In May 2007 Darren Drabble was told during his job interview at Moneysupermarket.com that an IPO was a possibility.
The same day back at home, his wife told him that he would be the father of twins. Since then the pace of Drabble’s life has not slowed: he feels like he has run a marathon, organised a wedding, been part of a gameshow and dabbled in internet dating.
Moneysupermarket.com, one of the UK’s leading internet price comparison sites, has a fiercely entrepreneurial culture and listed in July 2007, just two months after Drabble joined. “The only way I can really describe the listing is that it’s a bit like a marathon,” he says. “It’s exhausting, you work between seven and midnight consistently for about two months and when you’re going through it, it feels like hell. And it’s only afterwards that you get the real sense of achievement.”
But even finishing the race was no certainty at the time, as the credit crunch started to nibble. “We noticed in the last week of the roadshow that the market was really beginning to dip,” he recalls, adding that if the listing had been timetabled several days later, they would have had to pull the plug on it – and on most of the work that had been done up to that point. “At the time we thought we were really unlucky – if we’d floated a week before, we would have floated on a much higher multiple. It would be fair to say there were some nervous shareholders.”
In the end the jittery market shaved around £150m off the company’s hoped-for value but, at £843m, it was still Europe’s biggest internet company IPO since the previous bubble burst in 2000.
The experience of an IPO was novel but exciting for Drabble, having never acted so closely on one before. He was supported by the company’s chief financial officer and Herbert Smith, but he admits that it has been a huge learning curve in the last nine months since the company listed.
Just after the listing, new frontiers were set. A price-comparison business was launched in Germany in October 2007 and to deal with German law on the transaction Drabble was ably assisted by Herbert Smith’s German ally Gleiss Lutz.
Talking to him, it rapidly becomes apparent that he is very fond of Herbert Smith and its friends, although he says that he will look to build a strong relationship with a larger regional or North West firm in the future. As well as being closer to the company’s Chester home, he would like it to handle some of the “commoditised” work for lower rates than in London.
After the German adventure, Drabble’s sights were set on the newly-listed company’s first annual general meeting (AGM). “It’s sort of like a wedding,” he says. “You spend ages preparing for the thing and then it’s over in half an hour.”
“Everything was done from scratch,” he adds. “This year was a revolution and next year will be an evolution.”
But life at the internet company will not stand still. Although it has become one of the UK’s leading price comparison sites, with millions of users and high brand recognition, the entrepreneurial spirit that gave birth to the company in 1993 and took it online in 1999 lives on.
A new concept has been launched dubbed ‘making millionaires’. “It’s a bit like the show Dragons’ Den,” explains Drabble. “People can come to us with a new business idea. If we like it we’ll provide IT infrastructure and financial and marketing know-how. We work together with the person who brings the idea to develop and build up the business.” The first venture, which Moneysupermarket.com has taken a share in, is a new social networking site with an emphasis on flirting and dating, aimed at the 18-24 market.
“It’s interesting,” says Drabble, but adds: “There must be some irony that someone like me – a technophobe and not particularly IT literate – is working for an organisation like Moneysupermarket.com, which is at the forefront of the internet.”
In-house, he says, you have to turn your hand to everything. “The key is to be flexible and open-minded and to be prepared if something new arrives on your desk, not panicking and just trying to apply basic principles to it,” he says.
Now the public birthing pains of Moneysupermarket.com are mostly over, Drabble should have more time to devote himself to his twin baby daughters, but corralling the entrepreneurs as general counsel is unlikely to prove an easy babysitting gig – nor a boring one.
Name: Darren Drabble
Company: Moneysupermarket.com Group
Position: General counsel and company secretary
Reporting to: Chief finance officer Paul Doughty
Legal capability: Two
Main law firms: Herbert Smith
Darren Drabble’s CV
Education: University of Durham; College of Law, York
1997: Trainee, Addleshaw Booth & Co (now Addleshaw Goddard)
1999: Corporate solicitor, Addleshaw Booth
2002: In-house counsel, United Utilities
2007-08: General counsel and company secretary, Moneysupermarket.com Group