Tech stocks around the world have been booming to all-time highs this year, driving dozens of headline-grabbing listings on the public stock markets from Lemonade to Snowflake.
The exception to this trend has been across Europe, which has been in a relative initial public offering (IPO) desert. Only 16 tech companies floated in Europe in the year to September, the lowest in more than a decade.
Still, there are now some signs that the European IPO market is waking up.
Late last week, Bloomberg reported that London-born Deliveroo was eyeing a public listing for 2021. Earlier in the month, The Hut Group scored the biggest tech listing in London since 2015.
And it’s not just these two either; startups like Klarna, Allegro and Huuuge Games have also said publicly that they are planning to IPO, suggesting there is a strong pipeline.
Meanwhile, one person at the London Stock Exchange told Sifted they haven’t “seen this level of activity in two years,” particularly after a slow start to 2020.
The tentative return of the IPO market got us thinking about which European startups might be next to go public. The following list is speculative, but our methodology is printed at the end. If you think we’ve forgotten anyone, let us know!
Revenue: £302m (2019-2020); 80% growth
IPO hints: TransferWise stands out as one of a handful of consumer fintechs that's proven it can be profitable. The company also boasts being a market leader, with global scale and a huge market left to tap. As a result, it was the most popular response for likely IPO candidates among the VCs interviewed for this piece.
According to Beauhurst, "it's just a matter of time" before TransferWise hits the public market.
Revenue: £107m (June 2018-June 2019)
IPO hints: The best indicator of Darktrace's public ambitions is that it's recently been hunting for a bank to lead its IPO process, following news that Goldman Sachs had turned the role down. Still, Darktrace has a big compliance question mark to resolve first, following the arrest of its main investor for securities fraud.
Sector: Enterprise software
Revenue: $400m (2018-2019)
IPO hints: UiPath has now moved to hire IPO underwriters, the biggest sign yet that it's looking to float next year. It's a global leader in the software market, and according to one VC, has the advantage of there being "limited public market precedent" for this sort of company (specialised in robotic process automation).
Others to watch this in this space include Calibre.
Revenue: £85m (2018-2019)
IPO hints: It's been widely reported that WorldRemit will list before 2022, having closed its last big private round in mid-2019. Playing in a similar space to TransferWise, the company is well-positioned to continue growing its global reach. One major clue of its IPO plans is that in 2018, it appointed a CEO in Breon Corcoran, who led the merger of the world's largest betting company before joining WorldRemit.
Brexit may also be another reason to push for an IPO in the near future as a UK company, according to one commentator interviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
Sector: Fintech (payments)
IPO hints: Trustly works to disrupt traditional payment providers like Mastercard and Visa, by allowing consumers to pay directly from their bank accounts. It is live in over 29 countries and was named as one of the fastest-growing companies in Europe in a Financial Times ranking last year.
Top fintech investors on the ground in Stockholm say it's highly likely Trustly will soon follow suit. Aside from its scale, investors point to the fact Trustly was partially bought in 2018 by Nordic Capital; a private equity firm with a track-record of taking its portfolio public.
Sector: Fintech (payments)
Revenue: $74.8m (2018-2019)
IPO hints: Checkout.com is best known for hitting its unicorn valuation in the smallest number of rounds ever in Europe. Part of this comes from its position in the buzzy, fast-growing payments space. Payment companies also generally fared well despite coronavirus, and have done well in the public markets.
Meanwhile, Checkout.com's CEO says he's actively discussed the IPO process with his board, which industry experts say can be a good indicator for what's in store.
Saying that, it's one of the newer unicorns so the timeline on it could be later to the IPO mark than its peers.
Sector: Mobility (car-pooling)
Revenue: $72m (2015, estimated but unconfirmed)
(The company itself does not share specific figures but reported vague details that revenue grew by 71% in 2019, year-on-year. Business Insider also calculated annual revenues sat at around at $72m in 2015, but this has not been confirmed.)
IPO hints: Perhaps the biggest clue that Blablacar is interested in an IPO is that its founder hasn't ruled out a public listing, which is saying something for a French startup. France hasn't had a rich history of successful tech IPOs, so Blablacar could be taking the baton to break the curse as France's first unicorn.
But it's not alone. Other mature French startups like Kayroos, Alan, Doctolib, OVH, and Klaxoon would also make good candidates for a public listing in the coming years. The French Tech's Next40 and KPMG's Tech Pulse 40 have made a strong case of who may else be on the list.
IPO hints: As one of Spain's two unicorns, Cabify tops the country's list of firms potentially eyeing an IPO.
Cabify also told the FT earlier this year it has bucked the trend among ride-hailing services and is now profitable. That could see it perform better on the public market than Uber or Lyft.
The company should now also be looking for some sort of capital push, having not raised fresh funds in two years.
Still, Spanish investor and VC partner, David Miranda says an acquisition-exit is still more likely for Cabify and fellow unicorn Glovo for the time being, especially given the Covid pressures.
"Undoubtedly, the most obvious path to an exit in Spain is the sale of the company, rather than IPO," he tells Sifted. "Although both Glovo and Cabify made announcements last year about a potential IPO, I think it has more to do with their unicorn status (aren't unicorns supposed to be open to an IPO?) than with a real project to go public."
Revenue: Software-tool GitLab has been the most explicit about its intentions to list in the near-future. Two years ago, it even circled an exact deadline by which it hoped to go public (18th November 2020), and then reportedly began talks with banks to start the process last December. Still, its CEO told Sifted in February that this is still a goal rather than a definitive plan, meaning that a public listing soon is likely but still speculative.
