SIOUX CITY | PC Pitstop has flourished since it was planted with Siouxland seeds 17 years ago.
The Sioux City-based firm recently cracked Inc. magazine's 35th annual list of the nation's 5,000 fastest growing private companies.
No. 4,131 on the Inc. 500, the performance and security software company posted a three-year growth rate of 68 percent and 2015 revenues of $11.5 million.
PC Pitstop's more than 40 employees work out of their homes and are scattered across the U.S. from California to South Carolina, with a handful in Sioux City.
Like the majority of the employees, PC Pitstop founder Rob Cheng formerly worked at Gateway. He joined the North Sioux City-based computer maker in 1991 and left eight years later as the senior vice president of Gateway Consumer, responsible for sales, marketing and support.
"One of my problems that I didn't solve while I was at Gateway was that our support line expenses were growing faster than revenue. As a percentage, it was growing and ultimately looking bad," Cheng said via phone interview from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. "So I was looking at the process of how to automate technical support. So I left, and I created this company PC Pitstop that essentially automated the process."
PC Pitstop, founded in 1999, offered a website that users could access to get a full diagnostic of their computer.
"It was during the dot-com boom and that was actually a cool time. We were in the top 1,000 websites in the entire world at that point in time," Cheng said.
Today, Cheng said the company is always pivoting toward the need of the marketplace, so its claim to fame involves developing, marketing and supporting its product called PC Matic. PC Matic uses an automated whitelist technology that prevents malicious files from running and infecting systems with modern-day cyber threats including ransomware.
Mike Sexton, senior VP for sales and marketing, said what makes the company different is that traditional anti-virus programs stop all the known "bad stuff" by putting it on a list called a blacklist. The bigger and more frequently that list is updated, the better the manufacturer.
"The difference with the blacklist technology is, when something comes along and nobody knows that it is bad, someone has to get infected in order for you to understand it is bad, and usually it is not wanted," said Sexton, a former Gateway executive and Sioux City native, in a phone interview last month.
"What we do that is different is that we have a whitelist. So if something new comes along that we have never seen before, and it is not on the blacklist, we don't know if it is good or not. We actually upload it to the cloud and we have a team of malware researchers that check it out using special tools and techniques to understand if it's good or bad."
If it's bad it goes on the blacklist and if it's good it goes on the whitelist, said Sexon, who lives in California.
"The good thing about this is that no one has to get infected," he said. "It's exciting, it's unique, it's different and it's on the forefront of technology. And more than anything it is stopping ransomware and keeping people safe."
Ransomware is something Woodbury County fell victim to in July when a cyber attack via an email entered the county's system. Ransomware is software that locks down files on a computer and then demands a payment, or ransom, for their release. Since the Woodbury County Information Communication Committee backs up files each night, nothing was lost. Any emails requesting ransom for the files have since been deleted, county officials said.
Cheng said PC Pitstop has gained business since the growth of ransomware and also since the company started running TV ads on major cable news networks like Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and CNBC. The ads feature Cheng talking about the company's products in a genuine and authentic message, Sexton said.
"I'm getting used to people taking selfies with me; it happens four or five times a month," Cheng said with a laugh.
PC Pitstop's PC Matic was awarded the Virus Bulletin award in 2014. The VB100 award is given to products that meet the standards required to be recognized as a legitimate and properly functioning anti-malware solution, according to virusbulletin.com.
"The combination of being able to advertise that we have the best software (and) Rob's authentic message just skyrocketed our sales." said chief operating officer Keith Linden, who is based in Siouxland.
Linden estimated that when the company started advertising using its "authentic message" it grew the business by 50 percent.
"And the VB100 grew our business another 50 percent," said Linden, another former Gateway executive.
The average company on the Inc. 500 boasts a three-year growth of 433 percent. Large household names such as Microsoft, Dell, Pandora and Domino's Pizza gained their first national exposure from the prestigious list.
PC Pitstop executives are thrilled to make it onto the Inc. 500 for the first time, but they are not satisfied.
"It is my hope that this is the first of many that we have," Cheng said. "I think we have the potential to do this as frequently as did Gateway."