A 28-year-old former pizza delivery boy has done a deal which values his sportswear company at more than £1bn.
Ben Francis started Gymshark from his parents’ garage in 2012 when he was 19 years old, studying by day and working for Pizza Hut by night.
Mr Francis told the BBC he is now worth a “frightening” amount though he declined to provide details of the deal.
But based on a £1bn value, Mr Francis’ stake in Gymshark is worth £700m.
US private equity firm General Atlantic is taking a 21% share in the clothing business, which is based in Solihull. It will allow Gymshark to expand internationally, especially in the US, where it has most of its customers.
Mr Francis started the firm because he couldn’t find sportswear that appealed to him.
Enlisting the help of his brother, and a group of friends, he bought a sewing machine and screen printer, and started to make gym vests and t-shirts.
Embracing social media
His brother and most of those friends are still a part of the business today, which has 499 staff and offices in the UK, Hong Kong and Denver, Colorado. It manufactures all over the world.
A large part of the sportswear firm’s success is due to its significant social media following. It has 4.6 million followers on Instagram.
“We were one of the first businesses in the world to sponsor influencers,” Mr Francis said. “Equally, we were one of the first businesses to really double down and invest in social media.”
But the coronavirus crisis has also helped.
“Commercially, it’s been quite good in the sense that people are shopping more online and people are running, cycling and doing home workouts more than ever before,” he said.
But he acknowledged that it has been hard on his staff.
He is yet to decide what he will do with his newly-realised wealth but he does think he’s earned a short break.
“I will have this weekend off,” he said.
“I cannot remember the last time I was up any later than 05:30 or 06:00 so tomorrow morning, I will have a lie in, for one, and I will walk my dog and just chill out.”
However, he remains focused on worldwide expansion.
“This is my one true passion and the thing that I’ve truly dedicated my life to,” he said.
“So all of my mindset right now is about continuing to develop this brand into a truly, truly global phenomenon.”