Jon Tellier is the president and founder of an innovative company called JetCo Solutions that finds bureaucracy exciting. He is a Major in the United States Army still serving as a reservist and a veteran of Desert Storm.
Jon received his Bachelor of Science in Engineering from the United States Military Academy at West Point. He went to Airborne School, Ranger School at Fort Benning and Jungle School in Panama. He served in the Army for 11 years, was stationed in Italy and Germany and served in Operation Desert Storm in Iraq. He jumped out of airplanes 82 times. Willingly. Out of an airplane.
In the past 5 years, Jon has spent his time building JetCo Solutions, a company focused on winning government business for clients by marketing and selling their products and services to government agencies.
He has recruited strong talent and built a team with unique backgrounds in government, marketing, engineering, quality assurance, research and creative. JetCo’s clients represent diverse industries that include health care, manufacturing, information technology, telecommunication and professional services.
Functionally, Jon oversees account management and is involved in every aspect of General Services Administration (GSA) services for clients. He has accumulated a unique mix of experience, sharp skills and a reputation as an engineer who can sell.
Jon is a process freak at heart. Since graduating from West Point, he amassed more than 20 years of experience working with military, manufacturing and business development organizations.
Jon continues to serve his country as a reservist and he and his wife regularly attend Army-Navy football games with the true belief that his alma mater may actually win.
What are you working on right now?
At JetCo, government sales and marketing is our life. We provide clients with proactive strategies and reactive solutions. That isn’t just a tagline–it is actually how we operate. Proactively, we create a research-laden business-to-government (B2G) tactical marketing plan that incorporates our clients’ existing brands and customizes them for the government audience. Reactively, we find opportunities through heavy research, work through bid/no-bid evaluations with clients, provide proposal management and professional writing, submit bids and perform post-bid evaluation and follow-up. We become each client’s government sales department.
Right now, we are working on becoming indispensable to our clients. We are focused on clients not prospects. That sounds weird for a company that has experienced double-digit growth every year since inception, but we’ve found that exceeding client expectations leads to growth. In fact, we just hired a director of client services to ensure that we meet and exceed every milestone and government sales goal we establish. We measure EVERYTHING for our clients so we are able to quickly see trends and assess effectiveness. We can tell them how many bids they pass on, how many contracts they bid on and how many they convert to wins. We literally measure EVERYTHING. And, we think it’s fun. Really fun. Clients like it, others mock us.
Where did the idea for JetCo Solutions come from?
Entrepreneurial drive and my wife’s former job led to the formation of JetCo Solutions. My wife ran business outreach and supplier diversity for the State of Michigan. During her time in that role, legislation was adopted that gave preference for service disabled veteran owned companies. She was already an expert in training companies to bid on and win state level contracts and she became an expert in public sector supplier diversity. We talked at length about the growing prevalence of these programs at the state level and the existing program at the federal level. Since I am a veteran, I smelled an opportunity. I spoke with a manufacturer about becoming its sales and marketing division for government sales. While the relationship with that manufacturer didn’t pan out, the idea took shape and got legs. That was 5 years ago. Today we have helped clients win more than $2 billion worth of government contracts with more than 150 public agencies.
What does your typical day look like?
I am on the phone with clients and contracting officers all day. I love that part of my job and I always answer my phone when it rings. A lot of people get annoyed when they have to communicate with bureaucrats, but I love it. Because of my wife’s experience working in a public procurement shop, we have a unique level of empathy and respect for public procurement professionals–they work in a fishbowl unlike their private sector counterparts.
How do you bring ideas to life?
We learn from mistakes, we listen to customers and we incorporate wine into brainstorming sessions.
3 trends that excite you?
- The Department of Defense is focused on vehicle reset instead of new vehicle programs. (Yes, this excites us.)
- All levels of government are getting innovative about using alternative energy and finding energy savings.
- The growing interest of companies looking to diversify into government sales. This is exceptionally exciting because we can add to their government sales capacity and enable them to respond more frequently and effectively.
What is the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I was hired to do business development for a technical writing company but they weren’t ready for sales. I love sales and am not timid about it, so I was a horrible fit for them. I learned that fit is more important than function–which makes my company a better employer. Every one of our team members is a fit, both for our culture and for his or her job function.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
We would know from day one how to vet good clients from whiners. Early on, we accepted 2 clients that couldn’t get over losses. In government, there are tons of opportunities to sell. Sometimes bidders won’t win when they should. When this happened with these 2 clients, they whined and wanted to wage a battle to prove they were right and the buyer was wrong. This is a tremendous waste of resources. We’d rather move on to the next opportunity and focus on developing strong relationships with contracting officers.
We’ll help a client protest if it is warranted, but at some point we insist that they get over their bad selves and get ready for the next bid.
What is the one thing you did/do as an entrepreneur that you would do over and over again and recommend everybody else do?
Plan, execute and budget.
We plan everything. For our company, we hold strategic planning sessions as a group and we budget based on the results. For our clients, we create proactive plans that guide their government sales efforts. We don’t get so caught up in planning that we forget to execute. We execute our plan, evaluate results, revise the plan and keep executing.
We budget and we stick to it. As a result, we have no debt and a strong cash position. We are financially stable, which gives all of us – owners and employees – confidence and peace of mind regarding our future.
Tell us a secret…
I judge men that don’t wear belts.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
When you attend a business networking event and someone tells you to get a GSA schedule in order to sell to the government, run from them. Not everyone needs a GSA schedule to sell and not everyone is equipped to sell to the government. Vet your potential government selling approach before trying to sell and don’t believe consultants that can’t back up their statements with facts.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I highly recommend Linchpin by Seth Godin. My wife has a crush on his brilliant marketing mind and convinced me to read the book. It is a great read for business owners because it reminds us to nurture thinking within our organizations. Bosses and leaders are so different, and Godin argues that leaders encourage everyone within their organization to become empowered to think and improve the company. I hope I act that way with our employees. I want to–and I hope my actions reflect that.
If you weren’t working on JetCo, what would you be doing?
I’d spend my days hunting and fishing with my dad and son–and I’d travel around the country watching Army football.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why.
- @834Design – because they are an amazing small business marketing firm and they are funny.
- @EntreLeadership – because entrepreneurs need common sense business reminders and financial stability.
- @JetCoSolutions – because we are shameless self-promoters, we make government contracting fun and my wife is clever.
When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Last weekend I watched Talladega Nights for the kazillionth time with my 13 year old. Will Ferrell makes me laugh but hearing my son laugh hard is what made me laugh. That’s a great sound.
Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?
Colonel Greg Gadson, a classmate I played football with at West Point. He is an inspiration and a constant idea man. He also lost his legs in Iraq to an improvised explosive device (IED).
How do you manage growth as your company enters its sixth year?
We are very deliberate about managing our growth, which is why we focus more on retention in our marketing efforts than we do on new prospecting. We invest time as a management team to build a strong infrastructure that does not rely solely on our personalities, but rather on our bench and our processes. We believe that this investment will pay off in the long run.
How do you give back to other veterans and how important is that?
We contribute time and money to veteran causes locally and we contribute extensive time to helping other veterans maximize their opportunities with the government. We constantly do wish list drives for the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans and we organize similar drives for our clients.
About 1/3 of our clients are veteran owned or service disabled veteran owned. My wife still sits on a roundtable for Service Disabled Veteran Owned Businesses (SDVOB) in Michigan and she works with them to ensure enforcement of legislative intent.