How did Dexis overcome the odds and become a midsized company?
Dexis knows the value of working with partners of all shapes and sizes and how important they are to the outcome of our projects. As Business Development Director at Dexis, I’m frequently engaging with small business partners, and I often find myself in discussions with small business leaders who want to know the secret to Dexis’ success. After all, Dexis started off the same way – a small business in the global development space, facing long odds of success. According to a GAO report, only 2.5% of small government services firms manage to become a middle market company within the first 10 years of inception.
Dexis was founded by Mihir Desai in July 2001 as an information systems provider for developing economies. Two months later, the attacks of 9/11 brought everything to a standstill. The U.S. Government deprioritized technology, choosing instead to focus on offensive missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Civilian money followed Department of Defense investment. Almost immediately after its inception, Dexis found itself needing to pivot rapidly to avoid folding.
The company shifted to conflict zone work as a subcontractor in Afghanistan and Iraq. For the next seven years, most of the company’s revenue came from subcontracting work, but when the contractor whose business provided a significant portion of Dexis’s revenue slowed down their projects in 2008, the company once again was left scrambling.
This time, Dexis resolved not to be entirely reliant on being a subcontractor. Dexis’ experience in economic growth and analytics provided a natural skillset to pivot into monitoring and evaluation (M&E) work.
“Thankfully, our team had the expertise and enthusiasm to shift to M&E work. Without it, we might not have survived,” says Mihir. Within a year of refocusing the business on M&E contracts, the company was once again thriving.
“That’s also why we place so much importance on honoring our commitments to our subcontractors and small business partners. We’ve been there. We know what it’s like,” he adds.
That Dexis hustle put the company on a growth trajectory. Dexis’ success as a small business culminated in 2015 with winning the USAID Small Business of The Year award. The following year, Dexis graduated from a small business with year-on-year revenue and staff numbers increasing rapidly to become a middle-market company. The company had received so much attention in the community and from the government as a result of the USAID award that their project revenue quintupled in that year. Suddenly, Dexis was struggling to keep up.
At the same time, Dexis was reaching another critical juncture. To continue growing, the Dexis management team knew that they would have to branch out from M&E and start as a prime contractor on technical assistance projects. But there was a problem.
“While we bid on some technical assistance work, sometimes we couldn’t because of our ongoing M&E work and institutional support staff embedded in USG agencies, to avoid any conflicts of interest, and we couldn’t bid on small business work because we were no longer small,” says Desai.
That was when management made a tough decision. They could pay out dividends to shareholders – or they could take every dime they had and put it back into the company in a gamble that would make or break Dexis’ future.
Dexis did not pay dividends that year.
Instead, the company invested in bringing on board the talent it needed to win technical assistance contracts, hiring several experienced management professionals with solid implementation know-how and sector credentials. With the new team in place, Dexis bid on several implementation projects…and lost. Then they bid on more. And lost those, too.
“After going through the cycle of bidding, losing, and improving our bids,” Mihir recounts, “we eventually bid on the SWIFT 5 IDIQ and won.”
What had made Dexis keep going despite their initial losing streak? When I ask him this, he explains, “We knew it wouldn’t be easy entering the full and open market competing against much larger and more established companies, so we knowingly took the long view. We worked on being a good partner and prime contractor that values and cares about our small business partners, signed up to mentor small businesses, invested smartly as we grew – all along keeping up that Dexis hustle. And I think that view, as well as our own experience as a small business, made us much more inclusive of our partners.”
In my work in business development, that inclusive approach is a significant draw for partners both large and small. Since its inception, Dexis has grown by leaps and bounds, through implementation projects, partnerships, and acquisitions – Agland Investment Services in 2016 and Checchi and Company Consulting, Inc. and New Century US in 2020. Through the years, the ups and downs, and the work on the ground, Dexis has stayed true to what drew me here – the company’s reputation for hustle and integrity.
As Mihir puts it, “The spirit of our Dexis staff never ceases to amaze me. They work incredibly hard to build strong relationships with other businesses, universities, and nonprofits to maximize results and fuel our success.”
Hiba Iqteit is the Director of Business Development at Dexis. She brings 13 years of experience working in global health, specializing in business development, strategic planning, and team building. Before joining Dexis, Hiba served as Business Development Manager at the Population Council, working across program areas and regions to identify new business opportunities and develop successful proposals for multi- and bilateral donors including USAID.
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