LadBible founder worth £200m as shares rise after flotation

The 30-year-old founder of LadBible, the company born out of a sexist Facebook page that became one of the one of the biggest global publishers on social media, is worth £200m after his business floated on the stock market.

Alexander “Solly” Solomou, who created the Manchester-based media company while studying business management at the University of Leeds, has cashed in shares worth £50m and retains a stake worth about £150m in the listed LadBible Group.

Solomou used his life savings to buy the original LadBible Facebook page in 2012, and quickly learned how to game the site’s algorithms and make content go viral as social media use exploded. In the process he grew the business from a small outlet that recycled blokeish banter-heavy memes into a company that has about 450 staff, many of them young employees based in Manchester producing original content.

Aware of the site’s problematic early reputation, LadBible attempted to redefine the definition of a “lad” to mean a caring individual who looks after their friends’ mental health and worries about plastic waste. It produced material featuring mainstream celebrities, such as an infamous video of Dame Judi Dench rapping with Lethal Bizzle, in addition to building a substantial female readership.

The company now brands itself as an “environmentally and socially responsible business” that aims “to give the youth generation a voice by building communities that laugh, think and act”.

LadBible owns other brands including UniLad, having bought up the debt of its former rival as part a complicated financial transaction in 2018 that left UniLad’s executives furious about losing control of their company. Unlike other new media outlets it has largely avoided hard news content, although it has made videos featuring the likes of the chancellor, Rishi Sunak.

During the 2010s, investors poured enormous sums into so-called new media outlets such as Vice and BuzzFeed, on valuations that classed them as technology businesses. In reality, many of the companies struggled to meet financial growth targets and the market is increasingly valuing them more in line with traditional media outlets.

The LadBible co-founder Arian Kalantari, also 30, has cashed in shares worth £3m and retains a £10m stake in the business. Other early investors who stand to benefit include Mahmud Kamani, the owner of Debenhams and co-founder of the online fast fashion website Boohoo. Last year, Boohoo was found to have known about “endemic” problems in its Leicester factories, including a failure to pay the minimum wage and life-threatening fire risks.

LadBible said it made pre-tax profits of £5.6m on revenues of £23m in the first six months of 2021, a substantial increase on the previous year but still relatively small in the wider world of media companies. Its income came mainly from charging brands such as Lynx, PlayStation and KFC for bespoke marketing campaigns, or by earning money from programmatic advertising on sites such as Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube.

The company could now pursue expansion in the US, where it has a large audience but no staff.

Early trading in its shares pushed the market value of the business as high as £400m. By comparison, the US-based BuzzFeed is worth about $770m (£580m) after its share price fell sharply following this month’s listing on New York’s Nasdaq stock exchange.