DoD Contract Academy
Top 3 Interviews of 2022 | Brian Streem, CEO of Vermeer (Podcast Transcript)

Top 3 Interviews of 2022 | Brian Streem, CEO of Vermeer (Podcast Transcript)

business development federal marketing understanding government contracts Jan 18, 2023

[00:00] Richard C. Howard: Hey, guys. Ricky here with the DoD Contract Academy podcast and excited to bring you number two in a three part series where we are sharing with you the best interviews that we had in 2022. You know, we talked to some amazing business owners. We talked to some awesome subject matter experts that have really developed their niche within federal contract acting, which is a huge space. If you've been listening to the podcast long enough, you probably understand that there are so many different offices and agencies, different ways that the government buys, that there's a lot of different areas to be creative and see where your product or service fits. And because of that, we like to not only talk to business owners that have had success, we also like to talk to other subject matter experts, whether they focus in Ota or SBIR, STTR or sole source contracts, the list goes on. But today we're going to bring you another small business owner. And this one, we have gotten so much feedback on that. I really want to share it with you. So this is going over Brian Stream's interview. He is the CEO of Vermeer. Brian started out, he was an NYU film student, ended up starting a business where he was filming movies in Hollywoods with his drone production company. So he did all, like, the drone shots and a lot of the Fast and the Furious movies, things like that. And he felt a calling for something higher.

[02:30] Richard C. Howard: We are here to help you. We're here the reason I started doing this is to let more small businesses know about the opportunity of selling to the government. The US federal government is the single biggest purchaser of goods and services in the world. They're the single biggest purchaser of small business goods and services in the world, and they are required to buy from small businesses. The Small Business Association is the one who sets the percentages essentially with the agencies and it's usually 23% of contracting efforts, whether it's the military or other federal agencies, has to go to small businesses. And a lot of businesses don't realize this. In addition, they don't realize that the military in particular buys just about everything that you can think of. If you could think about it, whether it's tai chi instruction or advanced satellite technology, which is probably more what you're thinking, but the military, the government buys it. Landscaping services, like so many different things, they're required to buy it from small businesses. And get this, less than 1% of small businesses actually sell to the government.

[03:40] Richard C. Howard: It frustrated me as an acquisitions officer. And it's really the point of this podcast is to let you know, hey, there is a huge pool of customers out here for you in the federal government. They have to buy from you. And the number of small businesses selling to the government is minuscule and going down. I want to say I'll have to check my math, but I'm pretty sure it's down. The total number of small businesses is down 40% over the past decade is what I believe I read in my research. And, you know, it's really striking not only how few businesses know about the opportunity, but how many realize how much money is out there. I mean the US. Military alone, I want to say, in 2021, spent over $80 billion just on small business contracts, another 50 billion on subcontracts that weren't even included in that number. We can see all the information, so. I want you to be aware of it.

[04:32] Richard C. Howard: And that's what we're trying to do with the podcast. And if you want our help, absolutely go to So we have a lot of resources there. We have a free workshop that will walk you through the formula. So just watching that workshop, if you're interested in selling to the government, it's going to eliminate a lot of the mistakes companies make when they try to sell to the government. So one of the reasons there are so few small businesses selling to the federal government is because they don't understand the process. If you listen to these podcast episodes, you know some of those mistakes already. This is going to lay it out for you in a clear path where you have to focus what not to do, what you can be doing. And then we have programs at DoD contract Academy. Look, I'm trying to create the best fit for the small businesses out there. So whether you're brand new starting from nothing, or whether you've been added a while and maybe just want to either you haven't been seeing success or you want to increase the amount of contracts you're winning, we have programs for you so you can check those [email protected]. We'd love to have you either in the academy as a member where we're helping and coaching you each month on learning the process, executing influencing requirements, landing those contracts, and then we have another program, which is our five week launch program, much more intensive. So if you want to spend five weeks with me and some of the.

[05:54] Richard C. Howard: Other subject matter experts that we work. With to get you from whether it's zero or you're already registered to an absolutely locked down federal sales plan, selling to the right customers that are actually buying what you sell. So you're going to know what you're going to do every day, every month for the year, start building your pipeline out, etc. At the end of that five week program, you're going to have that so you can check that out as well at Don't forget to please subscribe to the podcast and review the episode if you're so inclined. That always helps. And now I'm going to hand you over to my interview with Brian, and again, I think you're going to really enjoy it. So thanks again and hopefully looking forward to seeing you in the academy.

[06:43] Richard C. Howard: Cheers. All right, today I'm here with Brian Streem. Hey, Brian, how's it going today?

[07:00] Brian Streem: I'm good. I appreciate you taking the time and looking forward to the chat.

[07:06] Richard C. Howard: Yeah, no, I'm looking forward to getting an update because we first met. I want to say I might be wrong on this, but I want to say it was either at Afworks or Diu in Boston at the actual facility. Does that sound right?

