It was while working on Wall Street in the early 2000s that London-based Anand Sambasivan began to nurture the seed of an idea. A self-confessed economics geek who was born in India and raised in Singapore, he arrived in New York’s Promised Land in 2002. There, he made a discovery that would change the course of his career. Anand saw that, for some reason, everyday folk could not participate in a vital area of the public stock market. Yes, we could all buy stocks and shares, but what we could not do is invest in listed companies when they raised capital. Average Joes were shut out of that process. Why? How? Must it be so? Anand began to investigate…
He says: “I realised that professional investors, the big guys, were not buying traditional shares via the stock market. Instead, they had funds that were buying IPOs – initial public offerings – and follow-ons [when already-listed companies raise money]. And guess what? IPOs and follow-ons often get you amazing deals.”
A bell of opportunity rang, and as Anand researched, it got louder. He found that the system did not allow consumers to invest in raises for historical reasons. The system had been set up for institutional investors nearly a century ago and had resolutely stayed the same. But there was no legal or logical reason why it should have remained that way. All it needed was some new technology and someone with enough drive to change the status quo.
Anand says: “If you were to create the system today from scratch, there’s no way it would look like it currently does. It would be digitised, democratised, mobile-led and have beautiful UX. The system needed an upgrade. And that’s why we launched PrimaryBid.”
PrimaryBid exists to unlock value for all investors by allowing everyone to invest in previously off-limits areas of the stock market. And, since launching in 2016, Anand’s platform has attracted almost £200m of investment from retail investors and has entered into official partnerships with both the London Stock Exchange and Euronext [the European Exchange]. PrimaryBid now run retail offers for some of the biggest companies in the country, including FTSE 100 businesses such as Compass Group, Ocado, Segro, Taylor Wimpey and other famous brands such as William Hill and Young’s Brewery. Increasing its reputation yet further, PrimaryBid has brought in staff from JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs to its now 40-strong team.
After leaving Wall Street in 2007, Anand moved to the UK. “I fell in love with Britain and became British; it’s where I wanted to start my family,” he says. “But also, the UK is the best place in the world for fintech – so it was the perfect place to launch PrimaryBid.”
However, Anand didn’t set up this trailblazing company immediately. First, in 2010, after a spell at Credit Suisse, he set up a successful hedge fund specialising in primary capital markets. He was just 28 when he launched the fund, which ran until 2018.
“Things happened over those eight years that made PrimaryBid more viable,” he says. “The iPhone arrived and API technology came to fruition. So, I started wondering, ‘Is it now technically possible to allow retail into these IPO and follow-on deals?’ I concluded that it was. Yes, there’d be problems convincing the ecosystem to let consumers in, and commercial barriers to overcome, but they were business issues. The tech problem had been solved. It was possible. So we decided to have a crack at it.”
Anand’s hedge-fund investors were excited by the idea of PrimaryBid and invested seed capital into the project. The ball was rolling. And like a snowball tumbling downhill, it kept growing and accelerating. Today it is a fully regulated fintech that’s done 75 deals, raised close to £200m and has access to millions of retail investors.
Yet this is only half of the story. The rest concerns Anand’s entrepreneurial drive and nous, without which PrimaryBid would never have gained such traction. Let’s start with the nous. To get this business off the ground, Anand had to convince several interested parties that letting retail into this part of the stock market was the right thing to do. He achieved that by carefully finding the correct angle of attack.
“PrimaryBid is not about disruption,” he says. “It is about fixing system inefficiency. In life, the only way to get things done quickly is through win-win deals. You have to win; your partners have to win; everyone around you has to win. This isn’t a zero-sum game. By fixing the inefficiency, we all increase the size of the pie. We’ve opened up a new channel of previously inaccessible investors, which benefits the company that is raising capital. Also, stockbrokers benefit because they can offer a new product and acquire new retail clients. Furthermore, retail customers benefit because they can access excellent new deals. Finally, investment banks benefit because they act in the best interests of their clients – therefore, when they need to access the retail market, PrimaryBid offers the best route.”
And what about Anand’s drive? How has he found enough belief to try to change more than 80 years of stock market-system status quo, fighting against gravity like a butterfly taking off with a truck?
He says: “You need a best-in-class team and you need belief. Nothing we do is a solo effort. Behind every win is a group of exceptional people working together to solve a problem. What gets us through is a sense of mission. There’s a massive break in the market that we want to fix. There are going to be successes and failures along the way. But you can’t let the failures push you off course. We know where our north star is, and we follow it.”
This self-belief means that they are now participating at the very highest levels of the capital markets. PrimaryBid’s official partnership with London Stock Exchange and Euronext proves that Anand’s company has genuine potency and is creating a new way of investing. The seed that was planted on Wall Street in 2002 has been watered by hard work and determination. Now it has grown into something substantial, bearing rich and luscious fruit.