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Last Update: Tuesday July 27, 2021

Key Idea: Listen to the Marketplace

Mark Gross started in business with an idea that didn't work.  In the pursuit of the wrong idea, he landed on the right one, Oak Technologies.  This segment begins with Joe Fergus  of COMTek  and includes comments from Scott Denniston of the US Veterans Administration.

Key Question:


Listen to the people you are trying to turn into customers.  Find out what they are buying, what they want to buy and if they will buy it from you.

Joe nearly ran out of money before he heard that there was a US Army general who needed to update the communication system being used by his team which was scattered all over the country.  Joe worked hard to get an interview with this man and as Joe said, he listened carefully to the general explain his problem.  Soon, Joe landed a big contract to do work for the general but Joe had to give up on his first idea for a business.

Mark had quit his job to work on inventing a new device that would transfer data from computers to remote equipment.  Like Joe, he was running out of money when he learned that as a veteran he might get some help from the Department of Veterans Affairs.  It turned out that Mark and his small team had the knowledge and skill to provide a service to the military and it had nothing to do with the device he was developing.

Today these men have multi-million dollar operations because they were willing to let go of their first idea.  No matter how smart you think you are, the twisted version of the Golden Rule applies to business.  That twisted version says, "The guy who has the gold makes the rules."   Translated this means, the customer with the cash to pay gets to help define the product or service that we sell.

Think about it

What could you do to test your idea?  Do you have mentors in the industry who can advice you before you spend too much time and money on the wrong offer?  Can you ask your existing customers to tell you what they think of your new idea?

Clip from: Veterans Think Big

Let us celebrate and honor the contributions of our veterans. 

Washington, DC and the nation:  Defenders of freedom. Patriots.  Veterans.   These people come from every part of society and from every corner of the nation.  They get special training and they serve their country.  Some enter combat and some get injured. In one way or another, they all come home,  and are discharged or retire from the military.  Many join the workforce and begin re-creating their life with the special honors and experiences of being in the US military.

Meet four veterans who came home and started a business and each of them has become enormously successful.  They have all been creating jobs for many years now and are all highly respected within their industry.

In this episode of the show they each tell how they started companies to provide services to the military.   They explain that doing business with the federal government is different than selling goods and services to the private sector. 

All three have fast-growing businesses that range from $26 million to $70 million in annual sales.

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Oak Grove Technologies

Mark Gross, founder

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Business Classification:
defense contractor

Year Founded:

Listen to the Marketplace

VOICEOVER:  When it came to getting started, Joe and Mark failed at their first attempt.  They had to stop and listen to the marketplace.

JOE FERGUS (COMTek):  The  idea of starting a telecommunications company, I must admit, didn’t come to me immediately. 

The objective then was to create an organization that is a small version of Bell Laboratories where a small cadre of, of leading scientists can create some of the leading technology that people can actually use.   However, when I started the company realizing quickly that research and development takes money.  I didn’t have any money to do that.  So I turned the company into what is called a systems engineering and technical assistance company where the brain  power that myself and the engineers I can hire brought to the table were actually the commodity we offered.

VOICEOVER:  Mark’s first idea was to develop and sell middleware that allowed devices to communicate more smoothly, but like Joe Fergus, no one was buying his first idea. As a veteran, Mark learned through the Army’s website how to go after federal government technology work.

MARK GROSS (Oak Technologies):    Well they provided us with a lot of, a lot of information, a lot of training.  A lot of real good insight into how things work, how to get into the agencies, that sort of thing and so, I mean information is, is power.

SCOTT DENNISTON:  We have this incredible network of partners.

VOICEOVER:  Scott Denniston is director of the Office of Small Business and The Center for Veterans Enterprise at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

SCOTT   Our website is vetbiz.  V-E-T-B-I-Z. gov.  That’s where veterans should come to start the process.  Now, we know that we can’t do business development from Washington which is where we’re located.  That in order to have a successful small business you have to have a network of support people, a banker, a lawyer, an accountant, a marketer.  So one of the objectives that we have in the Center for Veterans Enterprise is to be a clearinghouse of information. 

HATTIE:  I want to know how you get your first deal.

MARK:    I was brought into the Department of Veterans Affairs by the deputy CIO to do a capabilities brief.  I went in and I had 15 minutes to deliver our brief and I delivered the brief and  I was on my way  back to the office when I got a call and they asked if I could come back in.  And so I went back in.  We talked for another hour or so and they put out  a procurement.  We bid it so we weren’t given anything.  We had to write a technically compliant proposal.  Our pricing had to be competitive.  We did that and we won I believe at the time it was about a $1.6 million contract so it was very big.  I mean $1.6 million for a small business.

VOICEOVER:  Today Mark’s company Oak Grove Technologies has key contracts to help prepare soldiers for the battlefield.  Soldiers take online lessons on how to be productive and safe in their assigned areas and  special forces learn how to operate weapons – their own and those found left by the enemy.

MARK:  I reinvest it back into the company.  So, I hired more sales people.  I hired operations people.  I hired contracts people, and so I, and that’s been my philosophy through the years is to put forth the infrastructure that I need to compete at a level greater than where I am today.

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