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Wrong number, right product

JUDITH HARLAN

The call came in from out of the blue Uncle Sam calling.

The U.S.

government needs your product, the caller said.

It was a wrong number, says Raven Electronics Corporation General Manager Brett Dawson.

The government caller thought he was dialing a different company.

But, as it happened, Reno-based Raven had exactly what the government wanted satellite- based radio communication equipment that allows secure voice and data transmission from anywhere, to anywhere, in the world.

Raven had avoided working with the government for 30 years, says Dawson.

But timing is everything, and when Raven got the call it was in search of a new customer base.

Raven designs and manufactures digital signal processing based communication systems, the kinds of products inside products used by telecommunication infrastructures, with customers like Lucent and Sprint, and the kind of technology that was king during the dot-com boom the kind that suffered along with the dot-coms during the bust.

Raven, an 11-employee, privately held corporation, had built its success on those companies.” We had just weathered a financially difficult couple of years,” says Dawson.

Several of Raven’s dot-com customers were gone, and the huge telecommunications companies that Raven depended on had built out their infrastructures, at least across North America.

Their need for Raven products was decreasing.

The government contract (U.S.

Army Communications-Electronics Command), valued at $9 million over five years “gives us room to breathe,” adds Steve Huebner, Raven’s director of marketing.

It also provides a track record to bring to future government jobs.

And it gives the company time and opportunity to package its products for a newly emerging market, the public safety communications sector.

The government contract has changed the way Raven operates, say Dawson and Huebner.

It changed internal processes and with those, the company culture, Dawson says.

One example he points to is the required use of electrostatic discharge wristbands for anyone assembling or touching the product’s circuit boards.

Employees verify activation of the bands before putting them on, log them into a hand-written register, and then attach the bands to the circuit board workstations.

That one change includes significant alterations to workers’ days, says Dawson.Anytime they leave their workstation, they have to think ahead; there’s no casual strolling from one station to another.

And patience.

There’s been a lesson in patience.

The workers have adjusted to numerous changes to the product, some that require the patience to start over.And patience, too, in waiting for government responses from one step to the next the government’s wellknown hurry-up and wait pace.

Raven’s marketing strategies have changed, too, says Huebner.

The company landed its first contract through luck, and word-ofmouth brought further work.

That is how most government marketing is done – through reputation and networking.

Then, in the application process, a company must be willing to go through an in-depth financial audit, drawn-out government risk assessments, and internal policy adjustments.

Is it worth it? Yes, say Dawson and Huebner.

They’ve had the satisfaction of seeing photos of their product, the Replacement Frequency Modulated Orderwire (RFMOW) system in use on the battleground of Afghanistan.

And there’s that breathing room, too.


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