Stock market flotations are very much at the glamorous end of business in the City. Relatively young firms are suddenly exposed to public markets, and gain huge recognition – not to mention financial rewards – for their hard work building the business.
It is certainly an adventure for bosses and owners. Visits to investment banks in their skyscrapers, whirlwind tours of the world, giving roadshows to investors, and the chance to boast that your baby has grown up wonderfully.
The Trainline.com announced its intention to float yesterday, as reported in City A.M., and is expected to be valued at £500m.
Chief executive Clare Gilmartin exhibits the hallmarks of a boss who has just jumped on to the roller coaster ride of an initial public offering (IPO).
She is fast-talking, upbeat and full of glowing confidence about the firm. And she needs to be, to sell it to institutional investors who have been flooded with floats in the past year.
On top of that, there will be intense pressure from retail investors who can get very personal if their shares fall, or if they feel bosses are not working hard enough in their interests.
TheTrainline.com is the biggest seller of train tickets in the UK, with its marketing saturating billboards and radio waves.
But Gilmartin calls herself “incredibly bullish” about the firm’s growth prospects. “We are still in the very early days of online penetration,” says the online veteran, who spent 10 years helping eBay grow into a retail giant.
“We are at 27 per cent in the UK, compared with almost 40 per cent in some European markets.”
She is pouring money into developing the site’s mobile app – a particularly important area as customers want to look up train times and buy tickets on the move.
And Gilmartin plans a major European expansion.
Although consumers on the continent are often more used to buying tickets online than their British counterparts, she argues there is room for a more advanced website in the market.
“We have deals in place with rail companies in Germany and in Italy, and we will bring our service to cross-border rail in Europe,” she said.
Technology firms have a chequered history in the public markets.
The infamous dotcom crash 15 years ago shook investors’ faith for years, and the sector sees perennial arguments over the sky-high valuations given to firms with little by way of solid profit figures.
Gilmartin is adamant that TheTrainline.com is a tech firm, rather than a less exciting retail intermediary, but also insists it is not a short-lived business which will be toppled as quickly as it arose.
“We are relatively unique in the sector – we have over 15 years of sustained, year-on-year growth. Not many tech firms can point to that,” says Gilmartin. “We sit in the rail sector, with strong structural growth. On top of that, online rail is growing faster than rail overall, and we’re growing faster than rail overall.”
The chief claims she has not been focused on market conditions.
Despite the topsy-turvey past six months in equities markets – and particularly in the super-sensitive flotations market – Gilmartin insists they are not a worry. She was hired last summer, at the height of 2014’s IPO boom. At the same time, the firm hired Morgan Stanley to look at a flotation, so it cannot have failed to notice the slump in the autumn.
That means TheTrainline.com is taking something of a gamble, bravely testing the waters with the first main market London listing of 2015. Gilmartin will be hoping that her proposition is strong enough not to be derailed.
1 Prolific dealmaker Alex Ham is back with a bang on the first deal of the year. His floats last year included AO, TSB, and Polypipe.
2 The mid-cap specialist was nominated for City A.M.’s Dealmaker of the Year 2014 award, and won the Rising Star award back in 2011.
3 Although Ham is one of the high-profile members of Numis’ team on TheTrainline.com’s float, he is not the only one working on the IPO – he is joined by Lorna Tilbian and Nick Westlake.
Morgan Stanley is also on the deal, with Matthew Jarman, Bill Hutchings and Henrik Gobel are on the team. JP Morgan is also working on the float, with Greg Chamberlain, Anil Rachwani and Laurene Danon heading the team. Solid Solutions Associates’ Nigel Morris and Graham Webb are advising on the retail element and STJ Advisors is advising Exponent & the company.