The founder of Confused.com plans to float her tracking technology firm within months in a London IPO that could value the business at around £500 million.
Serial entrepreneur Sara Murray founded Buddi in 2005 after being “horrified” when her daughter Ro, then aged four, got lost in a supermarket and there was no easy way to find her - or any GPS tracking device small enough for a child to carry on sale in the UK.
Today Buddi technology is used to monitor vulnerable people and bought by criminal justice systems around the world.
Firm pre-tax profits jumped from £2.1 million to £6.2 million for the year to December 2019, its latest accounts show, with revenues rising 64% to £18 million.
The company supplies over 80% of UK councils, and has national government customers “on every continent” and particularly in Asia and Latin America, with criminial justice clients now accounting for the majority of revenue growth. (Murray said that to ensure the technology is not being misused, the firm liaises with the FCO before signing deals with foreign criminal justice systems.)
She told the Standard: “We have the biggest contracts in those emerging markets. We are definitely market leader in the space now.
“Over the last couple of years we’ve had more than 70% growth in revenues, and people have been saying ‘you should think about public market’, so it’s a natural evolution for us rather than an exit... It’s [happening] in the next few months, we’re certainly preparing.”
The entrepreneur just hired City heavyweight, former KPMG UK chairman Simon Collins, as Buddi’s chair ahead of the planned float.
She said: “Personally I grow companies to hand to my grandchildren, so I believe in long-term growth.
“Since the beginning people have written to us saying: ‘Is there any chance I can buy shares in Buddi? How can I buy shares in Buddi?’ So that kind of tells you that this is something that should be publicly owned... This is a step in our journey. I’m not a seller, so we are going for doubling as quickly as we can. We are going to be a real unicorn.”
If it goes ahead, the IPO will be latest in a string of big tech-enabled businesses to float in London this year, including Moonpig, Trustpilot and Deliveroo.
Murray is sceptical of the float boom, and warns that “lumping all tech businesses together and saying ‘any tech is great’ is where we are going to have some disasters”.
She pointed out that her firm is profitable, unlike Deliveroo.
She said: “Everyone has got into this view that tech is valuable and therefore we should all pile into tech and put any kind of valuation on it... All it takes is one disaster for everyone to lose a lot of money. If our pensions are investing in these companies, it’s important that they are real value that is being grown and delivered.
“There will be a couple of disastrous floats and it will ruin it for everybody, which is exactly what happened in 2001.”
The story of Buddi
In 2005 Murray had already come across semi-conductors while looking around at the fastest-growing US businesses at the time .
Murray said that when she found her daughter in the Kent supermarket that day, she thought: “That’s absolutely mental. We must just be able to put something on our kids so we can find them wherever they are”.
But the entrepreneur was unable to find a device offering a solution in the UK, and was told there was a three-year wait for one being offered by a company in the states.
Murray, who launched her first business at 22 and went on to sell her marketing software product to Publicis Groupe, used her contacts to help assemble a team of techies and spent three years developing a new device.
The team, which makes all its own hardware and software in-house in the UK, named the device Buddi.
Murray began selling Buddis on a website in 2008 and immediately saw demand from local authorities to assist vulnerable elderly people who were getting lost, or needed to be able to alert their carers.
The company then expanded into fall alarms, as well as into wider justice system monitoring.
It is now about to release a FitBit-like wrist device that is “cool enough to wear that you’re not embarrassed”. It is waterproof, and app settings allow wearers to ping family members if they fall over, or if they are lost.