Tapestry Technologies garners DOD contracts through niche products
Tired of feeling like only a number while working for a large corporate technology firm, Jacquie Sipes, Jim Govekar and Cindy Whitmer decided in 2005 to take a leap into the world of small business.
They created Tapestry Technologies Inc. in Greene Township, Franklin County, with Sipes as CEO, fighting with the big boys for competitively bid contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense. By 2014, the company had enough business from DOD and its contractors to garner about $10 million in revenue, and its products were being used by millions of federal employees.
“We ventured out on our own to do the same type of work (we had been doing), and luckily — either by dumb luck or skill, I'm not sure, sometimes it takes a little bit of both — it worked out,” said Govekar, now the company's CFO and COO.
Still, there's a strategy behind Tapestry's success. Rather than trying to beat large companies at everything, Sipes and her colleagues decided to limit Tapestry's focus to a niche market for what it does best.
The company performs cyber defense projects, particularly writing technical security policies for electronic devices like laptops, routers, applications, mobile phones and “pretty much anything in the technology life cycle,” Govekar said. It also provides training and support services related to the implementation of those policies and products.
“We have those skills, we stay in that lane, and we're trying to do it really well,” he said.
Tapestry is a small business, but there is nothing small about some of its products. It has written the security policy for a consolidated email system used by about 4.6 million DOD users, and other clients include the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army Information Technology Agency.
The DOD's Office of Small Business Programs is specifically devoted to helping companies like Tapestry succeed in the competitive bidding process. As of October 2014, 23 percent of DOD contracts — worth about $53 billion — were awarded to small businesses, according to a DOD press release.
Maureen Schumann, a DOD spokeswoman, also encouraged small-business owners to visit the department's Defense Innovation Marketplace website for opportunities available through DOD's Independent Research & Development program.
Angie Fogelsonger, Tapestry's vice president of business development, said the office advocates for small business and provides valuable assistance, but owners shouldn't rely on it to grow their business. Instead, a company must be constantly monitoring for competitive bidding opportunities that DOD or other federal agencies post in various places.
After bidding for a contract, be prepared for a long wait — sometimes as long as two years — for the proposal to be evaluated, Fogelsonger said.
Once DOD is a client, working with the Department of Defense is just like working with any other client that demands a high-quality product, Govekar said.
“It's still a person on the other end that you have to work with,” he said.
Tapestry's business is rapidly expanding. Revenue was just $4 million in 2012, yet the company projects that it will take in $16 million in 2016 . Its 73 employees occupy about 20,000 square feet of office space.
Sipes said the company's leaders intentionally grew the business slowly and cautiously in the years following its 2005 founding in an attempt to avoid premature hirings and to maintain a small-business feel.
“We wanted to make sure that we had a firm foundation before we started to bring a lot of people in,” she said.
Tapestry still operates like a small business with employee barbecues, family picnics and trips, free bagel Fridays and other perks, Govekar said, and tries to minimize rules that affect employees but aren't critical to the function of the company.
However, company leaders said they are sticklers about providing a quality product to clients — and dealings with the DOD aren't likely to go well if expectations are not met.
It's also critical to avoid attempts to be a “jack of all trades,” Fogelsonger said.
“A lot of times, companies want to grow, and they want to grow fast, so they'll go after anything,” she said. “I think the most important thing is to find a niche and stick with it, and not extend yourself into areas of technology and business that you don't understand.”