Coolblue founder Zwart: ‘After the IPO, I will remain the largest shareholder’

Pieter Zwart thinks it’s “great that customers will soon be able to become co-owners” of Coolblue. “As an entrepreneur, I am very good at that.” Coolblue, the webshop that Zwart founded in 1999 and still runs, wants to be listed on the Amsterdam stock exchange this month, it was announced on Friday. The announcement also states, at the top of the list of reasons for the IPO: that customers can become “co-owners”.

Even in a business move like this, Coolblue thinks about safeguarding its desired customer-friendly image – “anything for a smile”. At the very least, traditional considerations also play a role in the decision to go public: Coolblue (almost 2 billion turnover in 2020, 53 million euros profit) wants to raise money to grow, and the owners want a share of sell their interest.

The growth money – Coolblue is counting on 150 million euros – wants to use it to grow bigger in the Netherlands and Belgium: open more physical stores and improve warehouses. In addition, Coolblue, especially large in electronics and white goods, wants to expand in Germany, where it only started last year. “We are world famous in the Netherlands and Belgium, but not in Germany. We still have to invest a lot there,” Zwart says on the phone. The goal: „a love fire for the German consumer”.

The ‘growth money’ goes to German expansion, physical stores and warehouses

Furthermore, Coolblue sees a future for the newest business unit, which focuses on energy: solar panels and charging stations. Money has to go there too.

‘Cultural role’

Pieter Zwart now still owns a narrow majority of the shares: 50 percent and a very small amount. Investment company HAL has 49 percent. The last mini-pick is in the hands of the staff; Coolblue has 6,300 employees. The owners will sell 20 to 30 percent of their shares at the IPO. How much they will earn will not be known until the price has been determined.

Zwart therefore gives up his position as majority shareholder, but emphasizes that he is still “the largest shareholder” after the IPO. He does not believe that his position within the company will change materially as a result. “I remain the boss. And as founder, I also fulfill an important cultural role.”

What also changes: after the IPO, Zwart will have to deal with many new shareholders with an opinion. He does not foresee any problems on this point either. “Coolblue has a unique corporate culture and clear values. I don’t think that will change with a stock exchange listing.”

on road show

Black is happy that the announcement is now out. “Until today, we were all sort of secretly preparing this with a group of people. Now it is public.”

It has been known for some time that Coolblue wants to go public. In a video in February, Zwart said that they were “thinking very hard” about an IPO. That was interpreted as an unofficial announcement, and action was actually expected in the short term, but it remained silent. So now it’s going to happen.

In the coming weeks it will come down to persuasion. A team of Coolblue, led by Zwart, and accompanying investment bankers will road show to attract investors. Black won’t say where they’re all going. “When it comes to the financial markets, you naturally quickly cross borders. But a lot will also go digital.”

Exciting, such an important round of investors? “In the end, that’s a rewarding task. I am proud of the company and like to tell about it. And that is what needs to be done.”

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