RALEIGH – WRAL TechWire’s Chantal Allam recently got to sit down with Prometheus Group founder and CEO Eric Huang, 48, in the company’s Pilot Mill office in downtown Raleigh. He shares his journey to $1 billion status as a “unicorn.” Here’s the Q&A:

In addition to feeling great personal satisfaction, the most dominant emotion I have is pride in the organization. We have absolutely the best people around. We aren’t flashy at all. We come in everyday, work hard and help each other. In this day and age where it seems like everything is about flash or hype, it feels good to be recognized for building a solid company with a strong, down-to-earth, results orientated culture.

  • What do you think it means to the region as a whole?

I don’t know, but I do hope we will inspire investors and entrepreneurs to consider a different type of company. Build a company that can stand on its own two feet rather than going for moonshots that are dependent on a constant influx of outside cash.

  • Tell us a little about yourself.

I grew up most of my life in North Carolina. I went to NC State University, and then Case Western Reserve University as a MD/PHD in Biomedical Engineering. What I found out is that everyone was super-passionate about that subject, and I just wasn’t. I went to Accenture for a while, and then became an independent consultant in San Antonio, Texas. You could make a lot of money around Y2K (common abbreviation for the year 2000 software problem).

Raleigh’s Prometheus Group hits ‘unicorn’ status in deal with Genstar Capital

  • That’s around the same time Prometheus got started. What’s your startup story?

Prometheus started as a one-man consulting shop way back in 1998. One of our first customers was Valero Energy, an oil and gas company based in San Antonio, Texas. We wrote some software for them, and it was very well received, not only by Valero but the larger software community. A lucky break for me came when Valero allowed me to buy the software back in 2002. Then we turned into a software company.

  • What kind of software do you offer?

It’s planning and scheduling software. It helps large companies schedule their repairs. We saw that many companies had the same problem, so we later rewrote the software as a general solution that was applicable across industries.

Prometheus Group’s platform (Prometheus image)

I wish we could say we were brilliant, and we just knew what the market was going to do. I think where I’ll give Prometheus credit is we identified this as an area that was underserved. So we didn’t come up with the idea, but once we saw it, we knew it was a rich opportunity and then we started focusing on it.

One of the great things about Prometheus is we work in sort of a boring space — boring, but extremely critical. We don’t really have any competition. There are no 18-years-olds going, “Oh, I wish I could build industrial software.” So that provides sort of a moat for us. And because we do such a good job with our customers, they keep coming to us for more and more solutions.

  • What about the name?

The name comes from Greek mythology. Prometheus was the titan of forethought, which fit with our first product – a graphical planning and scheduling application. We later added group to our name because in the early days we wanted to seem bigger than we were.

  • Did you ever get any early-stage funding to get off the ground?

Luckily for us, we were really un-investable in the early days. This forced us to bootstrap the company. That was really a blessing because it allowed us to really learn how to run a solid, profitable business from the very beginning.

  • When did you take on your first investor?

We took on our first investors from a family office in 2010. It was a $10 million investment, but that was really to take chips off the table. Then in 2013, we partnered with TA Associates and then Francisco Partners in 2016.

We’ve always been profitable and never needed outside capital to grow. The real reason that we took on investors was to just prove the valuation. I would always read articles that said, based on these metrics, your company is worth this much. Well, anybody can say that. Let me go out into the marketplace and see if our company is really worth as much we believe it is.

  • How did you end up with your headquarters in Raleigh?

Around 2006, we were trying to grow but I couldn’t afford anybody because I was competing with oil money and venture capital money in Austin. So I said, “Ok, where are there great engineers or great programmers that were still affordable?” And that’s when we decided to move back to Raleigh.

  • At the time, how big were you?

We were a whopping four people – but that four were me, my brother, my wife, and one other guy that we had from San Antonio. We moved onto NC State into their tech incubator where we stayed for two years. We actually wanted to stay on NC State’s campus, but they didn’t have enough room for us so we moved into Pilot Mill near downtown Raleigh.

  • How big are you now?

We are growing over 30 percent a year and have done so for over a decade. This year, our company will do $100 million in revenue. In five years time, we project upwards of $200 million in revenue in just organic growth.

We are a global company with offices in the US, Europe, South America and Australia. We have over 300 employees worldwide, with most of them in Raleigh. We partner with some of the largest companies in the world — Exxon, Dupont and Bayer, to name a few. In addition, we are expanding to a new 40,000-square-feet space in the North Hills area by the end of the year to accommodate our growth.

One amazing thing about this fact is our consistency. Our growth has been very steady even through economic hard times. Our software is sort of mission critical. When times are good and everybody is focused on producing more, we help companies keep their operations going. During bad economic times, we’ll help them schedule everything in a cost effective way.

  • Do you offer software as a service provider (SaaS)?

We’re moving towards SaaS. When we started way back when, it was really a license and maintenance model. We’ve really stuck with that since inception. It’s only been in the last two to three years that our customers are starting to embrace SaaS. We have several big deals that are SaaS deals.

  • Do you have any women in executive positions?

This is a great question. We have women in several key positions – Head of Global HR, VP of Marketing, and European Sales Director, NA Sales Director and our Global Finance Controller.

More importantly, this question really goes to our culture here at Prometheus. We run a meritocracy where everybody has the opportunity to not only succeed, but to accomplish things that they simply could not do at other companies. We focus on identifying the potential of every person at Prometheus and then reaching that potential. It is really tough, but worth it.

Our global vice president of Sales just turned 30. Our head of Sales in Europe is 28. Our head of Development was 29 when he got promoted. I don’t think you will see that at many companies of our scale and success.

  • Are you hiring?

We are constantly hiring.

  • Any new acquisitions on the horizon?

Acquisitions are a recent but important aspect to our growth story. We have our eyes on two companies that are very interesting. Our focus this year has been centered on who is at the plant and why – both from a safety point of view, but also as a way to track expenses and cost.

  • Where to from here?

There are the financial metrics that are really important for the private equity firms, so we want to maintain our growth rate and profitability. From an operations point of view, Prometheus wants to dominate all aspects of plant operations.

This latest development is a confirmation that we are headed in the right direction. If you take a look at our past and current partners, TA Associates, Francisco Partners and Genstar Equity, these are the biggest and best private equity funds in the world. With Genstar, we’re going to be able to go even further. When we started, we never expected it to be as amazing as it has been.