New York investors stampeded for stock yesterday at the Wall Street debut of SodaStream International, the company that sells rather noisy devices to turn humble tap water into carbonated drinks in the home.

"I am very proud of our employees and also, as an Israeli, that we brought good news to the world," said Daniel Birnbaum, the company's CEO.

Marking the event, Birnbaum was invited to ring the closing bell on Nasdaq last night.

SodaStream completed its initial public offering on Wall Street yesterday, easily raising $109 million from investors at $20 per share - and rising to $24.12 by the closing. While most Israeli companies floating on Nasdaq have to compromise on share price, SodaStream managed to float at the top end of its estimated range. "According to the statistics, only 18% of IPOs achieved the top of the price range," Birnbaum said.

If its underwriters exercise their greenshoe options to buy more shares at the offering price, the company's proceeds will grow by $16 million.

Trading began yesterday under the ticker symbol SODA. The offering was handled by JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank.

SodaStream becomes the fourth Israeli company to float on Nasdaq this year, the first three being MediaMind, D Medical and Vringo.

One of the biggest beneficiaries of yesterday's IPO is Fortissimo Capital, a private equity investment fund headed by Yonal Cohen. Fortissimo had invested around $8 million in early 2007 and after the offering still retains a 28% stake. That money, according to a share price of $20 (before yesterday's gains ), is worth $102 million.

Tenfold returns

In other words, Fortissimo achieved a tenfold-plus return on investment in three and a half years.

"We came to the company three and a half years ago and needed to do a great many things to take the company in a completely new direction," Cohen told TheMarker yesterday. "The first thing we did was to bring in the best CEO in the world in this business. I think he was the right man at the right place."

At the point Fortissimo got into SodaStream, the carbonation device was 13 years old and hardly any thought was being devoted to innovation, Cohen said.

This new CEO, Birnbaum, didn't fixate on costs; he set his mind on boosting sales, Cohen says. "The result is that the company today sells its products in 39 countries, compared with 13 in the past," Cohen said. "The company has innumerable new products, including in machinery and in syrups, too," he added, referring to flavorings that can be added to the carbonated water.

Fit for a king

SodaStream's product may not have changed much over the years, but the company has changed hands plenty.

The company starts its story in Britain, in 1903, making products exclusively for royalty. At some point the firm began selling more broadly; it began to export in the 1970s. SodaStream reached Israel in 1978, where the devices that force pressurized carbon dioxide into water, making it fizzy, quickly gained popularity.

In 1985 it was bought by Cadbury Schweppes, but in 1998 it was sold onwards because it competed with the home brand of carbonated drinks, Schweppes. The buyer was Cadbury Schweppes' Israeli distributor, Peter Wiseburgh, who paid $26 million.

But in 2006, Wiseburgh's business went south, in part because of debt to German banks. He sold the firm in December 2006 to Fortissimo.

Fortissimo buys companies and turns them around. "We saw an amazing company with profit margins of 55%, but losing money," Cohen said. "You ask yourself how a company with sales of $100 million a year could have margins like that and not make money." Mission No. 1 was to cut operating costs, not in R&D but in marketing and sales. Next came expanding the client base, then transforming the image from functionality to lifestyle.

Today SodaStream sells products in 35,000 stores in 39 countries. Its revenue model is based on selling the device first, then flavor concentrates and refills of the pressurized gas canisters. The company has 1,006 employees, of whom 696 work in Israel, where the firm has been based since its takeover by Wiseburgh.