[07:19] Brian Streem: Yeah. So I met you very early in kind of our defense. I knew nothing about the fence when we kind of met. This was pre Pandemic, probably a few weeks. Pandemic might have been raging, but nobody knew it was raging yet at that time. But yes, I was in Boston. My company got into this Tech Stars DoD Afworks funded program where essentially the Air Force were essentially looking to inject innovative technology companies into the DoD. And we got into this ten person Cohort that was run by Techstars, which is like a very well known kind of like, third party technology accelerator where essentially the DoD went to Techstars and was like, hey, we need to find innovative companies, but we don't know where to look. We don't know how they think or their lingo. But you guys at Techstars do. So the DoD hired Techstars to essentially run their accelerator, and I think there was like a few thousand companies that applied, and they accepted ten companies into this program. So I live in New York City, so I moved to Boston for this program, and I kind of realized that I was a little in over my head with kind of all this defense acquisition kind of stuff. It was kind of a steep learning curve. So, yes, we met through kind of like I was trying to find folks to help me break into the defense space. Essentially, that's how we got connected. My initial just one quick thing. I was actually kind of, like, shocked. My initial impression of kind of like the DoD stuff when I got into it was I kind of assumed that they had I have no defense background whatsoever. We were kind of building this technology, quite frankly, for, like, the Hollywood filmmaking world, and I just kind of assumed the DoD had all this stuff already. And when I kind of got to Boston to be part of this program, I really quickly learned that they don't really have any of this stuff, so we should build it for them. That's like a little bit of when and how we met.

[09:41] Richard C. Howard: Yeah, it's an interesting program to jump into because it can be overwhelming. And it is for a lot of companies, especially new to defense contracting or government contracting in general. But to be able to dive into a program like that and be surrounded by people that kind of understand the lingo and have been working in It and be with other companies that are kind of new. I think that's a nice way of, I guess, trial by fire, just learning quickly. And it's funny, tood. A lot of people assume the department of defense has everything or are the subject matter experts. But that's why this whole we can get into this later. That's why the whole market research phase exists in acquisitions, so we can go out to the actual experts, which are like, you and other business owners and actually figure out, hey, what do we need? Who should we be putting on contract? What are the new innovations out there? And that's kind of how we find that out. But I think that you actually gave us a good segue to just kind of talk about who you are and kind of Brian pre company here. You started talking about hollywood and everything else, so maybe we could talk a little bit about, hey, who are you and where did you come from, and when you just start your business.

[10:55] Brian Streem: Yeah, sure. I actually started this company. It's been a minute, but we kind of went through a pivot. So I started like, 2013, 2014 in drones. So I had a company where we were flying essentially drone missions for Hollywood movies. So we did kind of anytime you saw a drone shot in a Netflix or an HBO movie or TV show, there was a good chance it was my company, like, executing those drone missions. So I went to NYU. I studied film production. I've always been very interested in kind of unique image acquisition technologies, and that's like what a movie is. It's like a camera capturing whatever the scene is. So I'm very interested in kind of, like, novel and unique photography videography type technologies. My company, we did drone cinematography for Spielberg movies and fast and the furious movies, and we did it for Oscar winning best picture films, and we were probably the biggest company in the world doing that stuff. So I had a couple of offices across the country. We did projects in Europe. And it was a really tough business, and it kind of wasn't exactly what I wanted to do. I mean, I remember I bought for some stupid reason, I decided to buy a big, exotic Swedish drone that was very expensive in 2013 or 2014. I was just like, oh, this is something that people are going to want. People are going to want to fly these drones around and take pictures with them. And went to Sweden a couple of times to investigate this drone. We ended up taking that drone. We flew into Kiev and filmed Chernobyl with it as kind of like a marketing stunt. So I was probably the first person to like, film Chernobyl with the drone. That kind of came in vogue. I think Time magazine called it the best drone video of 2015, or something like that. Yeah. So that kind of like, started it. And then we got on all these big movies. The business was tough. It was Hollywood movie directors, they want faster, more aggressive kind of aerial photography. And it was a service business. It also wasn't really exactly what I wanted to do. I was kind of young. I was in my mid twenty s at this time. And the business kind of like, what I wanted to do is actually what we're doing today at Vermeer. But at the time, the technology simply didn't really exist to do what I wanted. And I was not smart enough to figure out how to kind of like the appropriate business model for it. So we were getting paid per job on these drones for these movies. Sometimes we were charging $15 to $20,000 a day, but it was still not enough money. But it was still not enough money. It sounds like a lot of money, but it also wasn't enough money. These were really big, expensive, complicated drone shoots with a ton of equipment and stuff like that. And then what happened in 2016? 2017, I put on a HoloLens for the first time, Microsoft HoloLens, augmented reality headset. And I kind of had like an oh **** kind of moment. I'm like, okay, this is what I've wanted to do. And this is kind of more of my vision of what's been in my brain for the last couple of years. One of the problems we had doing Hollywood movies was that directors had a vision in their brain on what they wanted the camera to do and what they wanted the shot to look like. But it was very hard to kind of articulate that vision to our sales team or operations team or drone pilots or camera operators. So when I kind of put on a HoloLens, I kind of went, okay, this is how we're going to do this. Kind of like use this ARVR headset to manipulate the drones and visualize the data. I made a very hard decision in 2017. 2018. I decided to essentially totally pivot away from the services and focus on building this very exotic ARVR drone mission planning system that has a couple of other kind of cool features, GPS denied features and autonomy features and things of that nature. People thought I was crazy when I decided to kind of pivot away from the service. We were doing a few million dollars of revenue and the business was profitable, but I had a lot of conviction that it was like the wrong thing to stick with. I just wasn't happy doing it. And that my naivete was probably if I kind of knew how hard it was going to be to pivot, I probably never would have done it. So the fact that I didn't know help me actually do it. And then I kind of spent two years building this AR VR toolkit to control drones. And then I ended up meeting a gentleman who got a guy named Warren Katz, who was running this tech star DoD program in Boston that I mentioned. And he pretty much said, hey, the DoD would love this. And my answer was, like I said, my thought was, like, don't they have this already? What on earth could I possibly provide? What do you mean? Like, they've never seen this before? They don't have this? Don't they have a crashed UFO somewhere that they prefer? And pretty much, I learned, no, they know they don't. And like, they could use this, so and then when I kind of got to the program, it's kind of like when I learned about defense and stuff like that.

