Amit Puri is the President and CEO of Ingenicomm, Inc., a company he founded in 2010. Since then, Ingenicomm has grown steadily, and today is a leading provider of mission-critical engineering services and specialized ground system electronics to a broad range of government and commercial aerospace programs.
Puri recently spoke with WashingtonExec about what he believes it takes to become a successful entrepreneur in the government contracting industry. Below we share his insights on the daily life of an entrepreneur as well as his advice to those who wish to start a federal contracting company.
WashingtonExec: What are the traits of a successful entrepreneur?
Amit Puri: I would describe a successful entrepreneur in a few words: ambitious, articulate, decisive, innovative, intense, intolerant, relentless, and visionary. To be successful, an entrepreneur needs to master a number of key skills:
- Being able to make swift decisions without a lot of analysis, and then learning from those experiences to build instincts that can be used for future decision-making. Great entrepreneurs are able to bring order to chaos with a systematic yet intuitive thought process.
- Being able to relentlessly motivate others to holistically execute your vision. A good entrepreneur will push employees to display a combined ego while knowing what is sacred to the company and what is taboo.
- Being able to recover from failure. Entrepreneurs understand that failure is not just the opposite of success, but also a pathway to greater successes; learning from failures and not making the same mistake twice greatly increases the chance for being successful in the long run. The idea of failing early to produce great products in the end is something I’ve embraced. As a result, we’ve deployed great products all over the world and have been embraced by every major space agency – and that’s worth failing for.
- Being able to surround yourself with knowledgeable people. An entrepreneur knows that being at the top is a very lonely job, and should build an effective trust network rather than just creating transactional relationships.
- Being able to not only make radical innovations, but also to constantly work towards incremental improvements.
- Being able to execute not only based on a tasking approach but it’s important for an entrepreneur to harness the knowledge based decision making side of people. A mechanism I have employed is by thinking of a solution out aloud with my staff.
WashingtonExec: Describe the life of an entrepreneur?
Amit Puri: In a nutshell, I’ve spent every waking minute over the last five years either working or thinking about work. As the explorer Ernest Shackleton would have put it, entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart – it’s long hours with little family interaction, and safe return is doubtful – but honor and recognition await those who are successful.
Lately, my typical day has been very different from what it was in the past. In the past, I would rush from one urgent matter to the next and would rarely be able to finish important, but non-urgent activities during the week, even with the work week chronically bleeding into both weekend days. Now, I wake up around 6:30 a.m. or 8:30 a.m., depending on when I went to bed the night before and whether I have a breakfast meeting, check my emails from my bed, and respond to the messages that need my urgent attention. After having a bowl of cereal or fruit, I head to work in time to attend my first meeting.
After my morning meetings, I get back to my desk and create my to-do list; I follow this list religiously each day, checking off against it as I complete tasks based on their priority. Traditionally, I send out between fifty and a hundred emails a day – both internal ones to staff members asking for status and providing direction, and external ones outlining a proposed architecture or a desired solution to something that a customer is requesting.
Each day, I set aside some time to talk to my staff about what they are working on and engage them in a conversation about things that are on their minds, and often I’ll go out with an employee or two for lunch.
Afternoons are a good time to engage in project-related meetings to see if our projects are on track and if any intervention is needed to further the process and remove any hurdles. Once the official work day is over, I spend time either addressing corporate matters or supporting in-depth solutioning for particular customers. Once a week I’ll attend a local networking event.
Lately, I’ve been regimented about working out several days a week, and I ensure that I take one day off during the weekends to spend a lot of time with my wife and son. It’s not a glamorous lifestyle – perhaps not even a normal life – but I really enjoy what I do and find a great deal of satisfaction doing it.
WashingtonExec: What can cause an entrepreneur to fail?
Amit Puri: An entrepreneur going into business with a mindset to not have to report to a boss will never be successful. He needs to realize that he is migrating from an environment where he reports to one boss to one with numerous bosses – his customers – increasing his accountability many times over.
It is a misconception that an entrepreneur must always take on a lot of risk. While that might be true in the infancy stage of starting a company, that mentality changes for most entrepreneurs when their companies enter the growth stage. It certainly has been the case with me. However, I don’t believe I would have been successful had I not executed on riskier opportunities.
Further, just being opportunistic – in other words, conducting passive business development – is a recipe for failure. It is very important for entrepreneurs to not only capitalize on opportunities, but also to have a strategic mindset in terms of envisioning where the next opportunities can be found. At the same time, seizing an opportunity for greater growth but failing to mobilize the needed resources in a timely manner can be very dangerous as well.
An entrepreneur will have a lot of good ideas presented to him daily. It’s important to understand when to execute a good idea, and when not to execute a good idea because the timing is not right.
This is the one thing I really don’t like. It shatters me to turn down good ideas because the timing just isn’t right. At the same time, an entrepreneur who develops a lot of close relationships with his employees needs to be careful to avoid choosing based on people rather than ideas.
WashingtonExec: How have you taken your company from a start-up to its growth phase?
Amit Puri: The biggest challenge I faced was whether or not to build a management team. Once I realized that I am trying to create a company that will scale and building leaders that I can to put into stewardship positions, it became a very easy decision. Ever since then, we’ve spent a lot of time cross-training amongst the three business units at Ingenicomm with weekly management meetings and all-day events. In particular, we spend a lot of time discussing company culture, employee growth, financial status, and customer feedback in addition to routine things like project status and sales opportunities. This allows the management team to not only gain insight into where the company is headed, but to actually be able to shape that direction. The ROI on this is not immediate; it’s an investment into the company’s future that pays dividends over time.
In addition to building a management team, it became very clear to me that we needed to institute processes that would allow for rapid growth in areas like HR, finance, engineering and manufacturing. This had to be carefully done so as not to destroy the innovative culture that our organization breeds. With solid buy-in from each staff member, we now have robust and codified processes and procedure that allow the various departments to function like a well-oiled machine without compromising our innovation engine.
WashingtonExec: What advice you would offer other would-be entrepreneurs?
Amit Puri: If you are ready to challenge yourself, want self-actualization in addition to financial success, and are able to characterize the risk you will have to take and be comfortable with it, you have the basic building blocks of being a successful entrepreneur.
Make sure you don’t fall into the same spiral I have and let your health and family commitments lag behind your work commitments, because they always eventually catch up with you. I now try to spend a lot of time with family and take care of my exercise and diet needs while still bringing my entrepreneurial spirit to work each day.
Reputation should be very sacred to an entrepreneur. Lose money but don’t lose your reputation. That’s what I preach to my team, and I am ruthless when it comes to anyone tarnishing my company’s reputation.
Always project confidence even in the face of difficulties and discouraging circumstances. Your customers and employees look at and resonate with your changing mood.
Always know that once you are successful, the entrepreneurial characteristics that have gotten you where you are today may not be the ones needed to get your organization to its next growth stage. One way to think about building a company is that you need to work your way through increasing revenue, then profit margins, and finally pay attention to the valuation of your company.
Related: Ingenicomm Inc. Receives ISO 9001:2008 Certification of Quality Management System; 2015 Market Outlook: Ingenicomm Inc. President and CEO Amit Puri Predicts the Increase Collaboration Between Government, Industry for Mutual Benefit