at different user bases with the public sector vs entrepreneurs.

The public sector audience skews a bit older and a bit less tech-savvy.

The user base for entrepreneurs is going to be younger and a bit more comfortable with technology.

And that’s going to affect what features you can build.

The public sector needs to just work.

(A goal that’s not always met.)

You need to support more browsers.

You need the designs to be simpler.

You need to hold a user’s hand a little more often.
With entrepreneurs you don’t need to worry about that as much.

Users of entrepreneurial apps are likely to be comfortable pushing the boundaries.

You can experiment with more daring UIs.

You can expect the user to figure out more as far as functionality. They’ll experiment and work things out for themselves.

And you can basically assume users will have the latest and greatest in technology (or close to it), both software and hardware.

Not only that, but you can make it a requirement to have certain versions of operating systems or browsers to use your app.

Good luck doing that in the public sector.

Furthermore, early users are of the utmost importance with entrepreneurs.

These are the users who love being the first ones to use the latest and greatest.

They’re going to provide you and your client with incredible feedback.

(And, as an aside, entrepreneurs in general could stand to worry much less about losing these users. Early users will stick with your product through innumerable bumps in the road.)

Public sector clients are much less worried about early adopters or growing a user base.

What the public sector is worried about is the project being done.

So it’s a matter of goals: entrepreneurs want to change the world, while the public sector wants to be finished on time and on budget.

Later Work

In many ways, the entrepreneur’s project is never done.

With these game-changing projects, there’s always more to be done.

That means, for one thing, that building a relationship of trust is of utmost importance.

You guys are going to be working together for an incredibly long time. Nobody knows how long!

So you guys have to be able to have honest, open discussions about the project or projects in order to build the best solution you can.

And this aspect of entrepreneurial work obviously has tangible benefits as well in terms of a higher ceiling for the potential earnings.

In addition to building someone’s dream, you can also be generously compensated for it at the same time.

That’s the beauty of entrepreneurial work!

That’s different from the public sector, however.

The public sector knows exactly what it needs built and has a predetermined budget to build it.

Occasionally, you’ll have a continuing relationship with public sector clients.

Even the public sector has moving goal posts.

So there’s also the importance of building a relationship in the public sector, it’s just slightly less important because the future work isn’t guaranteed to be there.

But if the future work is there and you can have an ongoing relationship with a specific department or agency, that’s an incredible opportunity.

Really, whether it’s an entrepreneur or the public sector, it always comes down to performance and relationships. Neither should be mailed in.

Public Sector vs Private Sector

Gunner Technology works with three different types of clients: Public Sector, Private Sector and Entrepreneurs.

Technically, entrepreneurs are in the private sector, but they are a different type of work altogether, so we categorize them separately.

And each of them are very different to work for and with, so let’s start off by looking a the Public Sector vs the Private Sector.

Project Acquisition

Even before the work starts, these two entities diverge just in how we go about landing the gigs.

The public sector has just under a million different job boards – and I’m only slightly exaggerating.

But each state has a a job board.

Some cities have job boards.

Counties have job boards.

Universities have job boards.

The federal government has hundreds of job boards.

Agencies have job boards.

There’s contracts to win contracts for other contracts.

The point is, it’s not hard to find opportunities.

Winning them can be challenging, but the opportunities are clear and bountiful.

Not so much with the private sector.

It’s not that the opportunities aren’t there.

In fact, there might be more opportunities in the private sector than the public sector.

The problem is that companies in the private sector either don’t know what the opportunity is and/or don’t know where to post the opportunity once they discover it.

For example, Gunner is not in the waste management industry.

We have never had a client in waste management, so we don’t know how companies in that particular industry operate.

But, I guarantee you, if we sat down with members of the wast management industry and delved into how they operate, we would be able to discover a number of inefficiencies and/or opportunities that we could solve with custom-built software.

At the same time, the member of the waste management industry may not be aware of what existing technology offers – not to mention what is possible with custom software.

So, the only way to uncover these opportunities is deep networking or referrals.