[17:04] Richard C. Howard: Sure. Interesting. So that was your first kind of initial, I guess, DoD related thing, right? Was it SBIR program? Did you receive an initial SBIR and a little stipend?

[17:19] Brian Streem: Yeah, the program, it was essentially like five months of just kind of like making intros to folks inside of DoD kind I couldn't name an instance, quite frankly, in my recent life before this where I had spoken to someone in uniform. I was just so far, I couldn't name an instance where I ever spoke to a colonel, where I ever spoke to a general, a sergeant. It was just like a major. It just was not part of my kind of world at all. So the program kind of gave an opportunity to kind of meet some of these people. And then I kind of learned about the cyber program. And honestly, when I learned about the cyber program, I remember I was floored by it. I remember I was standing at the office of my mentor, a guy named Warren who was running the program, and I was just like, what the hell are you talking about? Three times a year the government hands out. At the time, I believe I thought it was like a 15% chance of winning $1 million. That is the best odds in the universe for winning $1 million. I can't believe that. I subsequently have learned I think it's probably more like 6% or 7% chance, which still even six or 7% chance is still like the best odds in the universe for winning $1 million.

[18:57] Richard C. Howard: Yeah. For a lot of people if you're looking at and we can get into what civil is just case someone is listening and they don't understand. But I mean, even a lot of companies out there that are looking for like venture capital, right, or they have a startup and they're looking for funding. Often the Sipper program is a nice either alternative or addition to what they're trying to do to raise money. There's grants and other things as well, but that's really interesting. Okay, so you found out about SBI. So what happens next?

[19:33] Brian Streem: I was kind of intimidated. There were nine other companies in this program. I was in this Tech Stars program and a couple of the other CEOs of the other companies, they had to kind of former colonels and former colonels who were the founders of those companies, running those companies. And in order to win the SBIR, you need like an MOU, a memorandum of understanding signed by a customer in the DoD. And it pretty much says like kind of like, we propose for a million dollars, we're going to do this stuff, we're going to take our existing product and we're going to kind of make these tweaks on it for you, this DoD customer. So you need kind of like an end customer and an end user signature. They're not committing any at this stage. This is a direct to phase two SBIR from Africa. So direct to phase two. So you don't need to do a phase one, which I think is 50 or 100K. This is directed. So you could propose a time machine. You could propose whatever you want, and as long as you find somebody who's like, yeah, we'll sign this document, essentially it's their time, is what they're committing to, to kind of review the process over the twelve to 18 months, if you get awarded the million plus dollars from the Cyber Program. So number one, I was like, holy ****, I can't believe there's just like they're just giving a billion dollars. It's the same amount of money to 100 companies three times a year. So I kind of treated it like a numbers game. I believe that you had a 20%, 20% to 30% chance of winning. So I was like, okay, if it's a 30% chance of getting one of these, I need to get three MOUs because then the odds are I'll win one of them. That was the way I thought about it and I was like, okay, so you need to get people majors, colonels, I don't know who, but you need to get somebody to agree to sign this document and what's in it for that. It's the easiest sell in the world. It's essentially, hey, do you want to be in hooks with me and try to get those people's money? What do they have to lose? They don't have to lose anything. You're offering them this cool technology. They could play with first and be like, first to the table. So I was like, this should be taking candy from a baby to kind of get these MOU signed. So I essentially kind of there were these other former colonels who retired who are running these other companies in the program. I asked him how they were getting their MoU signed. And they were like, oh, I was roommates at the Academy with now with a two star, which is shorthand for saying, like, I know a general. And the other guy was like, oh, yeah, I know a general, and he's going to sign. I was really intimidated. I was like, oh, ****. These guys know people. How the hell am I supposed to do this? So I decided to essentially just like, cold call and cold email and cold LinkedIn anyone who I thought might listen to me. And I probably spoke to over a year. And this was now COVID happened. I moved to a log cabin by Lake Winnipesaki, New Hampshire. Oh, nice. Well, yeah, it was nice, but I spent morning, noon, and night in a cabin just cold calling and cold emailing people at the DoD to ask them if they signed my MoU. But I did it with a little bit more grace than that. The number one rule when I kind of had with doing this stuff is like, what I had going for me was like, I made really cool demo videos of the technology because people were like, oh, you need a quad chart. And I'm like, I don't know. That quadrant looks stupid. So I was like, what we're doing, you have to appeal emotionally to people. So you got to make it sexy. All the things that I come from, like a movie back. So. I love sci-fi movies. And I was kind of like, I can't believe they don't have this Sci-Fi stuff that I've seen in Sci-Fi movies. But people in uniform, they've seen those Sci-Fi movies.

[23:56] Richard C. Howard: You guys probably share a lot of similarities because I'm one of them joined the Air Force.

