Louisa Jaffe and her husband Bill founded Alexandria, Virginia-headquartered government contractor Technical and Project Engineering — also known as TAPE — in 2003.
Nearly a decade later, TAPE has employees in 15 states and Washington, D.C. that provide technical services and management support to federal agencies.
In this conversation with ExecutiveBiz, Louisa describes where she wants TAPE to be in five years and offers her advice on steps for other new companies to take when they enter the GovCon market.
ExecutiveBiz: What inspired you to found TAPE?
Louisa Jaffe: My inspiration for starting TAPE came from my husband Bill Jaffe, whom I met while I was still on active duty in the Army Reserve. I was trying to figure out what to do after my military career that would have as much meaning to me as being in the Army did. I was inspired by his vision of how I could continue to serve my country as a government contractor after military retirement. After giving it some thought coupled with our courtship, a year and a half later, we got married in Las Vegas and started our business.
ExecutiveBiz: Could you introduce us your work outside the Army prior to founding TAPE?
Louisa Jaffe: I grew up in an entrepreneurial family and I worked in diverse family businesses throughout my young adulthood as well as during my years in the Army Reserve. I gained familiarity with the language of contracts when I worked as a real estate appraiser. One of my most fun prior experiences, outside the military, was being the Director of Public Relations for a music and book publishing and distribution company called Planetary Clubhouse, where I promoted tours and product sales of authors and musicians.
During my time in the Army Reserve, I also discovered that I was a natural at being a public affairs officer. My collective experiences in marketing and contracts, in one form or another, have been perfect for my current role at TAPE.
ExecutiveBiz: What experiences from your previous work do you draw on as you lead TAPE?
Louisa Jaffe: I mostly draw on the leadership training and opportunities that were afforded me in the military. One unique thing about the military is that young people are placed in positions of enormous responsibility and are expected to accomplish a great deal. Sometimes they are in-charge of hundreds of people and equipment that are worth millions or even billions of dollars; that kind of responsibility would rarely ever happen in private industry. The military teaches a can-do and get-it-done attitude that stays with you throughout your career, especially through the hard times. As I lead TAPE, I rely on perseverance to find a solution, a way of thinking I first learned in the military.
ExecutiveBiz: What is the key thing for small businesses to focus on when they first start out in the GovCon market?
Louisa Jaffe: A company starting out has to think about many things, but owners should make time regularly to focus on the numbers. They should keep their overhead costs aligned with their current needs. As they grow, they can start to build infrastructure to support their business. They should also understand the importance of the components of profit and loss as well as the indirect cost relative to profit. Even if a small business person doesn’t know how to calculate those things, he or she needs to find someone to provide that information to them in order to determine several things:
One, whether or not the company is making a profit. If so, the amount of profit per project vs. as a company.
Two, how much spending resources can be allocated relative to income and relative to profit. New businesses make the mistake of spending money indiscriminately without it having reference to anything else. (They also need to understand the rate of return ““ what to expect to gain from certain types of spending).
Three, how many indirectly and directly billable people the company can afford to pay as well as the maximum amount it can pay billable people while still making a profit on the project. If people stay on top of the components of profit and loss, they will do fine. Accordingly,you can never let someone else make those decisions.
ExecutiveBiz: Where would you like to see TAPE five years from now?
Louisa Jaffe: Five years from now, I see TAPE becoming a leader in systems engineering in the government contracting industry. We will continue to have a strong focus in cyber security, IT, training resources allocation and SETA (systems engineering technical assistance) support for the federal government. TAPE is a process- and metric-oriented company that is leading the way with transparent modernization of processes in all those previously mentioned aspects. We are focused on providing the government with cost-effective, efficiency centered cutting-edge solutions.
ExecutiveBiz: Are there any final thoughts that you would like to offer?
Louisa Jaffe: I would like to encourage other government contractors to hire veterans (vets). Vets are trained in leadership and their effective, productive and proactive accomplishments are above anything anywhere else. The government contracting industry should not shy away from hiring severely service-disabled vets in wheelchairs or who may be assisted by equipment. They make amazing employees and I would like to say to veterans who want to go into business — do it. There are a lot of resources available to you and you will find that government contracting is a wonderfully satisfying career. It truly is a way to continue to serve your country.