Usually, this takes one of two forms:

  1. Through conversations with people in our network, we start to discover problems in a company or industry. Most of the time, this is by listening to someone in the industry complain about a certain aspect of it. Our thought is: “Man, we could eliminate that complaint 100%”
  2. The second is different, but kind of the same. An existing client of ours will be talking to someone in their network, and Gunner will come in conversation, usually in the vein of “You won’t imagine what we built.” This gets the gears turning of the other person who usually calls us up and says “Hey. I heard what you did for so-and-so. You think you could help me?”

 

Project Type

Gunner Technology builds solutions. That’s what we do.

And the public sector has some unique problems when compared to the private sector and vice versa.

However, there is a common theme to the project types from both.

In general, with the private sector, you are building new ideas.

The private sector is hyper competitive, so each firm in the industry is looking for an edge over the others.

There’s no better way to get that advantage than through technology.

So you have clients who are much more willing to try cutting edge and new technology.

This means that projects and contracts are very much ongoing and alive.

Clients get addicted, in a sense, to technological progress.

One idea begets another – a successful project gives rise to another idea.

“Wow. This has helped us so much, I wonder what else we can do with technology…”

So the project style and relationship becomes much more of a partnership than the typical vendor/client relationship.

With the public sector, most of the agencies are playing catchup with the private sector.

They know what’s being done out there, but they’ve been locked in 5-year contracts with decaying technology, so they’ve fallen behind.

They have been forced to use outdated technology while looking at the rest of the country use standard tools like CRM, CMS and more.

Most of the projects are just dealing with catching up, with maybe a couple tweaks to fit specific agency’s needs.

Because of this, most of the projects have a very clear start and end date, and because of how the government works, the agency can’t be like “Well, that was awesome. Let’s do this now and just keep it going.”

Project Management

Similar to project type, project management differs as well.

Most public sector project have very defined scopes and statements of work.

They’re so clear, in fact, that most are throw-over-the-wall-and-call-us-when-they’re-finished style.

Recently, many agencies have gotten better at this and have assigned one or two people to join the team and work collaboratively with us, but, to no fault of their own, the feedback is limited to what is and isn’t in scope.

Conversely, the private sector projects are much less defined and start more of a loose idea.

Those ideas get formed in a collaborative manner as the project moves forward.

Skills

This could go under project acquisition as that’s what it largely relates to, but there is a different skillset that goes into working in the public sector vs the private sector.

As we said, there are so many opportunities available in the public sector, but you have to be really good at creating responses to these bids.

It’s a specific skill that requires really good writing and comprehension because you don’t have access to the  agencies to ask a ton of questions for clarifications.

Nor can you really pitch an agency as to why you are the best for the job.

You have to read the opportunity and then clearly, concisely and specifically respond in writing why you are the best firm for the job.

With the private sector, you have to be much better at networking and interacting.

It takes a really good listener who understands business to be able to comprehend how an industry or company works and then figure out specifically how we can help them.

Rewards

Finally, the rewards are different – both tangibly and intangibly.

Tangibly, with the public sector, the contract value is what it is.

This is good because the value is generally pretty good.

But you can’t, for example, discount the contract in expectation that you’ll get more out of the next contract.

Which is how it works in the private sector.

Most of the time, we’ll use the first contract to ease a client’s concerns.

“We know you’re skeptical, so let’s start with a small contract so we can prove to you how valuable we are. After that, we’ll strike a bigger contract.”

Intangibly, in the private sector, you get challenged a lot more with what you’re building and, additionally, you make much longer relationships.

This isn’t to say you can’t make amazing relationships in the public sector, but the nature of the contracts make them harder.

In the public sector, the fact that you’re helping your country is a tremendous sense of pride that you just don’t get from the private sector.

Keeping Clients Happy

Gunner Technology is a service-based company.

In so much, clients are our lifeblood.

Whether it’s with the private sector or the public sector, we spend most of our time working for and with clients.

And like any relationship, there are highs and lows.