[24:04] Brian Streem: I'm disappointed in, like, that they don't have this stuff. They're probably disappointed too. So I'm like, let me start to lean on like this. We're going to build the super coolest sexiest stuff. So I had these really cool demo videos or concept videos of what we were doing or what we were proposing. And I had one basic rule, which is when I got somebody on the phone on a zoom call, never, ever, under any circumstance that I opened my mouth first. I always started with like, so tell me about yourself and what you do and that people love to tell you about who they are what they do. And if they said something that I didn't know, like, ISR, I'm sorry, what is that? I had a little again, not being naive, I think people thought it was kind of cute. Oh, look, nobody's trying to figure it out. So I was, like, unabashed full. I probably spoke to people I shouldn't have spoken to, my links that I sent my demo videos, probably got forwarded to other people. I had people starting to reach out to me, wanting to talk to me, and I just followed up. I built the pipeline. I was methodical about it. And then I ended up getting three MoU signed the first time. And then I got it blew my mind. I got awarded two of them. But the thing I think really kind of harp on here is that by asking people what their problem is, there's a magical you can't pitch something that's just stupid. I asked them who they were, what their problem was, and then I asked them, oh, tell me more about that problem. Tell me more about that. Tell me more. Is this a thing? Is this a thing? Sometimes that would go nowhere, but more often than not, somehow you got to take whatever their problem is, or whatever you're kind of drilling into. There's a creative moment in the conversation where then you need to take whatever your thing does and make your thing solve their problem and pivot and kind of pivot into that. And you have to be like, quick on your feet, and you need to have do it gracefully. And I was successful in kind of doing it. And ultimately, what I actually learned from speaking to all these people is I kind of learned that a feature of our product was actually solved a bigger problem than what I thought my product was. So it was a kind of a case study in market research. Textbook. Textbook. By doing all this, I kind of learned that the problem that everyone said over and over again was GPS denied capability. GPS denied. We're very worried about GPS. And this is before Ukraine, and I literally had a spreadsheet in Google Docs that every column was a feature we were building, a feature we thought of building, a feature we had built and abandoned. And then every time someone said one of those things, I put, like, an X in it. And by far and away, GPS denied was the largest thing.

[27:08] Richard C. Howard: Can I stop you right here? Because this is amazing. And I think people are really going to love this, because first of all, for people that have been involved with Cyber, just by getting those MoU signs, you have accomplished something that a lot of companies find extremely difficult to get done.

[27:29] Brian Streem: By the way, it was extremely difficult. It was very hard. It was very hard. It was grueling. But what was it easy?

[27:39] Richard C. Howard: No, it's not. Here's a couple just for anyone listening. SBIR programs, small business, innovative research. And like Brian said, so this can, if you have a product or a solution commercially, typically you can make modifications for maybe a government need, right. That could be an instance of where the government might be interested in giving you a SBIR contract. Sipper phase one. Typically it's like a study and it's low dollar, like you mentioned, 150 grand. Sipper phase two, that's where you're actually doing the thing, building the thing, modifying, or maybe you're testing it on a military base. And now I think the latest one was like 1.3 million ish the last round.

[28:19] Brian Streem: I think that's right, yeah.

[28:21] Richard C. Howard: So what's really interesting about this silver program, right, which separates it from everything else in defense contracting is that normally like so for and we're going to talk about like where you're going next and where you're looking at. But if you wanted a $20 million contract with a government enterprise or 30 million or whatever it is, that's probably not a Sipper program, although it could be tackfire stratify. But typically you need an acquisitions team to put you on contract, right? So that's like 0.1% of all of the military people, all the government people out there, which means that the guys that are typically selling products and they're talking to the users, they don't get anywhere because they can't make purchases from them, right. They're not going to buy, they don't know, they wouldn't even know where to start to buy like $100,000, you name what it is. But with SBIR now, like you said, you're using somebody else's money, sipper program money, you're using somebody else's contracting team, the civil contracting team. Now you can reach out to the users and the people that would actually be interested in what you have to potentially get them to sign an MoU, which is what you need for a phase two, right? Not a phase one. So it's really interesting, it's an interesting way of selling to the government and developing a network while you're doing that and kind of getting an idea of who the users are and the acquisitions people and maybe the requirements people. Okay, so I just wanted to kind of set the groundwork for everyone. So now you've got the phase two. That's the golden nugget everyone's looking for in SBIR. So what happens next?

