Mr. Thomas Moore, a Marine Corps veteran, and Mr. Lafayette Thomas, a decorated Army Joint Endeavor veteran, own and operate TM3 Solutions, an 8(a) service-disabled, veteran-owned small business that provides IT, cybersecurity and asset-management services to the federal government.
The veterans, who met while working out at a gym, founded their own separate companies before deciding to become partners. In 2009, TM3 hired its first employee. Today, TM3 employs more than 50 full-time staff.
We spoke to Mr. Moore and Mr. Thomas to learn how they navigated TM3’s path to success. We hope their story inspires more veterans to become entrepreneurs.
Why did you decide to work together?
Mr. Thomas: My partner and I worked as contractors at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, DC. Our paths crossed a few times in the gym. In 2004, we started supporting the same Command and established a great friendship. We share the same values and have complementary skill sets. My partner is detail oriented, analytical and introverted. I am extroverted and love interacting with people.
Mr. Moore: We trust each other. Trust and transparency are key to a great partnership.
Why did you decide to start your own business?
Mr. Thomas: I believe I always had it in me. When I was in the seventh-grade, my cousin and I started a lawn-mowing business. In order to grow our business, I needed a riding lawn mower so I negotiated a deal with an elderly gentlemen. I agreed to cut his grass in exchange for his riding lawn mower. I also offered him $50, but he declined the money and allowed me to cut his lawn over the summer as payment for the lawn mower.
How did the military develop your leadership skills?
Mr. Thomas: In the military, I learned how to lead a diverse group of people. We are all wired in different ways. It’s all about leveraging the resources and assets around you to get where you want to be.
Mr. Thomas: TM3’s tagline is “No problems, only solutions.” We believe that. We have had a lot of organic growth because of our commitment to providing excellent customer service. Our clients also appreciate that they can pick up the phone and reach my partner or me.
How did you win your first prime contract?
Mr. Moore: We started out as a subcontractor. We leveraged that experience to win our first prime contract with the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Philadelphia. We hired one gentlemen to support us.
What qualities do you look for when you hire?
Mr. Thomas: We look for self-motivators who are enthusiastic. About half of our employees are veterans and 42 percent are women. When we onboard staff, we take time to let them know our expectations and values.
What motivates you?
Mr. Thomas: I was deployed in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Hungary for Army Joint Endeavor. Serving the warfighter is a powerful motivator.
Mr. Moore: I enjoy solving problems and helping our customers achieve their missions.
What do you enjoy the most about owning your own business?
Mr. Moore: It takes off limitations on how we can grow and help our team grow.
Mr. Thomas: Supporting our employees is rewarding. We could sit back and take crazy salaries, but we don’t. We pay forward. We have high employee retention because we invest in our team. We have quarterly all-hands meetings, provide emotional-intelligence training and have team-building exercises at Topgolf. We are passionate about providing a strong employee-benefits package, which includes tuition reimbursement, 401(k) contributions and professional certifications. It’s important to take care of the people who are taking care of you.
Have you taken advantage of any programs that support veteran entrepreneurs?
Mr. Moore: I attended a three-day course in Maryland sponsored by the Veteran Institute for Procurement. I finished the course, which helped us improve our proposals, in March 2015. Five months later, TM3 was awarded its second prime contract.
How have Small Business Professionals helped TM3?
Mr. Thomas: I met Alice Williams at a National Veterans Small Business Engagement conference when she was the Associate Director of the Army Contracting Command’s Office of Small Business Programs (OSBP). She advised me to attend industry days and provided recommendations that made TM3’s capability statement more marketable. She also encouraged TM3 to find a mentor in the Department of Defense (DoD) Mentor-Protégé program. Janique Hudson, a Small Business Specialist at the Washington Headquarters Services (WHS) OSBP, identified prime contracting opportunities and introduced us to a Program Manager who became a customer.
How did you meet your mentor in the DoD Mentor-Protégé program?
Mr. Moore: We met our mentor, DXC Technology, at an industry day. DXC saw our drive and determination. We were a young company that was wide-eyed and ready to be focused. DXC employees rolled up their sleeves and helped us document our procedures. They also trained us how to create and manage a business-development pipeline.
How did DoD’s Mentor-Protégé program help TM3 grow?
Mr. Thomas: The DoD Mentor-Protégé program provided TM3 with a sustainable roadmap to success. DXC employees dedicated hundreds of hours helping TM3 implement best practices and create a business-development strategy. With DXC’s help, we obtained a Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) Level 3 certification. When DXC started mentoring us in 2015, we had one prime contract and one subcontract. By 2017, we had five prime contracts and four subcontracts. In 2017, our revenue increased 149 percent compared to 2016. I want to thank Jeff Henderson, DXC’s Small Business Partnerships Executive Director, and Deborah Hamilton, DXC’s Mentor-Protégé Program Manager, for believing in TM3.
What’s the best advice you received from a mentor?
Mr. Thomas: My father always told me, “Don’t make excuses for yourself.” Al Edmonds, a retired Air Force Lieutenant General who owns two businesses, is also a mentor. He has provided a lot of valuable advice, including recommendations for banks.
Mr. Moore: My dad was a salesman all of his life. He started out selling insurance and went into car sales. He had to work hard. My grandfather had an eighth-grade education and started his own masonry company. My cousin — she owns a furniture store. They were my mentors. My dad told me, “Somebody’s got to win; why not you?”
What advice do you have for small businesses seeking federal-government contracts?
Mr. Thomas: Make sure that your personal and business finances are in good shape. We had to leverage our own personal credit cards before we could request a business line of credit. Don’t expect instant returns. If you’re looking for instant gratification, this is not the place you want to be. A lot of people have the mistaken belief that when you win a multi-million-dollar contract, you are rich.
Mr. Moore: Understand your finances and get a great Certified Public Accountant who has government-contracting experience. You need a full commitment from yourself. Your family has to believe in you, and you have to believe in yourself.
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