Going Public: A Mark Of Distinction, And A Platform For Growth

The road from startup to stock exchange is a long and testing one, but for entrepreneurs with determination and a compelling business model, it will always be a journey worth taking.

learn more about Neil Petch

By Neil Petch


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

"Entrepreneur" is an uplifting word. It speaks of optimism and ambition, of innovation and gritty determination. Entrepreneurs have pioneering spirits and vision; they spot business opportunities and pursue them with vigor. And for the ambitious entrepreneur, if they can combine inspiration with acumen, a reward for their enterprise may be a successful initial public offering (IPO).

Going public and building a thriving international business is the aim of entrepreneurs the world over. From London to Tokyo, Los Angeles to Hong Kong, New York to Dubai, behind every startup is the dream of making it big with a flotation. And why not think big? Like politics, business is the art of the possible. All the great international companies started small.

Why not your idea, your company?

So here are some of the signposts for success on the road from startup to stock exchange.

1. Taking stock The liberal business environment, reinforced by recent legislation to boost IPO activity is encouraging companies to launch in the UAE. Globally there were 1,055 IPOs in 2016, 11 of which were on exchanges in the Middle East. The decision on where to float depends on a lot of factors: listing standards, relevance to the business, fees and regulatory requirements, as well as the quality of institutional investors and the valuation that can be achieved. In view of this, as noted, it is helpful that local listings in the UAE have been boosted by government legislation: the UAE Commercial Companies Law, enacted in 2015, relaxed some of the rules for flotation and is stimulating the local market. As evidence, witness the recent homecoming of two Dubai companies, Damac and DP World, which were previously listed on the London Stock Exchange. Both have now moved their stock to the Middle East, reflecting growing confidence in home markets.

Still, it's a big step for any business to go public, whether locally or outside the region, and involves a great deal of hard work and rigorous planning, not to mention upwards of US$2 million in legal, accounting, listing, filing and other fees. In the run up to an IPO, the business must undergo a comprehensive assessment and checking process to ensure that it is ready to make the transition from private to public. This requires extensive legal and administrative support and a thorough review of, among other things, corporate governance, financial reporting and controls, and management structures.

And there's no guarantee that post-launch the stock will necessarily start performing well. According to MubasherTrade, which analyzed the performance of every company listed on the UAE stock exchanges between 2000 and 2016, only 14 of the 30 IPOs were trading above the issue price/offer price as of February 2016. Nevertheless there were some stellar performers among the 14 mentioned. Agthia, a food and beverage company that listed in 2005, reported returns of 610% up to February 2016, while three other companies generated offer-to-date returns of between 100% and 200% as of the same date.

Related: Five Financial Elements Your Business Needs To Get Right (And Thus Gain A Competitive Advantage)

2. Following local heroes And the UAE IPO market has had other notable successes, including Marka, the region's first publicly traded retail operator, focusing on fashion, hospitality and sports. The group made its historic launch on the Dubai Financial Market in April 2014, with a mission to become a premier brand in the UAE and beyond. The IPO was 37 times oversubscribed, and Marka has seen impressive growth over the last three years. At the time of listing, the company had no outlets and around 10 employees. Today it has 40 outlets, more than 1,200 employees, and overseas interests.

As an example of a local company that typifies the pre-IPO trajectory, take the Al Habtoor Group, a high-performing and versatile company that has grown in parallel with the UAE. It began as a small engineering firm in 1970 and has expanded continuously to become one of the region's most respected conglomerates. It now has interests in hospitality, automotive, real estate, education and publishing, reflecting the UAE's economic diversification and the commercial potential available to entrepreneurs. With the numbers in place, and the groundwork prepared, the group is all set for flotation in the near future.

3. Size and ownership Even so, an IPO is not right for every business. Whether you're in the tech sector, luxury goods, transportation or hospitality, the decision to go public will depend on how far your business can scale and whether you're prepared to share ownership and control.

Once public, you're answerable to a much wider range of outside interests, and no longer free to run the business solely on your own terms, with limited external scrutiny or intervention. Crucially, to be suitable for an IPO a business needs to have sufficiently large market capitalization to be deemed liquid by the relevant exchange– i.e. it must generate enough trading volume for investors to be able to deal in the stock. As a minimum, Nasdaq Dubai requires all prospective IPOs to have a market capitalization of at least US$10 million.

In reality, then, public offerings are only suitable for companies with good growth potential, a convincing track record and scope to expand appreciably. But for those that can do it, an IPO sends a strong message to the world about the company, as well as being an invitation for investors to contribute to and share in its future.

4. An environment for growth Finally, let's remember: you don't have to be sitting on vast coffers of venture capital to achieve startup success. The main thing is to be operating in a political and business environment that fosters growth and rewards enterprise.

So if you're building your business in Dubai and looking for funding and the right growth culture, you're in a good place and have every reason to be confident. There's a relentless energy about the place, a commercial spirit that's reflected in the skyscrapers and shining malls that have transformed deserts into commercial hubs and attracted foreign investors and business talent in equal measure. There have been financial challenges along the way, but the region is standing firm after some difficult years and the future looks sound.