[29:47] Brian Streem: Yes, so what happens then is I'm blown away, I'm floored. I'm like, holy ****, we want two of these things. And then the next time up we get three additional Mo use and we get awarded all three of them. So in a span of eight months, I got like five direct to phase two, SBIRS. Now I also just want, I also just but I also just want to say, like, that is incredibly rare. I cannot actually find a duplicate of that. And it's what it was, it was really, really hard to do. But I was kind of like, wow, it's. 1 million free dollars that is worth aggressively pursuing. And other people have kind of come to me asking me, can you help me do that? And it's like, no. And then I've told people how I did the amount of legwork I put into it. And then people have been like, well, I don't have time for that. I'm like, all right, well, then you're, like, not going to win it, that's fine. But it took every ounce of effort in my body, and I had to work out a process to kind of it was like a sales process. So I had to follow up with people. I had to kind of sometimes people felt comfortable enough to give me their cell phones. There were people who were like, I'm going to be here until midnight, wherever I am, wherever I'm stationed, and I will call you on your cell to let you know that the colonel sign. And some of the things that are really down to the wire, I mean, things are last minute. The commander who's ever got to sign it, and there's a whole process involved. I'm not aware. And sometimes you're just hoping that this stranger who, like, you built a rapport with is going to come through for you. You could almost guarantee that some people will fail, and some people will be like, man, I know I said I was going to, and I failed, and I couldn't get the commander's signature, so that will happen. And it's happened to me. But also, you got to be a little like, you got to hold people's feet to the fire. Sometimes the people fail on you. Like it's good because then the next time they feel guilty and they know. Now the people in uniform who are trying to help you, who are vouching for you, they don't want to look like an idiot to you. A lot of times they feel this was like a mind blowing thing. A lot of times the majors who are kind of like the Vouchers or the Colonels, who are kind of like, we want this, Brian. We're going to do this with you. They feel blessed. They're like, wow, I'm so fortunate that you're giving me the opportunity the Colonel, the opportunity to go get this million dollars from these other people, which is, like, crazy to me, but that's, like, sometimes, like, the dynamic, they feel so honored. And because we won a couple of them, now people feel like I'm like a wizard expert. So they feel like once you get a little credibility, you get more credibility and kind of like, build off of that. Yes, we got five phase two SBIRs. We got an OTA. We got a prime and an Ibiq. And this was kind of part of my I have another very simple rule to sales, which is you can't sell **** to people if they don't know you exist, if they know you exist, if they know you exist, you have a 1% chance, and that's way bigger than 0% if they don't know you exist. So I just kind of let it be known. I reached out to everyone I had. Setting up phone calls, having hour long meetings with the person that may or may not go anywhere is risky. But you build I mean, I build relationships with people. I got relationships with some people that I met cold that I went to their retirement party in Kentucky. Guys transitioning out of SOCOM. I really worked the right word is hustled. I hustled really hard. And now we just received a taxi, and I raised a few million bucks, and we have customers kind of pounding at our door for some of our products. So I'm doing kind of, like, live demos and stuff like that right now. And, yeah, I'm very fortunate that the government has all these kind of non dilutive capital. Listen, I had a decision maker at one of the soft units recently told me that there's a 2% transition rate from a SBIR to a program of record. So phase two SBIR. Might sound like the holy grail, but it's not. There's still a lot of slog to go through, and I don't have all the answers. I'm still trying to kind of figure it out, but I think one of the foundational pillars of it is if you are building something that really solves a big problem for them, that's how you succeed. I've tried to kind of solve problems that no one cared about before, and that's, like, no, you don't want to sell something. That's, like, the worst thing in the world, like, trying to convince somebody that your thing is better or cheaper or sexier. That's, like, the worst thing to try to sell somebody. What you want is you want somebody begging you, please take my money. I am so desperate. The pain of my problem Is so immense and so big. Even if your thing doesn't work that well, if it works a little bit, I'll be willing to pay you $5 million for it. It's not a function of selling somebody. And the DoD. Is so big and so large, and in this case, we're talking about I guess we're talking about, like, air force service. The air force is so big, and the military is so big that it's not a function of trying to sell someone. It's about trying to find you're more of a detective. You're more trying to find the person who the pain resonates with so much, and they have the money, and they're willing to give you $5 million of it or whatever dollar amount is, and that person is out there. You just got to make sure the problem you're solving is big enough, great enough. There are requirements for and, like, sometimes I also have kind of, like, learned, like, there's a process where you have to meet with requirements, because sometimes the requirements people don't even know what exists. They don't know what's out there.

[36:50] Richard C. Howard: Absolutely not.

[36:52] Brian Streem: Yeah. So you need to let them know about what you're doing, because if they go, wow, I had no idea that Brian streem could travel through time. Now that I know he's got a time machine, I'm going to make it a requirement on the next blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

[37:08] Richard C. Howard: Just to give you an example of how prevalent that is. And this isn't anything against the acquisitions community, which I came from the defense acquisitions community, but there are so many different contracts out there in so many different agencies. Like I said, even in the air force, you have different commands, you have different units, you have hundreds of bases, you have all of these things that are going on contract. Right. I remember we were working on a cyber effort once, and a solution we needed around the time of insider threat was actually on contract in three different agencies for the exact same thing that nobody knew what they were on contract for. So it was the type of thing where we all could have used it, but we just basically paid three times what we should have. And they often don't know. And with SBIR in particular, you might be about to jump in on this. But one of the advantages of cyber phase two graduates, which a lot of people don't know, not only companies, but contracting officers and acquisitions teams, is if you're a SBIR phase two graduate, that gives a contracting team the ability to give you a sole source contract, essentially the ability to put you on contract and avoid competition. And we've actually had to help some of our students and clients put that language together to teach the contracting officer on the other side that, hey, you actually don't need to compete. This doesn't have to be difficult. Here it is on the silver platter. Sorry to break in there.

[38:30] Brian Streem: No, I think you come to a good point, which is that some of the contracting people are like brand new at the job. They don't know anything. Sometimes it comes down to a personality. Sometimes you have great contracting people who are like, hey, call me on my cell. And then you're like, hey, contracting person, how's it going? And they'll help you, and they'll be knowledgeable. Sometimes they won't be knowledgeable, so you kind of need to help them along. And yes, the amount of I keep on, I use the time machine to be hyperbolic, but the government definitely invented a time machine. But it's in the closet that someone forgot about. They don't have the key to it. It's running on windows 32 bit, and everything else is windows 64. It's just a hodgepodge of mess and no one's talking to anyone. That's part of my other I'm like, aren't they doing that over there? It's like, yeah, but those people over there have no idea what's going on. Over there. And that is actually like, that is profound and rampant. And I suspect that somewhat by design because I suspect it's both by design and just lack of effort or just like, it's just too big to I assume you want to have redundancy, so you want multiple time machines working. So if one time machine company goes out of business, you have another time machine. But I also suspect just no one's looked and no one's kept a database of who's built time machines over the last 65 years for the Department of Defense.

