LONDON — Ruhnn Holding Ltd., China’s leading platform for key opinion leaders, or KOLs, in fashion, plans to seek a stock market listing in the U.S., according to papers filed at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday.
According to a preliminary IPO prospectus, Citigroup and UBS will be underwriting the offer for the company, which notched $137.8 million in revenues in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2018 and incurred $13.1 million in losses.
Founded in 2014 by Min Feng, Lei Sun and Chao Shen, Ruhnn has risen to become the largest KOL facilitator in China as measured by revenue, according to a report by Frost & Sullivan, an independent research firm.
The three founders were among the first entrepreneurs in China to identify and capture the commercial opportunities created by the emergence of internet KOLs in China. In November 2016, China’s largest online retailer Alibaba acquired 8.56 percent of the company.
As of December 2018, the company had signed 113 KOLs, including Zhang Dayi, Libeilin and Wen Wan, who have an aggregate of 148.4 million fans across major social media platforms Weibo, WeChat and Weitao in China.
Zhang Dayi is arguably the most successful fashion influencer among them all, with 10.52 million Weibo followers. Her Taobao shop sold more 100 million renminbi, or $14.97 million, worth of fashion items in less than 28 minutes on the most recent Singles’ Day.
Ruhnn also provides marketing services to 501 brands and 28 third-party online stores and operates 91 self-owned online stores.
In the preliminary prospectus, the company said it facilitated the sale of an aggregate gross merchandise volume of 1.2 billion renminbi, or $180 million; 2 billion renminbi, or $299 million; and 2.2 billion renminbi, or $329 million on various e-commerce platforms in fiscal years 2017, 2018 and the first three quarters of fiscal-year 2019, respectively.
“We created a KOL ecosystem in China by connecting a large number of KOLs and their fans to create a vast network and connecting this network to a large number of businesses, including brands, online retailers, designers, manufacturers and suppliers, based on existing e-commerce and social media platforms in China, to create value for participants in the ecosystem,” the company said in the prospectus.
The company said its business is built on “a full-service model whereby we integrate key steps of the e-commerce value chain, from product design and sourcing and online store operation to logistics and after-sales services. Under this model, we own and operate online stores on third-party e-commerce platforms, a majority of which are opened in the name of our KOLs, and generate revenue through online sales of our self-designed products to consumers, especially the fans of our KOLs’ social media accounts that we manage.”
Ruhnn also provides professional training and support to its KOLs and said it helps them develop “distinctive characters, enhance the popularity and grow their fan bases. We also set up different brands for different KOLs and design and produce branded products based on each KOL’s distinctive character to cater to the tastes of different KOLs’ fan bases, while our KOLs endorse such products in their social media spaces.”
The company launched its platform model in 2017 to provide KOL sales and advertising services to brands and other merchants. “We connect our KOLs with third-party online stores and merchants to promote products sold in third-party online stores or provide advertising services on KOLs’ social media spaces to third-party merchants. This new model allows us to operate in a more asset-light manner and collaborate with a greater number and variety of KOLs and brands.”
Revenues come from two streams: product sales and services through the platform model. The company said it plans to use the net proceeds to identify additional monetization channels, pursue strategic investments, identifying and cultivating KOLs, investing in technology, AI solutions and big data analytics, and general corporate purposes.