From October 2020 to April 2021, Dubai will host the next World Expo with more than 180 participating countries and an expected audience of over 25 million visitors. This event is predicted to stimulate business significantly, boosting the economy by US$23 billion. Meanwhile the government's Vision 2021 growth plan prioritizes the creation of an attractive environment for entrepreneurs

Of course to go public you need a winning idea with real commercial promise. No amount of enthusiasm and astute planning will make an elephant fly. But for those with the right formula, going public will inject cash into the business, help it to grow and achieve both brand equity and kudos. In short, it's a huge engine for your sales and marketing activity and takes your business to the next level in scale and professionalism.

And the Dubai business environment makes it a great place to grow your company.

So is going public right for your UAE business?

Going public is a mark of distinction and a platform for growth. Whether it is right for your company is a question of timing, finances, market potential, and of course, personal ambition. The road from startup to stock exchange is a long and testing one, but for entrepreneurs with determination and a compelling business model, it will always be a journey worth taking. Why not dare to dream?

Related: How Much Is Too Much? Money Is Definitely Flowing Into Dubai's Consumer Sector

Neil Petch

Founder and Chairman, Virtugroup

Neil Petch actively assists over 300 entrepreneurs and startups to conceive, plan, and build their businesses on a monthly basis.

After launching Virtuzone as the first private company formation business in the region over 10 years ago, Neil has led the company to set up more than 16,000 businesses, making it the largest, fastest-growing and best-known setup operator in the Middle East.

As the chairman of the holding company, Virtugroup, Neil also leads VirtuVest, an in-house angel investment vehicle; Virtuzone Mainland, a provider of directorship services, corporate sponsorship and facilitator of local Dubai and Abu Dhabi company setups; and Next Generation Equity, a citizenship-by-investment firm. Virtugroup has invested in and supported the growth of multiple companies and delivered passports in over 10 different jurisdictions. Virtugroup also enjoys partnerships with Dubai FDI, the Chamber of Commerce, Dubai Holdings (ARN), VFS, Regus, Etisalat, KPMG, Aramex and Beehive, and has received awards from Arabian Business and Entrepreneur Magazine, among others.

In addition to starting up businesses, Neil has held leadership roles in several companies. He helped establish ITP, the largest media publishing house in the Gulf, which he oversaw growing from two to 600 employees. At ITP, he spearheaded the launch of over 60 digital and print titles, including Time Out, Harper’s Bazaar, Arabian Business, Ahlan and Grazia.

As Managing Director of ENG Media, Neil launched the Coast FM radio station and numerous magazines, including MediaWeek. For the last seven years, Neil has also served as Chairman of GMG, the world’s first interbank financial brokerage based out of Dubai, with offices in DIFC and London. Due to his extensive knowledge and expertise, Neil has been appointed a member of the ‘Ease of Banking’ panel organised by the Chamber of Commerce.

Having lived in over a dozen countries and with a career spanning over 25 years in the UAE, Neil has the ability to merge astute cultural insight with fresh thinking, leveraging his seasoned business acumen, intuition and black book to repeatedly bring ideas to living, breathing success stories.

Neil has appeared in BBC (Dubai Dreams) and ITV (Piers Morgan) features on Dubai, as well as programmes on BBC World and Sky. He has participated as a judge on the radio programme Falcons’ Lair, an entrepreneurship reality show loosely based on the BBC production Dragons’ Den, as well as a similar TV competition hosted by MAD Talks. He now hosts Starting Up on Dubai Eye 103.8FM, the only national weekly show for the startup community in the world’s startup capital.

Neil also lends his in-depth market insight to fellow entrepreneurs and helps cultivate Public Private Partnerships as a Task Force Member of the Advisory Council, a coalition of key decision-makers and prominent movers of the UAE business landscape, led by EMIR and the Ministry of Economy.

He is also a regular speaker, panelist, and economic commentator, specialising in the SME sector.

Related Topics

Starting a Business

Here's What You Need To Know About Making The Shift From Being An Employee To Becoming An Entrepreneur

There is no secret sauce to making your business work, but shifting your mindset to a more dynamic, constantly evolving, and growth one can make all the difference.

Growing a Business

Rudy Mawer Shares 10 Ways To 10x Your Business

Learn the tactics needed to exponentially grow your revenue

Growth Strategies

Tracking Jahez's Five-Year Journey To Become A Unicorn In Saudi Arabia's Hypergrowth Consumer-Tech Market

Jahez achieved this stellar exit within five years of establishing itself, while delivering a cumulative 100 million meals to Saudi customers through 19,900 merchants and 52,400 delivery partners.


5 Insider Tips for Improving Your Confidence as a Public Speaker

Presenting publicly can be a nerve-wracking experience. Here are five key tips to help you boost your confidence.

Growth Strategies

"We Got Funded!" Saudi Arabia's First NFT Marketplace Platform Nuqtah Raises A Seed Round Led By Hong Kong-Based Animoca Brands

Nuqhta was founded in 2021 by Salwa Radwi, a photographer, artist, and Web3 and blockchain advocate, and one of the first female founders and CEOs in Saudi Arabia's NFT scape.