[40:04] Richard C. Howard: Sure. When you talk about especially the big programs and the big weapon systems, you have so many people from the general, from the PEO all the way down to the individual program managers and the contracting officers. I mean, hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of people and billions and billions and billions of dollars. And so now you might develop, like, there was an instance where we had two weapon systems and they couldn't communicate with each other. Like we find after they're already built that the data links don't work and they weren't fixed that since then. But, I mean, that's the type of thing where everyone doesn't communicate. So you bring up a lot of excellent points, but one of them is, don't assume that your Department of Defense or government acquisitions guy or Gal on the other side knows everything because they don't. And often it is up to the company. In fact, the most successful companies are doing just what you're doing. They're talking to people. They're helping them. They're basically helping the contracting teams and the PMS put them on contract, like, hey, making it easier for them. This is how you can go about doing that and connecting the Dodge, because a lot of times they don't have time to connect the dodge.

[41:08] Brian Streem: Yeah. And yes, you got to make it easier for people to sign documents. You just got to make it like fluid, respond quickly, respond quickly, politely, in order to get the m.o you sign in order to actually, there's a lot of, let's just say administrative stuff that goes into it. I actually have written, I've written none of the white paper. Like, my CTO, fortunately, never wrote a phase two SBIR before in his life. I'm like, you're doing it, and you're going to figure it out. Okay. So it was kind of like I was the guy who, like, buttered the customer up, built the relationships, followed up with them, schmoozed them. Then he would kind of work on it with maybe another engineer. If I needed an astrophysicist to fill in two paragraphs of a technical that I hired an astrophysicist to write people. I also think, like, I have a little, some controversial opinions on the subject matter. There's also just like, a lot of we'll help you do this, we'll write your proposal for you and do that. I've never done that. I decided, like, people if that's a hard business model for the person who's writing the Sippers. So I kind of decided like, well, if I need an expert in astrophysics, I'm just going to hire an astrophysics. I don't want like a broad hearsay one of them. And then I have a guy who's a retired colonel and innovation who kind of like Polishes to make sure all the lingo is kind of DoD lingo and that recipe works. But it wasn't like easy to that whole thing wasn't easy to put together. And then people like that you have on your bench so that if a contracting officer has a question, you could use your resource to kind of help them solve the problem. It's impossible to know everything.

[43:17] Richard C. Howard: That's a really great way of approaching it, too, because eventually companies get big enough where they have proposal writing teams and everything else. But at the end of the day, especially with Sippers, we're talking about usually small business and nobody cares as much about the solution or knows about it like you do. That's just common sense, right? Nobody knows about it and nobody cares about it as much as you. And frankly, the people I know that have had the biggest success have either if they didn't write it themselves, they had their teams, they were doing something like you did, maybe they hire someone too. And people come to me for the same stuff, right, but you have to be involved and you can't just write something generic. But the other thing is too, and we're kind of talking over it, but the fact that you've won so much, it's not just part of it is, but it's not just that you have Hustled and you have been smart about the way you've gone after it. Your technology has to be amazing and innovative to have won this. I mean, a lot of people, they propose things that aren't amazing, right? And a lot of people have technologies and solutions that aren't that great. And although some of that stuff does make it on contract, the government is also not stupid, right. So I know we've talked a lot about how we have to educate the person on the other end, but also don't assume that they're stupid. Right. So the fact that you've had so much success and you've been, I think, humble about this, but really speaks to what you've created, it really must be amazing. And I'd also like to learn a little bit more about if you can talk about it. Sure. What development have you done in the cyber program? How did that take you from kind of what you described in the beginning with that mission planning drone software to now? Because a lot of these pivots that you've talked about are essential. And that's what a lot of also good companies are doing. They have one thing the government needs, a slight tweak. You pivot over and you help them solve the problem.

