One founder's keys to small business success
Dolly Oberoi knows what it takes to succeed as a small business in the federal market because she has been in the trenches for 30 years and has built C2 Technologies into a successful company focused on training and other solutions that improve performance.
When we asked her to be part of our 2020 Outlook event, we knew she would bring a unique perspective on the market and the challenges that lie ahead given she is the founder and CEO of C2.
But her success and longevity have as much to do with outlook and attitude as it does with mastering new technologies.
“Every single year is like being in a start-up,” she said Wednesday. “You have to reinvent yourself. You have to embrace new trends and technologies.”
But amidst that kind of change, you also need continuity. You need to understand what kind of value you are bringing to the customer.
“Our mission is to improve human performance. We do that through training, workforce planning and other customized solutions,” Oberoi said.
Oberoi's focus has been a part of her practically since childhood when her mother was starting schools and creating an education infrastructure in India. She worked for her mother and came to the U.S. in 1984 to learn about how computers could transform schools.
Her entrepreneurial fire was lit in Boston when she attended a presentation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I called my mother and told her I’m not coming back,” she said.
After struggling to get a job in the nascent IT industry, she started C2 and came to Washington. She began by consulting on how to take classroom learning and put it distributed environments.
Today her company has 500 employees in 22 locations and the Air Force is its biggest customer. But that’s another example of change. During the Obama Administration, civilian customers were its biggest.
From her presentation, I’ve culled these themes that can translate to small business success.
Oberoi repeated the innovation theme often in her presentation. “We always do prototypes and demonstrate what we do,” she said. Oberoi had just returned from NATO a meeting in Madrid, where C2 demonstrated virtual reality technologies and the impact of armed conflict for children and civilian population in general.
Of the 29 countries in attendance, 10 have now hired C2 for related work.
Though there might be limits to want a small business can do but this is a key to long-term customer relationships and to long-term employees. “We still have customers from 30 years ago,” she said. “But we are doing different things.”
For one customer, C2 has transformed the paper-based system for processing certifications for transitioning military personnel. “It was mundane, paper work stuff,” Oberoi said. C2 brought in robotic process automation and bots. The result is reduced time and greater efficiency.
“Our customers count on us for innovation,” she said. “In today’s market, you can’t compete if you aren’t bringing something new to the table.”
Don’t act small
“Small businesses used to act small and think small, but now they are becoming much more sophisticated,” she said. “You need to be more of a hybrid. We are borrowing business practices from large businesses and we set up a contract shop, human resources and finance.”
People are becoming more open to working for small businesses because they offer agility and innovation, she aid.
Avoid the plateau
Small business often over rely on set-asides and small business programs. This often pushes them into “butts-in-seats” types of contracts. There also is an emphasis on recompetes. Oberoi’s advice is to not do this. Focus on new work and growing the relationship with the customer.
“It’s important to stay connected,” she said. The week before our event, she was at the NATO event in Madrid. Other C2 personnel are attending conferences and other events.
“You have to stay abreast of what is happening,” she said. “Network, network, network.”
Posted by Nick Wakeman on Nov 12, 2019 at 12:25 PM