King Digital Entertainment, the British and Swedish games studio behind smartphone hit Candy Crush, will be valued at $7bn when it begins trading on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday, as investors show a renewed appetite for technology firms.
Shares in the company behind the wildly popular smartphone game Candy Crush will fluctuate wildly when they begin trading, but it is clear that King’s biggest shareholders will suddenly be very rich. Based on the expected flotation price of up to $22.50 (£13.60) a share, here is what the shareholders are worth:
Melvyn Morris, chairman, estimated shareholding value $821m
A self-made millionaire, Morris has chaired King since 2003. He left school at 16 and by 20 was earning a living as a management consultant. He worked in the US before returning to his home town of Derby, where he started a handful of businesses including a hardwood flooring company, a Spanish property group and a dating agency. When uDate was sold in 2002, it was the second-largest dating site in the world. Morris netted £20m and spent part of the money buying a stake in his beloved Derby County football club and part of it establishing King.
Riccardo Zacconi, chief executive, $698m
King’s urbane Italian chief executive was born in Rome, where he studied economics, and started his career at Boston Consulting. He was lured into digital business during the dotcom boom, and ran the German unit of a Swedish web portal called Spray, which failed to make it to the stockmarket before the bubble burst. Zacconi moved to the UK in 2001 to look for digital investments, and by 2002 had been persuaded to join uDate.
The company was sold soon after for $150m and merged with Match.com. he eventually launched King with colleagues from Spray, and persuaded some of uDate’s backers, including Melvyn Morris and Toby Rowland, to join the new venture. Spray missed its window to make it rich after delaying its IPO by a month and was sold to Lycos instead. Zacconi’s timing looks better with King.
Sebastian Knutsson (above), chief creative officer, $396m
One of King’s founders, Knutsson recently claimed to have designed 10 of the company’s 15 worst games – it has made 180 so far – but Candy Crush also emerged from his Stockholm studio. A keen gamer himself, his vivid designs are inspired by the multicoloured, flashing and bleeping arcade games of the last century, from Pac-Man to Space Invaders and Tetris.
He also has a business brain, thanks to a BA in cost-analysis and finance from the Stockholm School of Economics, and comes from a family of entrepreneurs. His parents ran a denim brand and retail chain, and his sister has her own clothing company. Knutsson co-founded Spray, where he met Zacconi.
Lars Markgren, Sweden general manager, $203m
Stockholm-based Markgren worked at Spray, along with many of King’s founders, before moving into gaming. He manages the pivotal Swedish operations and balances work with a passion for pike-fishing.
Stephane Kurgan, Belgian chief operating officer, $168m
King’s Belgian chief operating officer holds an MBA from France’s prestigious Insead, and came to King from the data-centre management business Tideway.
Patrik Stymne, chief systems architect, $158m
Stymne is not on the board, but he is named as a co-founder. One of the technical brains behind King, he designed the company’s IT system having previously worked alongside Knutsson at Lycos, the digital advertising agency Razorfish and Spray.
Thomas Hartwig (above), chief technology officer, $143m
Another co-founder, Hartwig is the brains behind King’s data strategy, harvesting information from the 1.4bn game plays a day to hone each product from its testing phase on the King.com website through to its launch as a standalone smartphone app. He places data scientists in each of the small, typically 10-strong teams developing new King games, collating user experience to decide, for example, how difficult to make each successive level. Like his co-founders, Hartwig cut his teeth at Spray.
Gerhard Florin, non-executive director, $25m
Having joined the board during the hard times in 2010, Florin has stuck around long enough to reap the benefits. Now a full-time non-executive director, he spent 14 years in senior roles at Electronic Arts, the world’s third-largest gaming company and maker of the Fifa football games and the sci-fi shooter Titanfall.
Apax Partners, investor, $3.25bn
King was one of the last venture capital investments Apax made before focusing on taking more mature companies private. It is also the British buyout firm’s most successful bet to date. Apax, whose holdings include the fashion chain New Look, the Orange mobile network in Switzerland and a trade publishing joint venture with the Guardian’s parent company, injected about $36m in 2005, and its 48% stake is now worth almost 100 times that.
Index Ventures, investor, $562m
Index is a legend in technology venture capital, having backed Facebook and Skype, as well as British successes such as the clothing retailer Asos and the Moshi Monsters maker Mind Candy. Index invested alongside Apax in 2005, putting in an estimated $7m.
Toby Rowland, founder, $0
Toby Rowland co-founded King with Morris and Zacconi and was co-chief executive until 2008, but he sold his shares in 2011, just months before the company launched its first hit Facebook game. He is married to the author and Vogue journalist Plum Sykes, and his father was the mining tycoon Tiny Rowland, who once owned the Observer and House of Fraser department stores. Morris persuaded him to move to Derby and become marketing director of uDate.
He invested and shared in the spoils when the site was sold for $150m, using the proceeds to set up King. Despite backing the company for eight years, like the founding Beatles member Pete Best, Rowland left too early to share in its success. His 40m shares were sold back to King for a mere $3m, according to data from PrivCo. Had Rowland stayed in, he would have been King’s largest individual shareholder today, with a stake worth up to $900m.