MOST people will recognise Brent Hoberman as the poster boy of the first dotcom bubble. He and his co-founder Martha Lane Fox publicly listed Lastminute.com on the day the market peaked. Yet unlike so many internet businesses they rode out the crash before selling the business in 2006 for $2bn.
“We hit a zeitgeist moment,” Hoberman explains. “It was an exciting time, we were growing the business 100 per cent every year.” But the hype wasn’t what motivated Hoberman: “It’s not what drove my enjoyment. What was exciting was running a growing business: that was the fun part. Not the external noise.”
The fact that he sold Lastminute.com is a testament to that view: “When businesses get really big the founder becomes a people manager. They target set for employees, repeat the same message and are constantly on message, they have to be, everything they say is like a public document. I had always said that when Lastminute.com got that big, I wouldn’t be the right person to run it.”
But it didn’t take long after the sale for Hoberman to start working on a new business – two, in fact: Mydeco and Made.com.
“After the sale I bought a house – as you do after such things – and I found the process of doing it up frustrating. I couldn’t visualise anything, so I looked at the web and found nothing to help. So I ended up buying some CDs that let you design a 3D room. They were all really complicated, even for me, so I thought this is ridiculous, this could be a free service on the web and can still make money.”
It only took a year before the thought became Mydeco. The site is using the most fashionable internet trends, promising that you can be part of a community and generate your own 3D content. So far 250,000 rooms have been designed by its users on the site.
While the great ideas were all his, the money that got it going was not: “Martha and I approached 20 investors, ten agreed to see us, and five agreed to fund us. I’m a firm believer that using external capital makes you behave in a riskier way plus it’s very good for getting the confidence of others.”
Hoberman puts his success down to passion and naivety: “I think I’m slightly ageist when it comes to entrepreneurs – you need that naivety and optimism to make it through. I think older people lose that. I have started to see that in myself.” An interesting thought, but it doesn’t seem to have happened just yet.
CV | BRENT HOBERMAN
Born: Cape Town, South Africa
Lives: Kensington, London
Studied: New College, Oxford
First ambition: “To run my own business by the time I was 30.”
Reading: “Too many magazines on my iPad”
Drinking: Diet Coke
Favourite business book: “Some accountancy book for bluffers. I taught myself accountacy with that”
Motto: “Carpe Diem”
Idol: Richard Branson and Rupert Murdoch
Titles: Chairman at made.com and Mydeco.