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Veteran focus drives VetsAmerica's growth

Company makes serving VA central to its mission

The key to growth in the federal market is effective management, and the key to effective management is having the right infrastructure in place.

So says John Collins, CEO of VetsAmerica Business Consulting, the No. 4 company on the Washington Technology 2012 Fast 50.

“We didn’t really get into any big numbers until last year, when we tripled in growth,” Collins said. “We had a pretty good project management and account management infrastructure in place so that we could effectively manage the contracts.”

VetsAmerica’s annual revenues jumped $11 million last year, going from $5.2 million in 2010 to $16.2 million in 2011. From 2007 to 2011, the company had a compound annual growth rate of 186.88 percent.

“I’m well past retirement age, but I’m still having fun,” Collins said. “We’ve grown it fourfold, and it’s still fun.”

Collins spent most of his career at Booz Allen Hamilton. In 1990, he formed his first company, Collins Consulting Group, which he sold in 2002. Under the terms of the sale, Collins entered into a three-year non-compete agreement with that company, from whom he had to ask permission to start VetsAmerica in 2002. The company’s leaders agreed.

“They were very helpful and gave me a number of small contracts from 2002 to 2004, and that helped put our company on the map,” Collins said.

Once the non-compete agreement ended, VetsAmerica was able to stretch its wings and see where it could go. “Before that, we did very minimal revenues, somewhere between $100,000 and $450,000,” Collins said.

Then, in 2005, the Veterans Technology Services governmentwide acquisition contract was introduced, so Collins tapped all his friends who had companies to be teammates on the contract, he said. “Almost two years later — 19 months to be exact — we won it in December 2006, and the contracts started in February 2007.”

Very quickly, the Department of Veterans Affairs “took over and became the biggest user of that vehicle, so we ended up in 2011 with 95 percent of our revenues from the VA,” Collins said.

“The first commercial contract we won with the VA was a three-year contract to enable all of VA’s public-facing websites with e-authentication techniques, so it was called e-authentication enablement,” he added. “We had 28 major websites to enable.”

Following that three-year contract, VetsAmerica won the Veterans Relations Management contract, under which the company developed VA’s virtual contact center prototype. “They liked that, and we ended up being one of the five primes that won that contract,” Collins said.

That particular contract had a $480 million ceiling, and VetsAmerica shared the bill with Hewlett-Packard Co. and SRA International Inc.

Of course, with the VA accounting for such a high percentage of VetsAmerica’s revenues, the company’s advisers suggested that Collins branch out a bit. But he stuck by the company’s mission “to support veterans and military-disabled veterans and specifically the VA.” So it made sense that most of its revenue was coming from that agency.

Despite the momentum that VetsAmerica has built, Collins sees some challenges to maintaining that growth.

“A lot of companies like us are now having difficulties with the service-disabled veteran-owned company certification process,” he said. “We had a problem with that that disrupted our bidding and proposal process for about five months. So I wouldn’t expect to grow at as fast a rate.”

The biggest challenge, he said, “is recruiting and maintaining the people we need in our very niche core competencies.”

However, Collins is hopeful about the young women and men in the workforce. “That is what’s contributed to our success; we have incredible talent,” Collins said. “We have accomplished leaders and managers in their early 20s. I never got there until my early 30s.”

Regardless of what the future looks like, Collins said, “the next step is to bring the company to $30 million to $50 million, and if we can do that in the next year or two, we’ll be ecstatic.”

About the Author

Mark Hoover is a senior staff writer with Washington Technology. You can contact him at mhoover@washingtontechnology.com, or connect with him on Twitter at @mhooverWT.

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