n2grate debuts at No. 1 on 2015 Fast 50

With n2grate, president and COO Steve Halligan has capitalized on his sales career to lead a company that is comfortable where it is and optimistic about the future. n2grate leads this year's Fast 50 list.

When you work a number of jobs and learn a bunch of different aspects of a vertical market, it might be a good idea to leverage that knowledge and run a company focused on that market. At least, that's what Steve Halligan, president and chief operating officer at n2grate, is doing at his company after a long sales career that has prepared him to help his customers have successful cloud integration.

Founded in 2010, n2grate was founded by former federal judge and current n2grate vice president Jack Farley and president and chief operating officer Steve Halligan. The company focuses on helping federal agencies obtain IT infrastructure solutions, data center services and cloud integration.

The name was chosen to highlight the company’s expertise in data centers and as cloud integrators, Halligan said, and as a company, n2grate focuses on security and network components, intelligent storage, virtualization, data center management tools and cloud and collaboration services.

Over the last five years, n2grate has grown at such a fast rate that the company has landed the No. 1 spot on Washington Technology’s 2015 Fast 50 list, with a compound annual growth rate of 292.57 percent and $28.5 million in fiscal 2014 revenue.

n2grate is headquartered in Greenbelt, Md., and has a professional culture that enables employees to find success. “We have an approach to let professionals do their jobs without the company getting in the way of their success through pointless meetings, to-dos, et cetera. Everyone acts as business owners,” Halligan said.

Through this approach, the company has been able to grow a presence in the federal civilian market space, where around 70 percent of the company's revenue comes from, with n2grate's customers including the Labor Department, Health and Human Services Department, the Senate and the Homeland Security Department.

Halligan is particularly proud of a $15 million task order that the company won in May 2014 where n2grate assisted with the optimization of data center infrastructure in Dallas, Texas. After shutting down one of two main data centers, n2grate’s customer needed to complete a technology refresh across the entire IT infrastructure of the other data center, according to an n2grate case study.

Halligan’s background lent himself to finding success at n2grate. Originally working with Andersen Consulting—later renamed Accenture—Halligan moved on to work at the precursor to Verizon, then to Cisco Systems in the late 1990s, and then spent three years at VMware.

“My background is such that it really has been a largely enterprise-centric career,” Halligan said. “I had the opportunity to really see some of the complexities and mystery around customers transitioning to the cloud,” Halligan said.

Still, success in the cloud market is more than just understanding the cloud. With a very large number of competitors in the cloud integration space, differentiation is key. “Simply put, with focus comes results,” Halligan said. This was a lessoned learned for him, especially during the first two years of n2grate’s lifespan.

The market is so big, he said, that there are many things that one may want to dabble in. “But until you really focus, I don’t think you’ll see the growth or hit expectations.”

For n2grate, this meant focusing on the civilian market. Operating with that focus has allowed the company to not only find success there, but also has helped the company be more comfortable not being in certain agencies, Halligan said.

“We’re not doing business in the [Veterans Affairs Department]. My partner was a judge in the VA, but we haven’t found a way to crack it, and we’re comfortable with that because we have plenty of other places to go to compete,” he said.

In the future, n2grate is looking for move more into the information technology space. As of right now, n2grate does not have the security clearance to make the company a viable player in the IT space, Halligan said, but they are working to make that happen in 2016 and beyond.

Halligan also anticipates that their civilian business will remain strong. “[The Defense Department] in my opinion is a little more expensive of a customer segment to capture because of the geographical distribution of those agencies,” he said, noting that the federal civilian space is much more Washington, D.C.-centric.

That said, the president and chief operating officer does expect the company will push into the defense market. That push, along with plans to expand its BPA and IDIQ contracts portfolio, has the company hoping to hit the $100 million in revenue mark by the end of 2016.

As for this year, the goal is $50 million, and all signs point toward hitting that goal; in June 2015, the company already made just about what it made at the end of fiscal 2014: $28.5 million.

The company’s growth has been strictly organic, but is open to finding the right acquisition so long as it is a strategic fit for n2grate. The company plans on teaming as a method to get to know a potential acquisition, Halligan said.

Finally, n2grate will continue to focus on winning market share, Halligan said, but knows it will be challenging, as it always has been. "It's easy to say, but harder to do," he said.