In our nearly 10 years in business, we’ve figured out some ways to have more highs than lows and increase the heights of the highs.

Build the Trust Account

This first one should be obvious, but most of the time it isn’t.

When you enter into a new relationship, there is very little trust. Some times no trust at all.

That makes sense, but it’s tough to admit.

No matter how strong the referral or how thorough the vetting, a client just can’t fully trust someone they don’t know.

Especially because the client probably has been burned in the past.

There’s a tendency to get mad about this.

“We haven’t done anything to earn this distrust” is the mindset you’re tempted to have.

But that just creates bitterness and starts the relationship down a path that’s tough to recover from.

Instead, you need to realize that trust needs to be earned with every single client.

None of the trust you’ve built with other clients carries over to new clients.

So just accept the fact that you have to start from scratch and work on building that trust account.

How do you do that?

Communicate

This one is hugely important in our industry where most of the work is done remotely.

If a client can’t see what’s going on, there is a tendency to worry.

You need to overcome that distance with communication.

For example, we have a weekly meeting with each of our clients to talk about what we did over the course of the previous week and discuss what we’re going to get done in the week ahead.

Not only that, part of that meeting includes a demonstration of what we’ve been working on, so the client gets to actually see the work that was completed.

How does this build trust?

Simple. You say what you’re going to do. You do it. You prove it.

Client’s never have to take our word that something is done because they see it almost immediately.

They never have to worry that we’ve fallen behind or are hiding anything.

Over Communicate

Not to beat a dead horse, but communication is so critical, it bears repeating.

Never assume something is minor.

If something goes wrong, don’t cover it up, even if you think you can fix it before the client will notice.

Take an example: Let’s say you’re working on a website, and you deploy a defect that inadvertently deletes an entry in a database.

It’s not a big deal because the database is backed up and you can recover that deleted item quickly and easily.

Before you do, take a second to email the client. Let them know what happened and let them know how long it will take you to fix it.

Could you fix it in two minutes and the client never has to know you messed up?

Sure. But, that’s dishonest and should the client notice it before you fix it, that’s a huge hit to the trust account.

Mistakes happen. They’re forgivable – especially when explained and future mistakes are mitigated.

But trying to cover up mistakes have long-term detrimental effects.

We’ve never had a client complain that we’ve over-communicated with them.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff

As we said, there’s always going to be conflict in any relationship.

The trick is to not take it personally.

Ever.

People have bad days. Clients are no different.

There’s frustration that might have nothing to do with you, but still, it gets taken out on you.

You have to let that go.

Don’t get frustrated. Keep doing your job.

At the same time, be careful to not take your frustration out on a client.

If you find yourself getting frustrated, cancel any meetings that aren’t 100% critical that day and step away from your email account.

The last thing you want is to say something in anger or frustration that is going to damage your relationship.

Celebrate the Victories

We’ve painted a pretty dim view of working with clients so far, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Working with clients, building relationships probably is the most rewarding part of our job.

That part can’t be overlooked.

We’ve had parties with clients, traveled to conventions with clients and even had Thanksgiving dinner with clients.

It can be easy to lose sight of all that when your nose is to the grindstone all day and you’re busting your hump to build the next big thing.

But it’s important to look up from time-to-time and admire what you’ve done together – whether that’s achieving goals or hitting a milestone.

Finally, it’s really important to not try to pigeonhole every client.

What we’ve laid out here are some good general principles that are good to apply in every relationship, but each client is unique with unique needs.

That means you’ll have to get to know your clients and adjust to their needs.

Just because something works really well with one client doesn’t mean it will work at all with another.

And you’ll have to adjust as the relationship changes.

While one strategy may work while the team is focused on building a new product, that strategy may not work while the team is focused on maintaining the project once it’s been launched.

So, be dependable, honest, communicative, calm and flexible – that will go a long way in making – and keeping – your clients happy.

Working with the Private Sector

According to an informal poll we conducted, nearly 80% of over 2,000 respondents reported being unhappy with the software they use at work.

