Rahul Pandhi, the president of technology consultancy CollabraLink Technologies, has an appetite for growing businesses. He joined CollabraLink in 2008 and has since grown the business from zero to 65 employees.
Today he serves the business originally founded by his father, Yash Pandhi, by providing strategic direction for the firm and overseeing business development and day to day operations.
WashingtonExec recently spoke to Pandhi about his experience in the federal marketspace, his methods for growing CollabraLink, his acquisition procurement pet peeves, what keeps him up at night and how he survived living in Switzerland without knowing any French.
WashingtonExec: Please tell us about CollabraLink and why you entered the federal market space?
Rahul Pandhi: My career dates back to the late ‘90s and early 2000s. I started off working in IT with Accenture where I did a myriad of large ERP implementations for commercial clients. Towards the end of my career there, I received exposure to the federal sector. Frankly I wasn’t in love with being an IT Consultant so I left and went back and did an MBA at the University of Michigan. That gave me a great opportunity to explore a bunch of different areas; one area in particular that I wanted to pursue was strategy and merger & acquisitions. After I completed my MBA I spent a few years at a corporate strategy boutique firm that spun out of Bain & Company called L.E.K. Consulting. I did a lot of merger & acquisition work there. Really my charge was helping these companies understand how to grow either through acquisition or even organic growth. We helped a lot of companies figure out what new markets to enter and what new products to launch which companies to buy and things like that. That gave me a great appetite for growing businesses.
The first thing I did when I joined CollabraLink was produce a strategic review of our customer base and revenue streams. One of the things that I identified right away was federal was a market we should tap, primarily because the economy was souring and we knew Federal agencies would have budget. Once we identified federal I went about the process of getting our 8(a) application done and getting our GSA schedule submitted because I knew that I couldn’t market to the government without that. Once I actually got my 8(a) and my GSA schedule I then started hitting the streets out here, talking to people and trying to win awards.
My role today is President. I run the business with the great team we’ve pulled together from soup to nuts. We’ve been fortunate enough to grow the company to about 65 employees and we are in a myriad of locations including Washington, DC, San Antonio, and Chicago and doing small bits of pieces of work elsewhere. Today CollabraLink is really focused on adding value to our customers through services around Business Process Management, Software/Web Development, Cloud/Mobile solutions, and Program and Mission support. Ninety-five percent of our work today is as a prime contractor and we are working with wonderful clients at the Department of Education, Treasury, Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), and the US Army.
WashingtonExec: What advice do you have for other small businesses aiming to also augment their growth?
Rahul Pandhi: A combination of things has worked for us — finding mentors that help to enable our success – that is number one. Our mentors were very strategic relationships for our organization, not only did they assist in “showing us the ropes” but they also helped grow our business through our ability to team with them. Number two is we’ve had a very tenacious and aggressive appetite. We’ve never been scared of any of the challenges we’re facing and we haven’t been discouraged by the naysayers or any of the failures that we’ve experienced along the way (or at least we try not to be!). We realized that it was part of the journey – that you may fail but then you get up and keep going or you may have people tell you ‘no, no, no it’s impossible’. You kind of just have to drown out that noise.
One more thing we aren’t shy about is spending money. A lot of smaller businesses are weary of this, but it is a critical piece to growing – making sure you’re investing, building your team, bringing in folks that can help take you to that next level.
It’s been a combination of being very strategic about building relationships in the right arenas and being very aggressive in chasing growth. One more thing we aren’t shy about is spending money. A lot of smaller businesses are weary of this, but it is a critical piece to growing – making sure you’re investing, building your team, bringing in folks that can help take you to that next level.
WashingtonExec: Do you think small businesses are better equipped to ride out federal budget cuts compared to larger corporations?
Rahul Pandhi: I will say first that I’m bullish on the federal sector. I’m very bullish. I still think this is a wonderful sector for small businesses to play in. It’s ripe with opportunity even with federal budget cuts…My strong belief is that even with budget cuts and sequestration, companies that deliver value will survive – not only survive but thrive. I think the sequestration and the budget cuts will unfortunately weed out some of the fledgling small businesses though.
WashingtonExec: If you could change one thing about the acquisition procurement process what would it be?
Rahul Pandhi: It seems a bit silly to me that we are still submitting proposals in paper form through the mail or UPS. It feels like in this day and age we are all so technologically advanced that it would be so much better to just do things electronically. It burns me up because it bad for the environment too – it’s just bad all around.
WashingtonExec: Have you seen or do you think in with these budget constraints that smaller businesses are better equipped to deal with it than larger businesses?
Rahul Pandhi: I think smaller businesses are better equipped to deal with it. We’ve got the ability to really quickly and easily control our own costs. When I say that I mean overhead costs and things like that. That allows us to tangibly affect our pricing. In a budget constrained environment the rule of the game is you’ve got to price low. You’ve got to price it low and still be effective for the government. The way you do that is to control your costs; your internal costs that you can price low. I think smaller businesses are well equipped to do that. I also think from a budget constrained environment the government themselves, in my view, are going to look to small businesses to provide cost savings that they are not getting from some of the big businesses that they work with. We are better equipped to deal with that environment and it might actually benefit us a little bit.
WashingtonExec: What is something that most people might not know about you?
Rahul Pandhi: I lived for a long period of time during my Accenture days in Geneva, Switzerland working on an ERP implementation for the United Nations. I don’t think a lot of people know that about me and it was actually one of the more defining periods of my life from a personal growth perspective. I essentially moved there from downtown Chicago where I was in an apartment right next to a fire station. When I lived in Switzerland, I would wake up in the middle of the night hearing fire trucks screaming and folks out on the street that were streaming out of the bars. In the blink of an eye I flew to Switzerland and I was put up in an apartment in France right across the border, in a farm town. My apartment was right next to a cow pasture and instead of waking up hearing fire engines and people coming out of the bars I would wake up because the cows were mooing so loudly. I lived there for a year. I didn’t speak a lick of French and everybody spoke French. It really defined me because I had to make my own way and figure things out, figure out how to use the washing machine and do my laundry, get groceries and things like that. It really provided me with a lot of perspective and drive to live and experience things that take me out of my comfort zone. Having these types of experiences has really helped me as an entrepreneur.
WashingtonExec: What do you wake up now hearing outside of your window?
Rahul Pandhi: If I’m hearing anything it’s my son crying because he is just a baby but most of the time it’s me waking up thinking about my business and trying to figure out how we are going to win this next big contract or what I’m going to say in my presentation tomorrow and things like that. I don’t know when the day will come that I get good sleep, probably not for a while!
To read about about CollabraLink’s recent U.S. Education Department BPM win, click here.