[45:14] Brian Streem: Yes. Just to kind of address like a little bit. I don't think there's a silver bullet as to how to win SBIR. I think it's a lot of factors. There's luck, there's luck avoiding bad luck. There's hustle, there's good technology that solves real pain points. Making sexy demo videos or making something. I often say this inside the company, the demos, they need to be emotionally appealing. It needs to warm the spirit of the imagination. It needs to get people's juices creative and all their juices flowing. And then the last is it's in the hearts and minds of judges on a panel that you'll never meet and you'll never or maybe you'll meet them, but you won't know that they judged your thing. So it comes down to a rack and stack. There's just so many nuanced things to it. It's hard to know exactly what the answer is. But it's a combination of those factors. If you have the best technology and you don't hustle, it's not going to work. If you have moderate technology with a great video, like modern technology, with a great video that shows what it could be with a little bit of hustle, okay, that's like a better cocktail for success than just a time machine alone that sits in a closet that no one knows about. So it's multifaceted in terms of kind of like the product kind of started as this AR drone mission planning software designed for Hollywood movies to kind of plan really complicated drone aerial photography shots. So the user kind of puts on a 3D HoloLens headset and they see kind of like a preexisting 3D map as like a hologram in front of them. And then the user essentially is able to plan in this AR 3D environment, kind of plan like what they want the drone to do from the cameras perspective. So it's like, okay, you're kind of like moving a little average, you kind of move like a little avatar of a drone and it's like AR sand table. And then you essentially send that mission to the drone and the drone autonomously executes what you kind of pre visualize and pre plant in the AR world ultimately. And we had a feature of it that was kind of essentially to kind of make the shot more precise. We were kind of comparing what the camera of the drone was looking at to the existing 3D model. So if you kind of wanted the drone to land on a certain window of a certain building, we were using computer vision algorithms onboard the drone to kind of match what the camera was seeing to the preexisting 3D map. And it's like a Google Earth or like one world terrain 3D map that's onboard the drone to kind of make the shot that you had planned more precise. When I did my kind of market research, I found that everyone needed GPS denied capability. And that's kind of what the feature of our mission planning. So I kind of made that its own product. So we call that visual Positioning system. Again, just the way that works is we essentially compare EOIR camera lens systems to a preexisting one world terrain map, which is a global database of the world. They take a satellite and oblique stereoscopic satellite images and generate like, kind of a 3D map of the world. And it's very accurate. It's half a meter to a meter accuracy. And essentially, we compare what the camera is seeing to this existing map. And when we find a similar instance of it, we're able to essentially figure out your location. So customers really love that because you don't need it's totally passive. It doesn't emit anything. You can't spoof it, you can't jam it. And we have a version for aerial platforms. We have a version for ground vehicles as well, and we also have a version for ATAX. So people could just kind of take their phones, kind of take a couple of photos on their smartphone device, and then we process it and we tell you your position based purely off of kind of like the computer vision algorithms that we're using. Okay, that is an example of kind of like that was a feature of our Air drone Mission Planner, but now it's like its own product, that ton of people. And I learned that I would say GPS is like a foundational product, like helicopters, missiles, boats, planes, jeeps, tanks, at everything uses it. And the DoD is very concerned about losing it under a number of different scenarios and then the other. So our kind of AR VR Mission Planner has now become like kind of a swarm mission planner. So users kind of like in an AR or VR mixed reality environment, they kind of identify on this map an area of interest. And it's kind of in this area of interest, I want the drone swarm to look for a person holding a gun or a person or a particular license plate. So you kind of use the AR and VR to kind of assign computer vision enabled tasks to the drone swarm, and then they go look for it. So there's a lot of complexity there. There's an autonomy on the edge of the drone. There's computer vision. There's the ARVR element to it. And then the other thing that we're working on is somebody from the Space Force somehow saw our demo video of kind of like the drone mission planning in augmented reality. And they said to me, I'll never forget the email. The email was, I saw your video. It's very cool. I get it for drones. I work on satellites and maneuvering satellites in space. I think there could be applications for doing AR satellite mission planning, but I don't want to lead you down a rabbit hole. To which I responded, wait, tell me about this rabbit hole. And then we ended up winning a couple of contracts. Essentially the question was, do you think this will work on satellites in space? And I said, what am I, an idiot? I go, yeah, sure, yeah, of course it'll work. So we got a couple of contracts for that. And that's like your typical Sci-Fi movie. Somebody's looking at a hologram of the universe and they zoom in and they want to kind of like plan a complicated satellite mission or space vehicle maneuver. And I kind of built on from there.

[52:19] Richard C. Howard: Yeah, and I mean, let's see, I guess September now, 2022. I know Space Command and Control is a huge topic right now and there's a lot of work that they're doing on that. That's amazing. You're having incredible success and then you just want to tack fire as well. So it sounds like you're walking down a path to keep developing some of this technology. You mentioned you have an Ota, which is other transaction authority, and you say you're a prime on an IDIQ or recent IDIQ.

[52:49] Brian Streem: Yeah, we're a prime on the ABMS IDIQ, that of which I think it's got a huge ceiling. But I know that the ABMS program has like controversial, they don't have any more money. I don't know exactly what's going on.

[53:08] Richard C. Howard: There, but we can talk after. I was the AVMs program manager before I retire, so we could talk after.

[53:21] Brian Streem: I think for us, kind of like the lowest hanging fruit is like there are people with immediate needs for some of our GPS denied stuff and immediate immediate needs. It's funny, immediate needs. To me it sounds like we need this today, but also like government moves slow, so immediate needs, it could be months before contracts happen and stuff like that. And the visual positioning system, I mean, we're doing live demos of that for customers right now who really need that and want to integrate that into several programs of records. So hopefully next time I see it, that's kind of where you are, where will be then.

[54:13] Richard C. Howard: That's amazing. Are you guys attending a lot of conferences?

[54:17] Brian Streem: Yeah, tons. We were at Softback a few months ago. There's a lot of kind of smaller conferences that are kind of more like in the know, kind of one of the things that like our success. I've now been fortunate if I've hired BD guys that have 20 years of experience who worked at Lidos in General Dynamics and an Aero environment. So I've built a team that knows more about the space than I do and has had success winning 100 million dollar prime, 100 million dollar contracts for programs of record, getting things on the program of record and stuff like that. There is for sure a grapevine of small niche conferences and stuff like that. You have to be in the know somehow. And if you build enough relationships, people will just start to forward you things that you should attend that are kind of small and niche, but then. Yeah, we're going to be at AUSA and we're going to be at ASA. I think there's a Modern Warrior symposium coming up. I think that's a Marine initiative or event coming up in the next week or two. We're doing a ton of we would just add Jiffx, which is like an experiment. There are more of these conferences and events than I know what to do with.

[55:48] Richard C. Howard: Yes. No, they really are great way to find sponsors and whatnot for things like Sippers and just let people know what you have. We're coming towards the end of the hour, but I want to get just some final thoughts on maybe what your advice would be for a small business out there that maybe has an innovative technology that's thinking about selling to the Department of Defense or one of the other government agencies. Go. No go. What would you tell them that you really need?

