Listing on the stock market is the end goal for many startups — and their investors. But what exactly does a public listing do for your company and what does it mean?
Essentially, listing means that shares in a company become available for trading amongst all investors on a stock exchange.
The big sell for companies is access to capital — and a lot of it — from a wider range of substantial investors like big asset managers and insurance companies. Camille Leca, chief operating officer of listing and head of listing France at pan-European exchange Euronext says that as listed companies mature, cheques get even bigger than when they first list: “If you compare the amount of money new IPOs raised versus the type of money already-listed companies raise every year, most of the money is raised on the secondary market.”
Also, companies benefit from a liquidity boost (the ability to sell shares), merger and acquisition opportunities and improved credibility. “It’s a sign of being well structured and well monitored, so it’s usually easier to get suppliers, clients and key talent. Getting listed is definitely a plus,” says Leca.
So, you’re sold on getting listed. But which listing process is right for your company? From SPACs to IPOs, our experts explain all here.
Initial Public Offering (IPO)
This listing process is the most popular and well-known way of getting on the stock market.
If you’re a company looking for a funding boost and to get noticed, the IPO is for you, according to Leca: “It’s for companies that are willing to raise money, either new money or selling existing shares. It’s quite structured and takes between 4-6 months. It’s a process where you benefit from a big boost in visibility because you’re targeting a very wide audience, and a lot of business information is going public.”
“The IPO was a great way for us to accelerate development and this gives us visibility and notoriety in front of our customers…”
The visibility factor has rung true for French energy company Energisme, according to its chief executive Thierry Chambon. The business successfully listed from an IPO with Euronext in July this year, after beginning preparations during pre-pandemic lockdowns.
Chambon tells Sifted that he cannot yet disclose any big names that have partnered with the company since going public, but mentions that “the IPO was a great way for us to accelerate development and this gives us visibility and notoriety in front of our customers, which are large accounts.” Energisme’s current customer roster boasts some big names, from the likes of Orange to BNP Paribas.
From banks to bitcoin, get all the gossip and analysis in your inbox.
During the IPO process, Chambon points out that having a long backlog of clear documentation went a long way to smooth the process for Energisme and its listing managers. “Providing old documents about things like accountancy or markets is necessary without the IPO. But when you want to go into a public market, the quality of these documents are very important,” says Chambon.
“Being listed is only the beginning of a long journey. It's what happens when you get listed that matters the most.”
Leca says that planning is key, as is focusing on your governance, accountability structure and business reporting during and after listing: “Being listed is only the beginning of a long journey. It's what happens when you get listed that matters the most.”
Special-purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) have been all the rage in recent months. SPACs are blank-cheque companies (where there is a strategy and vision but not a purpose yet) that are formed for the purpose of merging with or acquiring other companies.
So why is everyone talking about them right now? “Because the trend is massive in the US,” says Leca. “40% of funds raised by new listings were raised by SPACs in the US.”
On European soil, the trend hasn’t quite taken off yet. But more support for SPACs is bubbling up around the continent which means we might be seeing more SPAC activity in the near future.
“There’s no reason not to have more and more [SPACs] in Europe as we are getting more and more successful entrepreneurs that have a track record in growing businesses,” says Leca.
“40% of funds raised by new listings were raised by SPACs in the US...”
Most often, it’s serial founders or niche sector specialists that open SPACs while investors finance the operation. “It’s a different approach [to an IPO] and is not for all companies… it’s for established proven entrepreneurs, experts or financial profiles that have a vision in one specific sector and want to roll that out,” adds Leca.
There have been more SPACs in Europe though, including Mediawan born of the partnership between famous tech entrepreneurs Pierre-Antoine Capton, Xaviel Niel and businessman Mathieu Pigasse, listed in Paris in 2016; as well as Dutch Star Companies One, listed in Amsterdam in 2018.
Some companies needn’t worry about raising their visibility nor raise money, and that’s where direct listings come in.
This listing process — once mostly used when two companies merged and listed the newly created entity without raising any money — has evolved a bit in recent years. Now, big players like Spotify and Slack have hopped on the direct listing bandwagon.
But why? So that they can sell their shares easily: “[Companies] like these don’t need money, nor do they need the fame that you get from doing an IPO. They just need a liquidity tool,” says Leca.
Luxembourg-based business tech solutions company Solutions30 did a direct listing with Euronext some years ago to solidify its relationship with its clientele. The company’s head of communications and investor relations Nathalie Boumendil told Sifted that “we did not need to raise money as our business model was generating enough cash to finance our growth, but we needed to show our customers that they could trust us.”
“Do what you say and say what you do.”
The company first listed on Euronext in 2005 via its pan-European Euronext Growth stock exchange, and transferred to the Euronext Paris stock exchange earlier this year to attract new investors.
As a company well acquainted with the secondary market, Boumendil says that confidence is key in relationship building: “The most important thing when you go public is to build a relationship based on transparency and confidence with the market — do what you say and say what you do.”
The ability to raise money from a direct listing is potentially on the rise. According to Leca, there are some reflections on developing a process where companies can list and raise money, without having to go down the usual route of hiring an investment bank to market and set the price of the IPO which can take considerably longer. “You don’t need to go through the [standard IPO] process and you don’t need to pay fees to banks.” However, Leca says that the first attempt undertaken by the New York Stock Exchange has currently been suspended by the US regulator to develop the process further.
If you want to cut through the faff of an IPO or a SPAC to list even more quickly, this one's for you. Reverse listings are when one (unlisted) company acquires another (listed) company to jump into their spot on the stock exchange. “This is a way for a company to get listed without going through the whole process because you basically acquire a company that is already listed and has no or little activity,” Leca explains.
She points out that the outcome is pretty different to an IPO, and you’ll have to be prepared to take on the potential liabilities — such as tax evasions or a dodgy law enforcement history — of the company being acquired: “You don’t raise money and you don’t get visibility. And to go one step further you have to endorse all the legacy of the company you have acquired to get listed.”
Companies which reverse list are often looking to grow their business and for liquidity to sell shares: “It's more for companies that have a very specific idea in mind or need to be listed fast for, perhaps building up their business. It's not for a well-established brand so much,” adds Leca. As a result reverse listings are rarely used.
Euronext is the leading pan-European exchange, covering Belgium, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal, with close to 1,430 listed issuers worth €4.3 trillion in market capitalisation as of end of September 2020. Find out more about the wonders of going public here.