So, you would think there would be a massive push to improve that software, right?

Not so much.

While we have worked with clients of all sizes in the private sector, the large majority have been small to medium size companies.

And in our time working across more than 10 different industries with countless different clients, we’ve learned some truths that hold for most companies in the private sector.

There’s a huge lack of trust

I kind of chuckle when lawyers complain about the lack of trust in their industry.

“You ain’t seen nothing, pal,” I think to myself.

Sure, the legal profession doesn’t have a glowing reputation, but it’s nothing compared to the software industry.

On one hand, it’s unfortunate, but on the other, I realize we have no one to blame but ourselves.

There are a lot of bad actors in the industry who ruin it for the rest of us.

First, I don’t think we’ve ever quoted software to a company who’s response was “That’s it?”

The price is always too high, and I think that comes from two factors.

As we’ve said before, folks who aren’t in the industry, who don’t know how software development works tend to look at what we do as though it’s magic.

“What do you mean it’s going to take you three months and $16,000? Can’t you just wave your wand and make it happen?”

That’s not far off from the expectations we often encounter.

Also, many of our clients and prospects already were approached by a chop shop that either was overseas or outsourced work overseas, who quoted the same work at half the timeline and one-third (or less) of the cost.

This is where the trust starts to deteriorate.

The prospect/client is now in a position where they don’t understand why something will take so long and cost so much from us and they have another company whispering sweet promises in their ear.

Naturally, the client tends to lean toward the price and timeline that better suits their fancy.

Here’s the problem: Every time, without failure, the project takes way longer than was promised and is a piece of junk when it’s “finished.”

You see, these companies know that once you’re locked in a contract, you’re pretty much stuck – outside of legal recourses, which are going to rack up a lot of dough that wasn’t available in the first place.

So they understand that the client won’t be happy about the long timeline, but will have to accept it.

When they’re finally finished, the client gets something that was put together with duct tape and is just a step above worthless.

These same companies make their money on volume. They’ll never have a repeat client, so they churn and burn as quickly as possible.

The old adage holds: You get what you pay for.

But here’s the problem for the rest of us.

The client now has two choices (or in their mind three).

  1. Use the next-to-useless software that they paid for
  2. Go to a reputable company and have it built the right way
  3. (Not really an option) Take the code from the next-to-useless software and have a reputable company “finish the job”

The third option is usually the one that’s always requested of us.

Unfortunately, no one can turn dirt into gold and there is almost always nothing we can salvage from the hackjob the client paid for.

See where this is going?

Now the client has a general distaste for software in general.

If they elect to stick with the hackjob software, they’re going to have software that neither they nor their employees like (hence the result of our poll) or they’re going to have to pay to have to do it right after already paying to have it done wrong.

Second, we see clients and prospects paying for software they just don’t need.

Humans are easily influenced (which is why marketing is a trillion-dollar industry) and don’t like to admit they’re wrong.

You put these together and you have a powder keg for peer pressure, especially in the software world.

Consider this scenario.

Executive at Company A sees a Facebook ad for how great Slack is – let’s call them Pat.

Pat decides to demo Slack and is blown away by how “cool” it is.

So Pat purchases a license for Company A and Company A begins using Slack because Pat thought it was cool.

So first off, if you’re an employee, how are you going to feel about having to use software the you didn’t need or want in the first place? Again, the poll results start to make sense.

But secondly, let’s get back to Pat who now goes to chamber of commerce meetings and trade shows and conferences where Pat is asked about achievements at Company A.

“Well, I just led an initiative to put the whole company on Slack and it’s increased productivity by 10%,” Pat tells the audience or anyone who will listen.

You see, Pat doesn’t want to say “I made this decision to put us all on Slack and it ended up being a huge waste of money and our employees hated it” because that’s an indictment on Pat.

So Pat’s peers listen to him exaggerate (not realizing he’s exaggerating) and assume, they, too, need Slack at their companies.

This isn’t meant to pick on Slack (although, we do firmly believe it is a crutch for companies who lack communication standards and protocols).