[56:18] Brian Streem: If you actually serious and you really want to do it, you need to kind of dedicate your own almost 100% commitment to it. Or you need to hire someone who's going to dedicate 100% commitment to it and it's going to be really hard to do. I think that people think that I'm just going to go after this million free dollars and they're going to put like a half assort into it and it's just like, not going to work. The program also has gotten like they've done such a good job of marketing the phase two Sippers, but the amount of dollars I don't think has really scaled in the same way that applicants are applying for it. My understanding is it's like you have like a 6% to 7% chance of winning a phase two Sipper, which is they get like this is kind of I don't know where I heard this, and I think this is from a somewhat good source, 1000 something applications, and they accept under 100 of them, like 80 or something. I think it's something like 80 or so of them. So it's really hard. It takes a full commitment and you got to not lie to yourself about whether or not what you're doing. Like whatever you're building actually has an application. I suspect that they're going after really kind of exotic cool. I suspect I don't know this to be true, that they're going after exotic sexy things like a TRL 56, I think.

[58:08] Richard C. Howard: I suspect.

[58:13] Brian Streem: It's funny. There are people who approach me at Gifx who are like, oh, I don't want that. Five or six, what do you got that's a TRO one or two. There are people out there with other money that we want the thing that's certain to fail, but maybe if it works, it'll be huge.

[58:32] Richard C. Howard: Right.

[58:32] Brian Streem: So those are people I think those are like DARPA people and people with DARPA type money and stuff like that. Which is funny because you often are trying to kind of get your TRL up and up and up. And then you people are like, no, tell me you're building a portal to another dimension and let's go after it. And you're like, all right, let's do it. How much money do you got? So sometimes I even think am I thinking big enough? I wonder if there's an idea out there. You got to find the right problem and the right kind of sometimes you got to find the right problem and the right crazy enough idea and the right lunatic inside of the government who has $75 million burning a hole in their pocket. This has not happened to me, but people have told me stories. They got to spend the money. They're going to lose it.

[59:27] Richard C. Howard: Hey, that's not just a story. I'll tell you that. I mean, right now we are in September. It's the end of the government fiscal year. And this is fallout fund. This is the part of the year. So, like and I'll give you the last word, but just for everyone listening. The government does want to spend. This is what federal agencies think. This is what every office thinks. If I don't spend the money that the government has given me, then I am not going to get the same budget next year. And I need that budget because their bills are always increasing. So then they take the fallout funds and they rack and stack what they're going to do with it. This is the type of year where and actually it starts a couple of months before now because right now it's all going on contract. But this is where all the good idea fairies come out. They rack and stack them all and they start spending money. So no, that's absolutely true.

[01:00:15] Brian Streem: And that goes to kind of like my so yes, you always got to have a $50 million proposal in your draw that you're ready to give to someone if they happen to some mentors that I know, that phone call of like, hey, what do you got that's like, we could spend $50 million on? Which kind of goes to my other thing, which is like the only way to kind of get that phone call of somebody who desperately needs to spend $50 million is they have to know you and they have to have like an existing relationship with you.

[01:00:45] Richard C. Howard: Exactly.

[01:00:46] Brian Streem: And that takes time to build, to network. They got to kind of see you at events. They got to like you a little bit. They got to trust you a little bit. So there's no easy answer. It still takes time, but may we all be blessed. Where somebody just calls and is desperate to give you $50 million that typically.

[01:01:09] Richard C. Howard: Doesn't there's a couple instances I could think of where I know the government has reached out to companies because they have the only thing that solves a problem. But I mean, what you really did is just spoke my thesis out loud, right? Which, if. I had to boil it down into two things. It's a relationship game. You have to have the relationships. It doesn't mean you have to be a prior military guy or prior government guy. You could develop those relationships just like you did.

[01:01:33] Brian Streem: That's the other thing. I had like a very Hollywood movie. Like, yes sir, no, sir. People are not like that. People are not like that. I've spoken to generals, some generals, oh, let's go get coffee. I'm like generals get coffee. What kind of insanity? Of course they do. I don't know what I was thinking, but why wouldn't they? Yeah, of course. Why not? So you have to be likable and you need to be personable. And people are normal and they just kind of want to hang out with people that they think are doing cool things. And you also need to be some people also in DoD, they're also transitioning, and some of them are also looking for jobs. They're actually all looking for jobs. They're all secretly, this is like my feet. They all, in the back of their mind, know someday that they're going to transition out and they're going to want a career outside of the military. And a lot of them have spent their whole lives in the military, so a lot of them have zero clue what that other thing is like. So they're also thinking to themselves, hey, I wonder if this company they want to build relationships, is kind of my point. They don't want to be mean to people.

[01:02:57] Richard C. Howard: No, I think most people understand that what goes around comes around, right? And the military is if there's a short, even if you're staying for 20 years, that's still guys and girls getting out in their early forty s, and they need a new career. They can't just stop working. So you make a lot of great points there. I feel like we can keep this going for another hour. Maybe what we'll do is we'll have part two after you start working on some of the things that you talked about and we could get an update on where you guys are and what you're doing in space.

[01:03:29] Brian Streem: Sure, yeah, sure. Totally. Yes. This was fun. I appreciate you having me on and yeah, looking forward to next time.

[01:03:37] Richard C. Howard: Awesome. Brian all right, well, take care and thanks again for coming on.

[01:03:40] Brian Streem: Take care, you.

If you enjoyed this episode, you can also check out my Interview with Oliver Noteware, CEO of Street Smart VR where you will learn about their meteoric rise on the federal scene. There training system is now on over 50 DoD installations and you'll learn how the SBIR program and a "bottoms up" sales approach got them there.

Check out more of our episodes here if you would like to know more about Federal Contracting. Thank you!

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