There have been more data privacy regulations passed in the last 12 months than in the past two decades.
That’s why Spirion, a St. Petersburg-based software company, has been growing rapidly.
The company specializes in helping business customers discover where their sensitive data is located or stored across the enterprise — on laptops or servers, in emails or databases, for example — and helps those customers classify that data according to their business rules, said Kevin Coppins, president and CEO.
Spirion also helps customers understand and control their data and comply with privacy regulations.
“Companies can’t exist without data. Data is the lifeblood of all companies. We respect that. We’re trying to find the healthy balance, to use the data to do what they need to do to grow a healthy business and be part of the economy,” said Coppins, a 20-year tech industry veteran who joined Spirion in September.
The company, its leaders and its staff are passionate about data privacy. It’s one of the company’s core values. Spirion is one of hundreds of “champions” that are supporting events taking place Jan. 28, Data Privacy Day, including its own webinar. The company has a podcast called Privacy Please, and it has branded a book, written by Jeni Rogers, called 200+ Ways to Protect Your Privacy.
That focus is what drew Coppins to Spirion. Coppins is a big fan of motivational speaker Simon Sinek, who wrote a best-selling book called Start With Why and who says the best organizations can articulate why they exist.
“I was struggling to find a company that knew their why and cared about having a why. I wanted to go to work for someone who knew who they were, and where they came from and why they do what they do. Spirion has that in spades,” Coppins said.
So what is Spirion’s “why? “Protect what matters most,” Coppins said.
New suite of products
Spirion was founded in 2006 in New York by Todd Feinman and David Goldman, who remain on the company’s board.
The company originally was named Identity Finder and offered products for consumers to find and protect their personal data. But demand from universities was overwhelming, so the company pivoted to business customers, starting with the higher education sector and expanding in the past five or six years to the enterprise space, including financial institutions, manufacturers and retailers.
It changed its name from Identity Finder to Spirion to avoid confusion with a popular data security tool. Spirion is focused on data privacy, and there’s a difference between the two, Coppins said. Data security locks data up. Data privacy ensures data is used as intended.
“It can be completely secure but the usage of that data is where you get into privacy issues. How it’s utilized and who is using it. Security is one thing. Privacy is a whole different lens on how that data is being utilized,” Coppins said. “We allow you to find that sensitive data, and we’re building out a whole suite of products around that data privacy model.”
The Riverside Company, a private equity firm that acquired Spirion in April 2018, not long after Spirion relocated to St. Petersburg, has recently upped its investment in the company to build and market new products, Coppins said.
“We see zero reason why we shouldn’t be at three or four times our size in the next three to four years in terms of revenue. We will move from a one-product company to a seven-product company in the next 18 months.”
Ask the hard questions
Spirion has about 500 active customers, including the California State University system, the largest four-year public university system in the United States. One of the largest financial services firms and one of the largest aerospace companies in the world also are Spirion customers.
But data privacy is not just a big company issue, Coppins said.
“The donut shop down the street that uses an iPad to swipe your card to save the information on the kind of donuts you like? That iPad is full of your private information. Or the ice cream store with an app on your phone so you can get loyalty points. Is that extra scoop of ice cream worth them having all my personal data? Anytime you are doing that you are making a tradeoff,” he said. “We’re all about making everyone aware so you can ask the hard questions to the companies you do business with.”
Spirion has about 110 people on staff, most of them at the headquarters site, an entire floor at 200 Central in downtown St. Petersburg. That’s up from 35 people just a couple of years ago. Coppins expects to hire another 30 people by the end of 2020, and he’s actively recruiting for data and coding specialists.
He credits the St. Pete vibe and the community’s focus on diversity with being a powerful draw to attract talent, including many software experts who already were living here and working remotely for other companies.
Spirion is providing a unique solution that perfectly aligns with St. Petersburg’s Grow Smarter target industry strategy, said J.P. Dubuque, president of the St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corp.
“Their decision to grow here is a testament to our increasing availability of tech talent and our business-friendly environment. We are overjoyed that Spirion has selected St. Pete as the site of their new headquarters, and we look forward to helping them be successful here for many years to come,” DuBuque said.