The point is that companies often let others tell it what it needs rather than the other way around.

The solution to this is simple.

You know what problems your company faces. You know where there is waste. You know where there is opportunity.

If not, hire a consultant.

The point is: Do your own research to find weaknesses and opportunities and then look for software that can solve and capture them respectively.

Maybe there is off-the-shelf software out there and all you have to do is purchase a license and install it.

But more likely, if you really are looking to solve a specific problem or capture a competitive advantage, you’ll have to hire someone to build the solution tailored specifically to your needs.

Do that, with a reputable company, and you and your employees will be on the opposite end of our poll.

 

Working with the Government

In our trio of client types, government is the newest.

We’ve been working with private companies and entrepreneurs since we opened our doors in 2010, but Uncle Sam didn’t come onboard until 2017.

Since then, we’ve won several contracts at various levels of government (albeit we’ve lost more than we’ve won, which is a big takeaway from working with the government).

With that said, working with the government has been way more difficult to break into than it was with other types of clients.

Part of that is because Gunner Technology is not a typical software company and our model of doing business is different than traditional companies.

And one thing you learn quickly when working with the government is anything non-traditional initially is viewed as a pit viper.

We’ve learned a lot more in our time working with the government and we wanted to share that for others looking to do the same.

Acronym Soup

Your head will start to spin with the number of acronyms that will come flying at you.

GSA. SWEP. AAPC. CPI. OSBP.

I mean, there are hundreds if not thousands.

Do yourself a favor and search the Internet for the phrase “Guide to Government Acronyms” – print it out and keep it with you whenever you’re dealing with the government.

COTS, MOTS, GOTS and NOTS

 

Speaking of acronyms, there are a few you really need to know, including these four as they describe the type of work the government is looking for.

When you’re searching for government work, you’ll be trying to separate all the potential opportunities into either “good” or “service.”

Personally, we offer a service, so we’re only going to be interested in opportunities that are service-based.

The problem is trying to separate the two as the government often is unclear on which they are looking for.

So you’ll have to decode these acronyms or straight up ask the contracting agency during Q&A.

But what they heck do they mean?

A COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) product is one that is used “as-is.” COTS products are designed to be easily installed and to interoperate with existing system components. Almost all software bought by the average computer user fits into the COTS category: operating systems, office product suites, word processing, and e-mail programs are among the myriad examples. One of the major advantages of COTS software, which is mass-produced, is its relatively low cost.

A MOTS (either modified or modifiable off-the-shelf, or military off-the-shelf, depending on the context) product is typically a COTS product whose source code can be modified. The product may be customized by the purchaser, by the vendor, or by another party to meet the requirements of the customer. In the military context, MOTS refers to an off-the-shelf product that is developed or customized by a commercial vendor to respond to specific military requirements. Because a MOTS product is adapted for a specific purpose, it can be purchased and used immediately. However, since MOTS software specifications are written by external sources, government agencies are sometimes leery of these products, because they fear that future changes to the product will not be in their control.

A GOTS (government off-the-shelf) product is typically developed by the technical staff of the government agency for which it is created. It is sometimes developed by an external entity, but with funding and specification from the agency. Because agencies can directly control all aspects of GOTS products, these are generally preferred for government purposes.

A NOTS (niche off-the-shelf or not off-the-shelf) Niche off-the-shelf refers to vendor-developed software that is for a specialized and narrow market segment, in comparison to the broad market for COTS products.

Also, it hasn’t been formalized, but there is also something we call FOTS or “Frankenstein off-the-shelf” which is when the government wants a bunch of COTS products fused with duct tape to fill a requirement.

Typically, we are looking for GOTS and NOTS work.

We want to build something either with the government’s assistance or for the government that doesn’t exist yet.

We’re looking to make them a suit tailored specifically for their bodies rather than sell them one off the floor.

Can we just talk about this?

Some opportunities will have a “pre-bid conference,” which are a cattle-call or press conference of sorts where bidders can attend in person or (sometimes) dial into a conference line.

