RALEIGH – Since 2016, Global Data Consortium (GDC), a global identity verification platform, has been growing around 120 percent year over year. They currently cover 70 countries, and are scaling across multiple verticals, including fintech, gaming and RegTech.

This Raleigh-born company, founded in 2011, is also the first to be featured as part of a new multimedia series produced in conjunction with Innovate Raleigh. The series aims to spotlight a cross-section of homegrown startups on track to becoming a $1-billion enterprise, otherwise known as a “unicorn.”

WRALTechWire’s Chantal Allam recently had the chance to visit GDC’s founders, Bill Spruill and Charles Gaddy, at their new headquarters located within the historic Pilot Mill complex in downtown Raleigh.

Raleigh data startup is working to protect world against fraud – a story of ‘Tomorrow’s Unicorns’

Here’s what they had to say:

TechWire: Thanks so much for kicking off this series. When did GDC first start to take shape?

Bill: The true ideation session we had was a session out of Carolina Beach in 2010 when we first started talking about what we were going to do next. Five of us got together, went down to the beach in the middle of winter; and we literally spent the weekend throwing ideas at the wall around how we wanted to approach the next iteration of international data.

Charles: We’ve been in the data business from the beginning. It’s what you can do with data that we found interesting and, in time, pivoted around.

TechWire: When did you pivot?

Bill: Around 2016, we switched over from focusing on raw data and address verification, and we pivoted into identity verification. It hadn’t yet been identified as a huge market. At that point, we saw what we believed to be the future and it turns out to be correct. The digital identity market was in its infancy at that time, and it’s been growing exponentially ever since.

Part of our vision mission is to provide identities for the global consumers and businesses to participate in the global digital economy. We already had the platform for address validation. The beauty was that we were able to take what we had already coded and actually move that very easily into identity verification. All of this was done in that bootstrap model.

TechWire: What does your platform do exactly?

Bill: It takes elements such as name, address, mobile number, date of birth, National ID, and we verify against an independent reference database from all around the world. We use things like voter records, real estate records, mobile records, utility bills, credit records, to verify that that information provided matches independent authoritative reference databases. That’s it, in real time.

Charles: We use authoritative data to say that someone is who they say they are. That someone is typically our customers’ customer that they want to provide a service to.

GDC’s Bill Spruill and Charles Gaddy

TechWire: This year, you’re projecting $20 million dollars in revenue. Doesn’t that mean you’re on track to becoming a unicorn?

Bill: We’re on track to becoming a top-line growth company of $100 million in revenue. That is our target. That’s where we want to arrive. Whether that deems us a unicorn or not, that’s outside of what we focus on. We’re focused on continuing to maintain ourselves as a sustainably growing high-growth company.

TechWire: Why don’t you like the term “unicorn”? Instead, you prefer to go by “zebra,” a company characterized by “doing real business, not aiming to disrupt current markets.” What’s the deal?

Bill: Unicorns are magical, mythical things; and zebras are real. In real business terms, we’ve been really focused on building a sustainable, reality-based company that focuses on profits and revenues and sustainable growth. We don’t hire more people than we can sustain based on our balance sheet; and we try not to make investments that are too far out over our skis.

Charles: We don’t like the term unicorn because zebras are something you can touch and pet. Businesses should be based in reality — not in what could happen, projecting forward.

TechWire: What year are you projecting to get at $100 million in annual revenue?

Bill: Somewhere in 2025, we should be able to achieve that if our growth continues. But we don’t want to be called the unicorn.

Charles: We would love to be valued as a $1 billion company, which is, I know, one of the definitions of unicorn. But it’s also a definition of a zebra. It’s how you get there that we think is important.

TechWire: How has the pandemic affected your growth?

Charles: A pre-pandemic acceleration occurred based on different regulations centered around anti money laundering and preventing people from illegally moving money around. It came to a head around 2016. Once the pandemic hit, it went from accelerating to just ludicrous speed because everybody was at home trying to do something online.

Bill: Digital identity verification has become integral in all our societies. It was accelerated during the pandemic, but it was already coming in a world prior. The idea of you needing to walk into a bank with a bunch of papers to verify who you say you are to open an account is a holdover from the past. Now people want to be able to do all of that, instantaneously, using a mobile app. That’s what this platform allows for banks and other financial services organizations to accomplish.

TechWire: You were bootstrapping until March 2020 when you raised $3.5 million. How difficult was it to get that capital?

Bill: It was definitely a difficult process. It was difficult to find the right investor for us at the right time. We were building a business that was profitable and hitting metrics along the way. But the market generally didn’t seem to be that interested in what we were doing.

Charles: They were hunting unicorns, and we were out there with our stripes dancing around.

I don’t know that the capital has changed a lot of what we’re doing. We did make some decisions, probably on resourcing more than anything else to accelerate faster in some in product lines and things like that, but we’re still wearing the stripes. Even though we have some money, we’re not growing horns.

TechWire: How do you plan to scale?

Bill: Our headcount is 38. We’ll continue to hire but one of our core metrics is revenue per employee. We want to make sure that we’re maintaining a very high revenue per employee, so we’ll continue to grow strategically we’ll take it to 50. Then we’ll take it to 60.

TechWire: Can you give me an idea of who your customers are?

Bill: DHL eCommerce is one of our long-standing customers. So is LexisNexis. We’ve worked with organizations like MasterCard, MercadoLibre, to name a few.

Charles: We’re the sugar in a lot of people’s chocolate. (He smiles.)

TechWire: How has the Triangle’s ecosystem helped you on this journey?

Bill: We wouldn’t have met without the ecosystem because we were both at different companies. We met one time and worked together as a function of a partnership between our two companies, and then we sort of disconnected. We got reconnected again as part of the ecosystem. We were both independent contractors working out of a Cafe Helios on Glenwood Avenue here in town to get a cup of coffee.

Charles: Once we saw the overlap in what we did, we then decided we could work together.

TechWire: How important is it for the Triangle’s ecosystem to have homegrown companies like yourselves?

Bill: Homegrown companies will always remember this as being home. We both grew up here, within hours of Raleigh. We would never, in our wildest dreams, see our company being based somewhere else. It’s absolutely important that the area continue to cultivate and grow larger, homegrown companies here. It’s better to have a dazzle of zebras, then one or two unicorns.

UPDATE: A LinkedIn Live chat with the founders is tentatively rescheduled to Thursday, September 30 at 12pm. Check WRAL TechWire’s LinkedIn page for further updates.