How Gymshark became a $1.45 billion brand

Article courtesy of Ben Francis via LinkedIn here

I cannot believe I'm writing this, but Gymshark is worth $1.45 billion.

It's a weird feeling because ultimately what we've just done is signed off as having Gymshark as a billion-plus dollar brand which is out of this world. It was only eight years ago, pretty much to the day, that I was hand sewing and hand making and hand printing products. I was hand packaging them, putting it into a bag and carrying it down to the post office, standing and waiting whilst each parcel was stamped and sent out across the world.

To go from that to a billion-dollar brand is just insane. I'm actually now realising just how far we've come. We've come from hand stitching product to a billion-dollar brand!

I'm so happy with how far we've come, but I'm so much more excited about how much further we've got to go.

This article is going to discuss:

  • What's been going on at Gymshark over the past few months?

  • What does the shareholding look like now?

  • What our future plans are...

If I go back to when I founded this business, I was very young, and I didn't really know what I was doing. All I knew is that I had a dream of being involved in fitness, and I had a vision in terms of how I believed brands should interact with people and how brand communities worked.

I personally had all the difficulties of going to the gym for the first time, feeling like everyone is staring at you, not really knowing what to do. I felt like the clothes weren't right for me, and ultimately that's when we ended up going off to make our own clothes, and Gymshark was born. We quickly realised that we were onto something brilliant; it was at this point that Gymshark started to become more of a business. We began to hire staff and build more formal processes. And it was at this point, at just 21 years old that I realised I'm really good at certain things and really really bad at others. And it was at this point that we bought on Paul Richardson and Steve Hewitt, who completely and utterly revolutionised the business. Looking back, it feels seems like a very obvious decision. I received a lot of credit for bringing those people in and removing myself from the Chief Exec role so that Steve could properly manage the day to day of the business. And I remember at the time, there was only a small number of people working at Gymshark and they questioned my decision, but ultimately my gut instinct told me it was the right thing to do. Paul and Steve would help develop and grow the business whilst I could focus on what I'm really good at and also allow me to learn in the areas that I'm not so good at.

Since they joined about 5-6 years ago, there has been many ups and downs. About five years ago Lewis left the business, who I cofounded Gymshark with, it just wasn't right for him, it wasn't working, so he left. It's all been a huge learning curve, but right here and now I genuinely think I have the best job in the world. And I'll be honest there have been some incredibly difficult moments on this journey, and I have to thank both my friends and family and all the people around me at Gymshark who have helped me get through the toughest times.

When Lewis left, we were making around £10-12 million in revenue, and now we're at around £260 million, the growth has been huge. I've always said that I want to take every possible leap to make this one of the best brands in the world. Ultimately we want to keep pushing forward and building what we believe to be the future of how brands should look. We have to get the right people into the business to help elevate us to the next level.

A year ago, we decided to bring on an investor. This has been a really long, considered, steady process, we haven't rushed it because we know it is one of the most important decisions we will make.

Going into this decision, we weren't looking for the highest value, but simply just a fair value. More importantly, the right cultural fit was needed and also to find a company that would really help grow Gymshark in the right way. I say in the right way because the old playbook for successful brands was to create as much product as possible in as many stores as possible to please as many people as you possible and that was really good for fast growth. However, that lead to big, slow, clunky businesses that didn't truly understand their consumer and had no control over the consumer experience. We needed an investor that truly understood and aligned with our business because we don't necessarily want to grow in the quickest way but in a way that is in line with our morals, our values and towards where the market is going and where we think the future of brands should be.

Therefore, I am absolutely buzzing to tell you that we are signing with General Atlantic. We saw a lot of companies, and in the end, there were three brilliant companies, but General Atlantic just got our brand, they completely understand where we want to get to and culturally they a perfect fit. It was one of those moments where when you know, you know and we 100% knew with these guys.

Now, this is the topic I've received the most amount of questions about... Shareholding: what does this look like? Many have asked if I am selling out or reducing my shareholding. The short answer is no.

Previously Gymshark shareholding existed as the following… Me (Ben Francis) owned 67% of the business, Lewis whom I co-founded the business with owned 20% and the rest was split between Paul and Steve. As we went into the investment process I gave Lewis a call, and he explained that he wanted to move on and do other things, and as a result of that, he wanted to sell all of his shareholdings.

The new shareholding is now 21% with General Atlantic, I own 70%, and my brother Joe will also have 1% of the business as he was employee number 1 and is such an integral part of the business. The rest will be split between the leadership team: Noel, Niran, Chris, Gemma, Dave, Phillip, Paul and Steve. That is the completely transparent view.

Culturally nothing will change; it will just get better and better. General Atlantic will amplify our culture, making sure that we maintain it as we continue to grow. Gymshark is a $1.45 billion brand, and we'll be doing £300/400+ million in revenue in the next few months. This is a rapidly growing brand; our people haven't been in this situation before. The old playbook has been thrown out the window, and we are going on this growth journey in a completely different way to how other businesses have ever done it before. Who knows where it will take us. What you normally see when firms reach this sort of size is that business size increases and transparency decreases. Whereas, the important thing for me, leading and having founded this business is that as we get bigger, transparency must increase. I've had a lot of feedback about how good it is that we are so transparent and I know that no one else is as transparent as we are.

To summarise…

We have an incredible partner who is a great cultural fit and will help amplify Gymshark as we continue to grow. Our shareholding is much tidier and has given me more control of the business and its direction than I've ever had before.

In terms of our growth going forward, we are totally focused on North America. This is a huge opportunity for us! About three weeks ago I was supposed to get a one-way flight to Denver, Colorada. Robin and I were going to move out there, and I was going to head up the US office, but then Covid-19 got in the way, and that's been delayed until further notice. But yes, we are opening the Denver office along with two distribution centres, and we've already opened our Canadian distribution centre. Our US distribution centres will be in Ohio and California. In terms of Europe, as soon as the US office opens, the UK office will 100% focus on European propositions. Where I think General Atlantic will really help us is in our APAC expansion, which is a project I'm absolutely buzzing about.

So there it is, that's everything that's gone on at Gymshark in the last few months. It's been possibly the most difficult experience of my entire life. It has pushed me to my limit, and with that, it's been probably the most fulfilling experience of my life. I never thought I'd be sat here writing this, and I never thought I'd be able to say this. I didn't know Gymshark would get to this point, but I just want to thank everyone that supports Gymshark, everyone that supports our vision and everyone that supports the team and me here. Genuinely it means the world to us.