This is your opportunity to ask questions, but not have a dialog, but in a very formal, impersonal setting.

Most opportunities don’t even have this, and you are relegated to “Q&A” where you email the agency all the questions you have about the opportunity.

All bidders submit questions and the agency responds with an updated posting that contains the “answers” to these questions.

I put answers in quotes because often, the answers don’t provide any additional insight into the original question.

No follow up questions.

This is so different than how we normally operate where we have at least five pre-meetings with a client – all non-billed – where we interview the client to discuss the needs of the project as well as the vision.

There’s as much back and forth needed until we are both comfortable with the direction of the project.

So… Agilefall?

In the software world, most of the opportunities claim to want an “Agile” project management approach.

In fact, some even require certified SCRUM masters or the like.

And yet, when you read into the opportunity, the agency wants firm dates, budgets and deliverables – and probably a gantt chart or two.

All of which are hallmarks of Waterfall Project Management – the antithesis of Agile Project Management.

We have reconciled this with an approach we call “Agilefall” which creates hard milestones and then backs into those milestones using an agile approach.

RFP vs RFI vs RFQ

Again with the acronyms!

Opportunities comes in three different flavors (largely), so make sure you know what kind of opportunity you’re going after.

Short for “request for information,” the RFI is really a preliminary document used by companies that don’t understand the marketplace they’re about to enter. In the case of a company searching for a CRM, for instance, it would use an RFI if it had no prior experience with CRM and wanted to gain an understanding on the range of options in the CRM space.

Because the RFI is more of a fact-finding document, you’ll want to ask open ended questions, ones that allow the vendor to talk about its full range of offerings. Typically, the RFI will state the broad business challenges you’re having, and then the vendor can tailor its response within the context of those challenges. Often times, the vendor will explain its position in the marketplace (for instance, what industries it specializes in), how it licenses its product, and what other fees you can expect.

An RFP, “Request for Proposal,” is a document that asks vendors to propose solutions to a customer’s problems or business requirements. An RFP is usually what follows an RFI; in fact, it’s rare that a company will go from an RFI to an RFQ (for reasons that will become clear below). An RFP should contain much more specificity in terms of what a company’s needs are by outlining the business goals for the project and identifying specific requirements that are necessary for the work being requested. The key to this document is that there is sufficient detail to give vendors the context they need in order to propose a valid solution, yet it still needs to allow enough leeway for the vendors to apply creativity and best practices to fulfill those needs.

Short for “request for quotation,” the RFQ is an even more detailed document that drills down to the exact specifications required by the company. In a situation where an RFQ is used for a b2b software project, the company knows enough about its current system and exactly how it wants to change or improve it in the future.

Unlike the RFP, which allows for the flexibility of the vendor to suggest creative solutions to the problem, a company deploying an RFQ isn’t looking for creativity, but rather for the vendor to deploy the software using predetermined specifications. Typically, the RFQ contains a table that lists each requirement and then asks the vendor to assess its ability to meet that requirement. The vendor then will specify whether it can meet the requirement out of the box, whether it will require some configuration, whether it will require some custom code, or whether it will require leveraging a third party vendor.

Scoring and Set Asides

Contracts can no longer be awarded based on cost alone.

Meaning, just because you’re the low bidder doesn’t mean you’ll get the gig.

Most will publish a scorecard and whichever bidder scores the highest, wins the gig.

Also, some scorecards award points for things like “small business” or “minority owned business”, veteran, woman, etc.

So if you qualify, keep an eye out for those opportunities.

Be patient

It’s a long but profitable road.

The government can be a lucrative client and a good client, but it’s hard to earn their trust.

Keep trying and build that portfolio and you’ll eventually break in.

Working with Entrepreneurs

Working with entrepreneurs is the both the most challenging and most rewarding type of work we do.

We understand the entrepreneur  because we were founded by entrepreneurs and maintain that entrepreneurial spirit in the way we work today.

Entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of this country and drive innovation forward more than anyone, so whenever an entrepreneur considers us to help launch their idea, we are flattered.

And yet, some of the qualities that make entrepreneurs so successful and fun to work with also making working with them challenging.

Passion

This is the number one thing that stands out when thinking about entrepreneurs.

Across the board, entrepreneurs are passionate about their idea, and if they’re not, the idea is certainly going to fail.

That passion can drive a project along.

The motivation is infectious and can drive along a project that is threatening to stall.

It can also lead to some contentious moments.

See, entrepreneurs can move mountains with their passion and compromise doesn’t always sit well with that passion to get things done the way they want it.

Put sometimes, their vision doesn’t align with the reality of building software.

For example, an entrepreneur may want push notifications in the app their building – and want to see it immediately, but focusing on building push notifications at the start of the project is much more difficult than building it toward the end when a lot of the dust has settled.

But trying to tell an entrepreneur that it’s better to wait is like trying to give a cat a bath sometimes.

In fact, sometimes, it’s more efficient to kind of give the entrepreneur what they’re looking for and come back to it later and finish it.

In the case of push notifications, we might be able to fake it to show the entrepreneur how it will work.

This may mean using a dev certificate or a certificate from another project to temporarily demonstrate push notifications in the app.

We’ll still have to go back later and do the work to get our own production certificate for the app, but, a lot of times, the client just wants to see it.

That said, you have to make it clear to the entrepreneur that you “Wizard of Oz”-ed the feature just so they could see how it would function.

Don’t let them think the feature is complete because when you have to go back and actually build it out the right way, they will be upset because they thought the feature was complete.

Emotion

Emotion and passion are pretty similar, but they affect the relationship in slightly different ways.

They emotionally aspect is great when things are going well.

For the entrepreneur, each new feature release can recharge their battery as they start to see their idea come to life.

At the same time, emotion can threaten to derail a project.

Sometimes the client will see their idea start coming to life, and they don’t like it – or some funding doesn’t come through.

No matter the project, there will be low points.

When low points get emotional, the project can suffer.

Budget

Budget is almost always tough on projects where the client is an entrepreneur who is trying launch their big idea – usually on a shoestring.

When you combine budget with some of the other aspects, such as emotion and perfection, you can become a trigger point.

What’s important in this aspect is the idea of limitations.

Entrepreneurs can’t blow their whole budget on technology.

In fact, however much is spent on technology needs to be spent on marketing.

This means you need a “go live” point.

This is the point where you’re going to agree that it’s time to go to market – otherwise, you can blow your entire budget on technology and not have anything left for marketing.

Perfection

This goes hand-in-hand with budget, passion and emotion.

More so than any other type of client, entrepreneurs want perfection.

They’re so close to the project, they tend to almost become the project.

They start to see project defects as self-defects and anything that is not perfect becomes an indictment on them, personally.

It’s so important to understand that perfection kills – especially when you have a limited budget.

Stuff can be tweak or fixed later.

Functional is sufficient more times than not, especially when you’re trying to prove a concept.

Entrepreneurs are often looking for investment.

That money changes a lot and lets you fine tune things much further.

But if you never launch, you’ll never get that investment money, and it won’t matter if you get to perfection or not.

Something is always better than nothing.

Working with entrepreneurs is amazing, but there are key things to keep in mind on both sides of the relationship.

If you’re the developers, you have to keep these things in mind and be willing to work at a discount and hitch your wagon to the project.

If the idea is great and the client is great, these can be the most fulfilling and rewarding projects to work on because you get to grow with the client and share in their successes.

But getting to that success point will take a lot of work, guidance and patience.

If you’re an entrepreneur, try to always think “What is the minimal product I need to prove that my idea will be huge?”

That way you won’t get hung up on perfection.

You need investors to be able to see the potential of your idea.

Also keep in mind that marketing is critical.

The idea that “If you build it, they will come” is a fallacy.

This will help you get to investment as well because investors want to see usage and potential.

Potential you can demonstrate without marketing.

Usage, not so much.