In a GrepBeat exclusive, digital identity verification leader Global Data Consortium Co-Founder and longtime CEO Bill Spruill reveals the dollar amount of GDC’s recent acquisition by London Stock Exchange Group: $300 million. That’s one of the biggest acquisition deals out of the Triangle for a tech startup—but the road to an exit was far from easy.
For Spruill, GDC’s acquisition is the culmination of a 10-year journey alongside co-founder Charles Gaddy. Some 25 of GDC’s past and present employees left the LSEG deal as millionaires. Today, Spruill is giving back to the Triangle ecosystem as chairperson of the board for the Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED) and an advocate for diversity in Triangle tech spaces.
On Episode 5 of this season’s Exit Stories, Spruill talks slow and steady growth, how over 100 global data partnerships supplemented a 27-person team and why 2 inches of snow led to GDC’s $300 million acquisition.
Here are some key takeaways fom Bill Spruill’s Exit Story:
- Slow and steady growth (sometimes) wins the race. Around the five-year mark of GDC’s life, Spruill and Gaddy were struggling to make ends meet. To that point, they had done consulting on the side to keep the lights on as they developed their product and found product-market fit. “We ended up doing more consulting than perhaps what we really wanted to, but that consulting helped to form and helped us pressure-test what ultimately became our Worldview platform,” Spruill said.
- However, after a crucial member of the team left for financial reasons the pair knew it was time to make a change. So while averaging around $4,000 a month in revenue, Global Data Consortium committed to a new growth goal: grow 10% a month. “And we did it. And we kept doing it, and we kept doing it, and we kept doing it, and we kept doing it,” Spruill said. “And then all of a sudden, we recognize, ‘yep, we’re scaling, the magic has happened.’ And it was off to the races at that point.” (7:30, 12:00)
- Thoughtful partnerships matter. To supplement its 27-person team, GDC relied largely on a network of over 100 global data partners that were an expert on one specific country’s data. The number and depth of these data partnerships set them apart to potential strategic partners and customers. But for these global data partners, it was the personalization and care the GDC team showed that made them confident that entrusting GDC with their data was the right choice. These partnerships took Spruill all over the globe to places like London, New York, and even Quito, Ecuador—”You know, going from Raleigh to Atlanta, Atlanta to Quito is actually a pretty quick flight, as fast as getting out to the West Coast,” Spruill remarked.
- After a couple months of exchanging emails with the business development team at Urbano, a company that delivered bank statements for Ecuador’s three major banks, Spruill flew from Raleigh to Atlanta to Quito to meet the company’s CEO and have dinner. “He said to me, ‘A lot of big companies like Amazon [and] others want access to my data, they all want to do business. But no one has been willing to get on a plane and actually come sit down and have a meal with me.'” That dinner blossomed into one of many global partnerships, and GDC obtained another “gold mine” of verifiable data. Authenticity matters. “Our data partners really respect that, our customers respect that,” Spruill said. “They know that whether it’s Ecuador, Chile, South Africa or Ghana, it didn’t matter, we would get on a plane and come meet.” (22:15, 23:30.)
- Trust the process (and your team) as you look towards an exit. After 10 years of bootstrapping and friends-and-family funding, GDC took its first round of outside funding in a May 2020 Series A, looking less for necessary capital and more for a strategic partner to take its business to the next level. But as GDC was in the final stages of closing with longtime partner Experian, terms were changed in a way that was no longer acceptable. Instead of taking unacceptable terms, GDC reached out to a company that had previously expressed interest in funding GDC—Refinitiv, which was a subsidiary of Thomson Reuters at that time—and was later acquired by and merged with London Stock Exchange Group.
- Flash forward to a “freak” snowstorm in New York, when Spruill and Refinitiv’s James Mirfin were trapped together at a Fintech conference, and that partnership began to morph into what would eventually be a $300 million acquisition. For GDC, which got ahead of the Fintech boom with its verification services, strategic acquisition by a Fintech industry leader just made sense. “As a corporate partner, they understood our business a lot better,” said Spruill. “They understood how we operate it. For them, there wasn’t the pressure associated with growth. They liked our growth. They liked the way we were moving into more markets. For them, it was much more about the product, the product-market fit, the customer sectors that we were operating in and where that aligned with their customer universe.” (29:40)
Listen to Bill Spruill’s full interview below, and be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss an episode!