How Bill Spruill created 25 millionaires with the sale of his tech company

BY Preta Peace Namasaba March 12, 2024 12:03 PM EDT
Bill Spruill. Photo credit: nCino

Loyalty to a company often pays off in terms of promotions, bonuses or a small salary increment. Most employees don’t envision a million-dollar payout for supporting a business.

Yet, that is exactly what Bill Spruill did for his team. He created 25 millionaires from the $300 million sale of his startup Global Data Consortium in 2022. Spruill oversaw the formation of more than 50 enterprise channel relationships and a cohort of more than 120 data suppliers. This created a novel consortium business model that generated over $70 million in revenues during the company’s lifetime.

However, his journey, and consequently that of the 25 millionaires he created, was replete with numerous rejections and frustration.

“Most of the time, most founders think about their own needs, which is important and absolutely, you know, crucial. But think about your investors. Yes, they’re your investors, they put money into you when no one else would. So most certainly think about your investors, whether they be friends, family, or professional investment, but make sure you put the appropriate amount of time and to thinking about the team,” Spruill said about why he viewed his business in terms of collective ownership.

After years of working in Enterprise Data Management, Spruill was well-equipped to start his own company. He founded GDC in 2010 with his co-founder and one engineer. In the first few years, the company struggled to make money and to find product market fit. They built an address data product that got some traction but was not as good as they had hoped. The company then developed a fully cloud-enabled product that still didn’t quite meet their expectations. But they managed to alter the technology into a digital identity verification platform, using the same data resources. And just like that, GDC had found its niche in the market.

Although the company had growth potential, Spruill struggled to raise capital. The founders met with many investors but no one was interested in investing in GDC beyond friends and family. It was frustrating for the two seasoned executives with experience in the industry that they couldn’t get anyone to give them as much as $100,000. These rejections proved to be a blessing in disguise. Operating frugally, Spruill was eventually able to build a cash-efficient and profitable company. This consequently allowed the company to have greater latitude around fundraising and its future.

After a decade of bootstrapping and relying on funding by friends and family, GDC was ready for its first round of outside funding. Initially, they had good run which meant GDC was not necessarily looking for capital but for a strategic partner to take its business to the next level. Therefore when its longtime partner Experian introduced unacceptable terms in the final stages of closing, GDC opted out. It instead reached out to Refinitiv (a subsidiary of Thomson Reuters at that time and later acquired by and merged with London Stock Exchange Group) which had previously expressed interest in funding GDC. The company closed its first-round series A at an estimated $40 million valuation on $8 million in revenue.

A year later, Spruill was ready for a Series B round. LSEG wanted to lead the round while GDC sought to maintain its independence in the deal. The global financial infrastructure and data provider offered to buy the business to resolve the contention. GDC was already the most widely channel-distributed global identity verification platform providing data-driven KYC (Know Your Customer) solutions in more than 70 countries through a single API. Its valuation was going up every quarter, rising from $40 million to $60 million to $100 million. The ball was in Spruill’s hands.

Having had multiple experiences of exits, the question of acquisition was always at the back of Spruill’s mind. He had served as COO of German data company AddressDoctor which was acquired by Informatica, and was an investor advisor to address verification firm Loqate in the UK. This firm helped to sell Intelligence Search Technologies to Xperian.

Spruill saw an opportunity.

“I want to be one of the first African-Americans to have sold a technology company for more than $100 million. What keeps me up at night is getting an offer to purchase the company too early. We’ve got a lot of growth opportunity in front of us. We’re hitting it on all cylinders and we’re moving up the stack, and my biggest fear is someone coming in and saying, “We will buy you now,” and the number just being so good, it’s hard to not have that conversation,” Spruill said in an interview three years before the acquisition of GDC.

In 2022, Spruill eventually sold his business to the London Stock Exchange for $300 million 100 percent cash upfront. GDC had been built around the notion of sharing equity and the team knew that selling the business was always a part of that process. Following the acquisition, more than 40 friends and family team members received a payout of over $500,000. 25 of the company’s past and present employees left the LSEG deal as millionaires.