In 2013, I co-founded STRATEGIC IO as a way to escape the shackles of a large defense contracting firm. It was my first real journey into entrepreneurship where I was truly willing to risk it all for a chance to create something great. Was I qualified to make such a bold move? Probably not. I had never participated in executive business decisions, hadn’t managed more than a team of 20, and sure as hell didn’t have an MBA. However, I was familiar with solving hard problems, knew how to Google like a boss, and had a motivated co-founder to complement my gaps.
These skills paid big dividends because we quickly learned how tedious and time consuming it was to build a defense contracting firm. By focusing on the niche market of offensive cyber operations, we quickly received subcontracts to help prime contractors fill their vacant positions. It was this moment when we learned we needed something called a CAGE code. For those unfamiliar, this is a unique ID used extensively in Government contracting to award contracts, track vendors, and issue facility clearances. So how hard can it be to get one? Well first, you must meet some prerequisites:
- Obtain a unique ID from the Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS)
- Register in the System for Award Management (SAM)
- Request your CAGE code through the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA)
Unfortunately, each of these systems come with their own quirks, headaches, and inconvenient delays. Thankfully, friends and mentors (like AFCEA) helped us fight our way through the process. Two months later, we had our CAGE code. 😀
From here, most folks might expect that it’d be “all downhill” to accept a subcontract. Sadly, it wasn’t. In the line of business we supported, we had to possess a facility clearance (security clearance for your company, also known as an FCL), cleared employees, and a DDTC Export License (ITAR requirement). And you probably guessed it…each comes with its own set of prerequisites.
- Want an FCL? Better have a federal government agency or another FCL possessing company willing to sponsor you. Oh, and 9 months of time to wait…
- Not already cleared? That can be tough. Thankfully, NSA has an awesome thing called the Provisional Industrial Security Approval (PISA) Sponsorship Program. Unfortunately, you’ll need an NSA sponsor (which you probably won’t have…because you’re not cleared ;)
- What about that DDTC? Well you’re going to need to be “eligible to contract with, or to receive a license or other approval to import defense articles” and pay an annual $2,250 fee.
For STRATEGIC IO, I addressed these issues with a two-pronged plan of attack. First, I snuck my way into NSA’s PISA program by asking an extremely senior decision maker for help on a whim, and crazy enough, he sponsored our company. I won’t drop names, but in case he ever reads this, I’m very thankful. The PISA program allowed STRATEGIC IO to hold our clearances and sponsor three more employees for Top Secret clearances with CI Polygraphs. The second step involved a negotiation where my team supported our prime contractor for a year as independent consultants while they sponsored our FCL. Although this might sound like a raw deal, our prime paid us on time like clockwork and took care of us every step of the way. Thank you Raytheon.
After nearly 16 months of hard work, deal making, and tedious paperwork, STRATEGIC IO was ready to grow into the next big thing. But there was one major issue: my co-founder and I had also grown during this time period (and it wasn’t in the direction of defense contracting). Despite having all our ducks-in-a-row and quickly reaching a couple million in annual sales, STRATEGIC IO’s services based business model didn’t scratch our itch. The “startup” life was calling our names. To get straight to brass tacks:
“You can only build one amazing thing at a time.”
For my co-founders and I, that one thing is Huntress Labs. For the past two years, we used STRATEGIC IO to bootstrap our business and transition from defensing contracting to the commercial product world. As of today, that bootstrapping phase is behind us and it’s finally time to divest STRATEGIC IO’s corporate assets.
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Many of my blog readers won’t have any interest in acquiring STRATEGIC IO’s corporate infrastructure. Don’t worry about it, your attention to read this far already means enough. However, some of you share my same itch and are ready to escape your defense contracting shackles. I’ve written this blog for you.
JUST DO IT! I’ve been in your shoes. They’re small, stinky, and restrict your circulation. Until you take them off, you’re always going to be constrained.
- Want to escape your desk? The agriculture tech industry is booming!
- Tired of working in the hot sun? There are infinite open programming positions in climate controlled offices.
- Think you can build a better defense contracting firm? I want to help.
We’re selling STRATEGIC IO in its entirety for $50K USD. That includes our DUNS, CAGE code, ITAR, TS FCL, NSA ARC registration, NSA PISA participation, the website, and all operating relationships (banking, books, payroll, insurance, etc.). We’ll even throw in some edgy recruiting signs ;)
Ideally, we’d love to find a motivated entrepreneur looking to avoid the painstaking processes needed to do business with the DoD and Intelligence Community. If you’re ready to escape your shackles, please send serious inquiries to business[at]strategic.io.
Thanks a bunch for joining me on this wild journey! -Kyle