Mercari's Top-of-Range IPO Mints a New Japanese Billionaire

(Bloomberg) -- Mercari Inc. priced its initial public offering at the top of the range to sell 130.5 billion yen ($1.2 billion) worth of shares, a valuation that’s set to make its 40-year-old founder a billionaire.

The online marketplace plans to sell 43.5 million shares at 3,000 yen apiece, at the top of the targeted range, including the sale of additional shares via a greenshoe allotment, the company said Monday. That puts the fortune of founder Shintaro Yamada, who owns almost a third of the company, at 115 billion yen. The indicated IPO price gives Mercari a market value of 406 billion yen, and the stock will begin trading in Tokyo on June 19.

Yamada, whose previous company was acquired by Zynga Inc., built the flea market by focusing on smartphone users, while Yahoo Japan Corp.’s dominant auctions website is mainly a desktop-based marketplace. The app, which debuted in 2013, now has more than 10 million monthly active customers. Three years after its release, Mercari became Japan’s first startup to reach the so-called unicorn valuation of $1 billion or more.

“What I hope people realize is that you don’t need to be in Silicon Valley to build a unicorn,” James Riney, the head of 500 Startups in Japan. “You can build one in Tokyo. Yamada-san was able to show that in a pretty short amount of time, which a lot of people didn’t think was possible.”

Mercari’s IPO is Japan’s biggest for a technology company since Line Corp. debuted in July 2016.

The accomplishment also highlights the dearth of major private startups in the world’s third-largest economy. There are 239 so-called unicorns in the world, according to CB Insights, with 115 in the U.S., 70 in China and nine in India. Preferred Networks Inc., which focuses on industrial applications of artificial intelligence, was the only other Japanese startup on the list.

Yamada said in an earlier interview that he got the idea for the business while travelling around the world on the cheap. As a 34-year-old, he visited 23 countries over six months, staying at $5-a-night hostels without hot water, hitching motorbike rides and hopping local buses between destinations. He saw that even the poorest villages had mobile phones and everyone craved technology for reaching the wider world.

“It broadened my mind, made me want to make something that could be useful anywhere in the world,” Yamada, said in 2016. “I began to think about a platform that would allow people to exchange money or things or services using their smartphones.”

People sell everything from clothes and electronics to baseball tickets using the app, which has been downloaded more than 100 million times. Mercari said revenue in the nine months through March almost doubled from a year earlier, to 24.6 billion yen. The company reported operating losses of 1.9 billion yen during the period, as it sought to expand in the U.S. The Japanese operation has been profitable for the past two years.

Besides international growth, proceeds from the sale will also be used to expand Mercari’s financial services. That includes branching out its “merpay” payment product to offline services such as bike sharing, which it began offering last year.

The company is selling shares, including the allotment of 2.8 million additional shares, to overseas investors in the U.S. and Europe as well, as follows:

  • Existing shares: 14.6 million for domestic investors, 7.9 million for overseas
  • New shares: 2.1 million for domestic investors, 16 million for overseas

Daiwa Securities Group Inc., Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc., Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc., Mizuho Financial Group Inc., Nomura Holdings Inc. are among the underwriters.

Market interest in the shares appeared to point toward a jump in price at their debut, with gray market shares trading at 3,600 yen apiece, according to Andrew Jackson, head of Japanese equities at Soochow CSSD Capital Markets in Singapore.

“There’s a lot of excitement about the IPO and their future,” said David Milstein, managing partner and head of Japan operations at Eight Roads Ventures.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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