Monday, July 30, 2012

Techs and the City

The post below first appeared on the Index Ventures blog and formed the basis for articles in the Telegraph and City AM
At Index and TAG we feel strongly that a healthy IPO market is an important element of maintaining the strong tech startup momentum that has been building in Europe over the past 5 years.

Together we can get the Tech IPO market going in London
From our vantage point at Index, the centrality of the Tech sector to economic growth -- particularly during the economic slowdown of the last few years -- is all too clear.
A recent piece in the FT reiterated this point. Ed Hammond, the paper's property correspondent reviewed the shifting make-up of the City and the steady transformation of the tenant mix in the Square Mile.
Examples Ed quotes of recent office moves help to illustrate the point:
  • Bloomberg: 500,000sq ft on Walbrook Square
  • Skype: 88,000 sq ft on Waterhouse Square
  • Expedia: 81,000 sq ft on St John St
Those of us working in the tech world or, more accurately, the tech-enabled sectors, have known for some time that the Old Economy is being slowly replaced by the New Economy. Retail is being replaced by eCommerce, Old Media by New Media, enterprise software by SaaS. While industries like law and finance have experienced sluggish growth over the past 5 years, companies in the tech sector are seeing revenue growth of at least 30%/annum, and frequently upwards of 100%/annum. Both start-ups and larger companies like Moshi Monsters and King.com are beneficiaries of this explosive growth. In fact, one of our portfolio companies, Moo.com, has moved or expanded office space seven times in as many years to accommodate its rapid and continuous expansion.
Yet a disconnect remains between the economic vigor in the tech world and the dynamism of the City. My partner, Neil Rimer, wrote an interesting and challenging post recently decrying the fact that the door to London’s IPO market is shut tight for tech companies. Little wonder, then, that despite London’s place as a global financial centre, so many European tech companies like Yandex and Qlik Technologies ended up listing in New York.
What makes this trend even more remarkable, and even more regrettable, is the fact that the UK’s internet economy is one of the most vibrant in the world. Online retail accounts for 13.5% of total UK retail sales, a higher percentage than in any other G-20 country, according to a recent BCG report. The UK is also dominant in online advertising, which accounts for 28.9% of total advertising spend in the country. By comparison, in the G-20 country with the next most developed online advertising market, Japan, only 21.6% of the advertising market has gone digital.
It just does not seem right to me that the City of London, with all its smart investors, would allow the largest seismic shift in the economy to take place without their active participation. Particularly when evidence of this shift can now be found in the buildings outside their back door.
Our sense at Index is that a collective effort needs to be made to kick-start the IPO season for tech companies. And so, in an attempt to invigorate companies, policymakers and the City alike, we’ve put together some recommendations. All it will take is a three-pronged attack from policy-makers, entrepreneurs, and the City alike to make this happen, but it will only work if all the pieces come together.
For the companies capable of listing:
  1. An approach to an IPO needs to be one which recognises that the listing is a fund raising and liquidity event on the way to building a large and great company. It is NOT an exit.
  2. It is important to be IPO ready. This means having the right governance structure in place: an appropriate board with an independent head of audit committee, and well-established remuneration and nomination committees. A well-drilled quarterly rhythm to re-forecasting and a good history of hitting the numbers is also essential.
  3. It is important to communicate a company’s story to the market with clarity and precision.
  4. Ideally VCs will help their company get ready, and be willing and able to hold the stock post float for at least one year. It is the price one year from the float that is most relevant to inside shareholders, so the pricing of the floatation shouldn’t be optimized to the nth degree.
For the policymakers:
  1. The minimum public float requirement of 25% is too high to create a healthy IPO market. Entrepreneurs don’t want to give away so much of their company, particularly when equity is given to the bankers hired to help list the company as well. It would behoove both Europe’s tech companies as well as the public markets if the minimum threshold either dropped to 10%, or a minimum valuation was assigned to companies interesting in listing. The public float is likely to grow over time as early investors (VCs and others) sell their shares.
  2. The stamp duty on shares should be revoked, given that the UK has the joint highest rate of stamp duty in the world. This puts London at a competitive disadvantage when it is competing with New York.
For the Institutional Shareholders and Fund Managers:
  1. It is important to understand the fundamental difference between PE-backed companies and VC-backed companies. PE houses are generally seeking to exit their investments through an IPO or replace debt in the company. VCs generally fund their portfolio without debt and a listing is often seen as a way of raising the company's profile and providing access to further capital.
  2. Strategic investments by city firms are needed to build up specialist analysis and the research required to properly evaluate hyper-growth tech companies and become familiar with the diverse business models and KPIs.
  3. There is a big difference between 2000's tech stocks and 2010's growth stocks. Whilst many of the tech companies will not offer sufficient market liquidity and be sub scale at this stage, it is not hard to see that this situation will not pertain for too long.
Finally, I should add that the motivations for investors like Index in helping strengthen the London IPO market is very similar to those we applied when we began to help build the European start-up ecosystem ten years ago. We believe that a healthy tech sector needs funding at all stages of a company’s life. Without an active IPO market, there is bound to be less capital for startups and early stage businesses.
Follow Robin Klein on Twitter @robinklein

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