In the decades since Fran Craig founded the software company Unanet, she has relied on a simple ritual to keep her team on track.
Hold a staff meeting every Friday and require everyone to address the room about what they did that week. At first, it was just a handful of founders talking at Craig’s kitchen table over bagels and cream cheese. But the ranks steadily grew, along with Unanet’s Rolodex of customers. Today the company employs about 165 people, and each of them is expected to address the full company on behalf of his or her team at some point during the year.
After two decades of carefully growing her company without the help of venture capitalists, Craig is preparing to hand the reins to another management team.
The Dulles, Va.-based company announced Tuesday that it has received a strategic investment from the Baltimore-based private equity firm JMI Equity. Executives from the two privately-held firms said the investment is “significantly more than $10 million.” They declined to disclose the exact amount. Craig will step away from the chief executive role following a two-year succession plan, after which she will remain involved as a board member.
Craig says the company’s success is owed to its “egalitarian” management approach. She says she wants the company’s employees to stay focused on customers and the team.
“Basically it’s the team that did this,” she said. “It’s not me or the management, it’s the team.”
The customers have been helpful too, Craig says: “Our customers are our jewels, and we shine them every day.”
Unanet is not well known (something Craig would like to change), but it’s competing with some much larger companies in the market for “project-based enterprise resource planning” software: NetSuite, Microsoft and Deltek, to name a few.
A lot of change could be on the horizon for Unanet.
It is about to get a massive infusion of cash after years of frugal, deliberate growth. Unlike most successful tech firms, Unanet did not turn to a venture capitalist in its early years, a strategy known as “bootstrapping” in start-up lingo.
Despite this approach, the company managed to increase its annual revenue from $20 million to $40 million in the past four years, executives said Monday. And it maintained annual revenue growth rates around 30 percent.
“We have been doing this for a while, bootstrapping it without any funding, and we decided a little while ago we needed to get some funding in order to improve our place in the market,” Craig said Monday.
For years, the company built its business around the local government contractor business community in Northern Virginia. It built out software that made it easier for companies to bill the government, manage invoices and move quickly in a highly regulated business environment.
But the company stayed nimble as it grew, and it gradually grew beyond its roots. Today, about 32 percent of the company’s customers are not government contractors, Craig said, reflecting a rare diversification in Northern Virginia’s government-centric business community.
Next up, the company wants to tweak its product to adapt to other industries, including the life sciences and health-care business, a complicated and highly regulated industry in its own right.
Today, the company that started in Fran Craig’s house has offices in Denver, San Diego, Orlando, Houston, Boston and Alabama. It employs about 165 people. And with the new private equity announcement, Craig says the company will probably need to scale up to 400.
The new ownership team has lofty goals for it: JMI Equity managing partner Dave Greenberg says he wants to grow Unanet into a $100 million-a-year business. The company is to remain headquartered in Loudoun County, Craig says.