Nick Candy sells £6.75m stake in Audioboom to Robert Bonnier’s AAQUA

Main photo: Microphone and headphones by Patrick Breitenbach, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

Podcast company Audioboom announced on Tuesday that 1.5m shares in the company had been sold at a price of £4.50 to AAQUA B.V.

Nick Candy has long been the majority shareholder in Audioboom and the sale brings his total shareholding down to 14.5% of the company. The £4.50 sale price was at a premium to the share price before announcement of the sale and the price jumped further following the news, hitting £4.27 in trading on Tuesday and finally closing at £4.075.

AAQUA is a curious acquirer since it also fits into Audioboom’s story of interconnected investors, as I’ve previously detailed on this blog. All Active Asset Capital has bought options in AAQUA, and executive director of AAA Capital, Rodger Sargent, is a shareholder in Audioboom and was previously involved in Sonr News Ltd, a company bought by Audioboom. Michael Power is a director at AAQUA and linked to Peter Antonioni, who previously bought £3.15m of Audioboom shares. Power is also a director of Sentiance, a Belgian company said to working on artificial intelligence and machine learning, that AAQUA and Mesh Holdings Plc plan to buy.

AAQUA is incorporated in the Netherlands and does not yet have a product available to the public. According to a regulatory release, the business is focused on the following:

AAQUA is a global services platform designed around ’Passion Communities’ where members and famous entities (‘Icons’) curate original content, combined with member inspired online-to-offline initiatives. AAQUA will offer levels of control and ownership which aim to bring member fans, Icons and brands onto the same peer level.

AAQUA aims to become a seamless second screen experience for ‘MAGIC’ (M.usic, A.rts, G.aming, I.nterests and C.ommunity) alongside established entertainment, sporting and other rights holders and, eventually, other interests that people around the world are passionate about. 

I’m not entirely sure what that means, but AAQUA has 51 employees, according to profiles on LinkedIn. The directors of the company are Robert Bonnier, described as CEO, and Tom Vandendooren, chief architect, according to details from the Dutch company register. Unfortunately, the shareholdings of AAQUA aren’t clear since there are no Ultimate Beneficial Ownership details for the company for the moment. Vandendooren describes himself as co-founder on his LinkedIn profile and likewise Bonnier says he is a founder on his profile page, so I think it is safe to assume they both hold shares in AAQUA. It would be useful to know if there are any other shareholders in AAQUA since this will obviously impact who benefits from any shareholding in Audioboom.

Much has been written about Bonnier, with The Times newspaper describing how he rose to prominence with Scoot.co.uk, and This is MONEY explaining how he made and lost a fortune during the dotcom era boom and bust. Mr Bonnier was also fined £290,000 by the FCA for “market abuse” and also had his £12m London property repossessed, as reported in The Independent.

Meneer Bonnier is also based in Singapore, according to his LinkedIn profile, the same as Antonioni. And his failed business Scoot.co.uk offered directory services and used the freephone telephone number 0800 192 192, marketing itself on the basis of the similarity to British Telecom’s 192 directory enquiry services, as The Independent newspaper reported. Funnily enough, Antonioni’s purchase of Audioboom shares was done through a Singapore-based company called One Nine Two. Just a coincidence you might ask?

AAQUA’s company registration does indeed classify it as a company working with financial holdings, as well as web portals. It also states that the Dutch company has paid-up share capital of €350,000 and was established in July 2020.

I’m not sure quite what to make of all of this, given Bonnier’s reputation and the interconnected nature of more than half of Audioboom’s shareholdings. The share price had been climbing before the announcement of the sale to Bonnier and there have been a few share purchases recently by Michael Tobin, the company’s chairperson, and Stuart Last, Audioboom’s CEO. A trading update released on 19 January had outlined revenues of $26.8m for 2020, up on the previous year, but still a loss of $1.8m, although this had narrowed from $2.9m in 2019. I do think this company should be profitable by now and feel that it isn’t controlling costs. It has also become more of a production house for podcasts, rather than a service for audio streaming, which is why I bought in to begin with. Nevertheless, I’m firmly in profit with Audioboom, and despite the fact that all of these shareholders know each other, I’m not sure it is wise to sell up when the share price is rocketing, though setting a target price and/or a date to reconsider this might be a prudent.

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