By Lynn L. Borkon, FedHealthIT Contributing Author
Anirudh Kulkarni is an entrepreneur, management consultant, and technology strategist. He is the founder and CEO of Customer Value Partners, a CRM consulting firm based in Washington, DC and Columbia, MD. Created in 2002, the firm has private and public sector clients in healthcare, national security, and the US government. Recently, FedHealthIT talked with Mr. Kulkarni about the lessons he learned in creating and growing a successful consultancy and where the market is going.
FedHealthIT: What are some of the essential lessons you learned—or guiding principles you used—to create and grow Customer Value Partners?
Anirudh Kulkarni: I have been lucky in my career to have worked with some great consulting leaders who shared their knowledge freely. Having been a startup guy – both new companies as well as new practices within existing companies – helps you think about what it takes to get moving from a standing start. I think there are three things that a leader must focus on to drive success – especially in the initial stages of getting a company off the ground:
- Be focused and very clear about the kind of work you want to do and how you do it better than others. This is your brand and is the short-hand summary by how people will remember you after a meeting. You must be able to clearly answer: what’s my story, what problems am I best able to solve, and what is my unique selling proposition?
- Always position for scale in your messaging and marketing strategy. Let people feel you are capable of MORE. For example, when I started CVP, there were only a handful of us. I would say, “I anticipate we’ll be 30 people by the end of the year.” I never lied, but it’s very important to talk about your ability to scale, whether it be with partners or customers.
- Be confident and show leadership. Once you get beyond the initial core group of hires that may have worked with you in the past, it’s your personal leadership and projection of success that convinces people who have never worked with you to take a risk and join with you. Small businesses are already at a disadvantage in hiring because people like to go with an established, stable brand. People tell us they join our firm for the quality of leadership we exhibit, our client and team oriented culture, and the principled values with which we operate.
FedHealth IT: How important was it to you to get work as a prime rather than a sub? What kind of work did you have out of the gate?
Anirudh Kulkarni: It was very important to be a prime. We were all prime the first year or two because I had relationships with prior clients from almost 20 years of consulting. When we started, we did a lot of private sector work because that was my background. Our first client was AOL. We were hired to develop a CRM strategy and we beat Accenture and Bearing Point for that work.
CMS was our very first government billet, right after the Medical Modernization Act had passed. I didn’t even know what a government contract vehicle was! After convincing a government manager at CMS that we could help, he had us come in under a Northrop Grumman contract. With my past relationships, we were able to work through SRA on the federal civilian side. Our work was always strategic, consulting kinds of assignments. SRA in particular was a very strong “big brother” in the early years – very generous with advice on how to setup management infrastructure for government work.
After we obtained our IT 70 schedule and MOBIS schedules, we wrote blind proposals on eBuy and we won – at the IRS, DOS, and the National Archives!
So, we were never upside down on the prime/sub proportion. The majority of our contracts have always been prime, which helped us grow our business, our systems, and our ability to hire.
FedHealth IT: Let’s turn to forecasting. Where do you see opportunities in the market?
Anirudh Kulkarni: My philosophy has always been to look at the big consumers of GDP, then look for those areas that are in the middle of disruption.
Our biggest market is healthcare. If you remove government, Healthcare ties with financial services as the second largest consumer of GDP. More importantly, it is undergoing massive transformation.
We’re still trying to figure out new models of care, value-based pricing, quality, effectiveness, delivery, and accessibility. This is a great opportunity for consulting firms to leverage data, tools, and solutions and to drive decisions, which is where we like to sit, at the data-to-decision space.
The second big area for us is national security, which is always going to be a big issue for the country and in a constant state of transformation. We want to work on things that are big, critical, complex problems for our country to solve.
FedHealth IT: What short- and longer term opportunities do you see in government contracting?
Anirudh Kulkarni: In Q4 and heading into Q1 of FY2017, cybersecurity and Cloud budgets are quadrupling over previous years. That’s at a targeted, opportunity level. But at a macro level, nothing’s going to change for a while.
Due to the passage of the two-year Budget Control Act, we’re starting to see money flow freely for new modernization opportunities. Already agencies are putting out RFPs for redesign of 7-10 year old systems. For example, PECOS at CMS.
And things are changing. For example, a few years ago, CMS’ strategy was to do new redesigns through their O&M contracts because there was no money for DME. Now they’re starting to evaluate whether it makes sense to have separate contacts for redesign and O&M. You’re seeing that happen across the other government agencies, too. The US Digital Service is a big enabler of this kind of thinking.
But due to this being a presidential election year, no one is going to do anything new—other than what’s already on the books. Starting in 2018, I think we will see some massive lift. By then, the economy will be getting back on track, tax revenues will be increasing, and the new administration will have set its agenda. That’s when we’ll start seeing some real opportunity. We just need to be prepared to catch that wave.
FedHealth IT: What steps are you taking to grow your business?
Anirudh Kulkarni: This is getting to be an extremely hot market for tech talent. We’re addressing it by focusing very hard on our core culture and value principles.
A very big part of my job is leading the training around culture and the values of the company. This is something I learned from my years at SRA in the early 90’s. I’m very proud of the fact that we have created a very connected culture – and people see that when they’re interviewing with us. That is our competitive advantage in the race for recruiting hot talent.
About the Author: Lynn Borkon is a writer and consultant with a passion for public policy and expertise in communication strategy and messaging for complex issues in health IT. Connect with Lynn Borkon on LinkedIn or via email.