Until now, the $2bn company has been reported to be leaning towards a direct listing rather than an IPO. A direct listing simply helps existing shareholders cash-out, rather than helping it raise new cash and diluting existing shareholders at a discount. Nonetheless, with the fresh pressures of Coronavirus and a string of recent acquisitions, we believe it's only a matter of time before the Github-competitor opens itself up to the public coffers too.
Sector: Beverages* (Not a tech startup but thrown in for good measure)
Revenue: $300m (2019, predicted)
IPO hints: BrewDog had been heavily hinting at a 2020 IPO before Covid struck, so it's possible it's now simply waiting in the wings for the right moment. Part of the obvious incentive here is that around 22% of the company is owned by public investors already, who helped crowdfund the company when it first started. The company is therefore keen to give them an exit.
BrewDog has also claimed that seeing its peers conduct disappointing IPOs has not deterred its ambitions.
11. Interactive investor
Sector: Fintech (trading)
Revenue: £124.4m (2020, ARR)
IPO hints: Interactive Investor is the oldest company on this list and is arguably overdue for an IPO. Its CEO hinted that it could float in 2021, and now seems to be ramping up its ambitions to scale after acquiring a smaller player in February this year.
One of its key investors, Augmentum, recently valued it at £675m.
Sector: Health (digital GP)
Revenue: $10m (2018, estimated)
IPO hints: Babylon isn't the most obvious IPO candidate. Firstly, it has had a questionable year amid Covid-19. Despite the virus amplifying its use case and user base, it has faced public criticism around its handling of data and still has tiny revenues compared to its valuation.
Nonetheless, it is well capitalised after a mammoth $550m raise in August 2019, and now valued at $2bn; making an acquisition unlikely. It is also the market leader among doctor apps in Europe at present, having expanded internationally.
The company will also be watching the success of digital health IPOs like Livongo's in the US last year as a guide of market confidence in the space.
As a consumer product, there could be 'brand appeal' for Babylon to go public by helping boost its profile and outpace competitors.
To IPO or not to IPO?
While these companies could realistically list, they may decide to stay private for longer. Indeed, the general trend in tech since the late 1990s has been to IPO later — driven by the abundance of capital in the private markets.
For example, growth funds like Highland have allowed European companies like Klarna to raise giant $600m+ rounds, reducing the need for public capital.
There's also been a rise in alternative exit-options. VCs like Balderton have created designated "liquidity funds", which buy shares off of early shareholders and have delayed the need for an IPO.
There are even companies going the other way, with Rocket Internet de-listing earlier this month.
Some are critics of the whole process.
"The only reason why any European fintech companies will IPO is to provide their VC backers an exit — there is no other rational reason," says Devin Kohli, a partner at Outward VC.
"All the other reasons to IPO — i) the profile of being a public company, ii) the need to raise growth equity, iii) using their stock as currency for M&A and iv) greater regulatory scrutiny — have become increasingly irrelevant as the European private markets have matured."
Kohli also warned going public can "stifle innovation and place undue and arguably unnecessary reporting (and regulatory) oversight for little reward."
Indeed, Flixbus swerved a planned IPO last year, while US payments giant Stripe has been very vocal about the sanctuary it finds in private investors.
"There has to be a reason to IPO... its got huge overheads. It’s not to be done lightly," says Julian Rowe, general partner at Latitude.
The resurgence of the IPO
Having said that, several pundits now predict there will be an IPO boom in Europe, arguing that — rightly or wrongly — it's still viewed a key milestone for a successful tech company.
James Clark, a former manager at the London Stock Exchange, says that recent IPOs success stories could help reignite momentum among startups.
"The flurry of recent tech listings in the US, and The Hut Group in London will certainly have tech companies [including those at the sub-unicorn level] looking at public markets with renewed interest," he tells Sifted.
"There's clearly public demand for tech stocks," with markets ever hungrier for new investment strategies amid low-interest rates.
Funding pressures brought about by Covid-19 may also speed up companies' exit plans. This is because the main trigger for going public is often the need for a large amount of capital, says Balderton partner Suranga Chandratillake.
"If you want £2bn to do something amazing and huge, the public market is really the only option. I think in the end people who are really really ambitious, do end up going public," he tells Sifted, highlighting the "fintech cohort" stand out in particular.
The drop in funding across private investors in recent months could also make acquisition prices less favourable, helping restore the IPO's appeal.
European tech companies that have listed on the public markets successfully over the last decade include Spotify, Worline, Worldpay, Teamviewer, Rocket Internet, Amadeus, and Trainline.
“I think there’s still a lot of [emotional] pull around the IPO among founders," Balderton's Chandratillake concludes. "Many of them will make jokes about shaking my hand on the day of the IPO... It’s a goalpost. It’s seen as a pretty iconic thing.”
Sifted relied on interviews with local analysts, VCs, and press cuttings to craft our shortlist, as well as using the following benchmarks:
- Over $50m in annual recurring revenue (ARR), and growing at an annual rate of 30-50%
- Large scale, expensive operations (often having attained unicorn status in 2018 or before)
- Making changes around CEO, Chairman and CFO (ideally ones with exit experience).
- Raised £100m+ across a maximum of five fundraising rounds
- Clear path to profitability
We also limited it to companies listing on main exchanges rather than alternative markets, where smaller startups can sell their stock.
Did we forget anyone? Let us know at email@example.com!