From Birmingham garage to £700M in stock market debut, 29-year-old Gymshark founder in talks for IPO

Ben Francis Image credits: Gymshark

British sportswear brand Gymshark that had its humble beginning in a modest Birmingham garage nine years ago is in talks with banks and investors over a potential IPO. The company is reportedly about to cash in more than £700 million. And interestingly, the startup’s founder has not even turned 30.

It comes right a year after the brand just became the second British company since 2001 to achieve a valuation of over £1 billion without any prior investment after Francis sold a 21% stake in the company to the US private equity firm General Atlantic in August 2020.

He and his private equity backers are in preliminary talks with institutional investors and investment banks about a flotation, as was reported by Sky New this week.

From garage to stock market debut

While juggling university with a £5 an hour job at Pizza Hut, Francis started the company with school buddy Lewis Morgan from his parents’ house while he was all of 19. Originating from his own frustrations with finding gym clothes, all the ideas for the designs of the gym wear were sketched right from his bedroom.

Together with co-founder Lewis, the duo started attending body building exhibitions to help raise their profile. Using social media influencers, they teamed up with YouTube body builders Nikki Blackketter and Lex Griffin to increase exposure and this worked in their favour. In 2013, Francis exhibited the company’s products at the BodyPower fitness trade show in Birmingham and there has been no looking back since then. After the trade show ended, a tracksuit went viral on Facebook, generating a whopping £30,000 in sales within 30 minutes.

Fortune worth £700million

The business is now based in Solihull and employs over 550 people. As the company pitches to investors as part of a major London stock market listing, Francis – the biggest shareholder of Gymshark – could land with a fortune worth as much as £700million.

A spokesman for Gymshark said: “We regularly speak to financial institutions to ensure we are connected to the business world and we continue to learn. Any recent conversations we have had have been about introducing these organisations to Gymshark and our journey so far.”

“We are working with Ben and the team to build Gymshark into the global leader we know it can be,” the spokesman for General Atlantic added.

The social media boost

Fuelled by influencer marketing and burgeoning consumer demand for fitness apparel and athleisure, the startup now has a social media following of more than 15 million with Francis alone having 300,000 Instagram fans.

It now operates in more than 180 countries with an audience of over 16 million on social media. The brand opened its first US distribution centre in California this July, which will be followed by two East Coast centres later in the year. The business now plans to take on Australia with a new distribution centre this year as well.