- 4 Feb 08, 07:32 GMT
Ten years ago one of the very few people to make money out of Britain’s dot com bubble was just getting started. He launched a travel website into a market suddenly obsessed with the idea that the internet would transform every business and make huge fortunes for those who could grab a slice of the action.
His name was Brent Hoberman and the business he started with Martha Lane Fox was Lastminute.com.
For Brent Hoberman, timing was all. Lastminute was a tiny business with negligible revenues in March 2000 but when it arrived on the London Stock Exchange it was valued at over half a billion pounds.
A fortnight later the bubble burst and soon tech stocks were only useful for papering the bathroom. Lastminute had raised the cash it needed to survive in the nick of time.
Now a decade on Brent Hoberman is launching another business – and this time it’s aimed not at twenty-somethings looking for a cheap weekend in Tallinn but at thirty-somethings wondering whether to paint the new kitchen olive green or fire red.
It has been far longer in the planning than Hoberman’s first venture and has raised £5 million in funding, compared to the £600,000 backing which got Lastminute off the drawing-board.
In 1998, there was still a relatively small internet audience – this time just about anyone who might have some cash to spend on doing up their home has already got a broadband connection.
But – and it’s a huge but – Mydeco could be a victim of bad timing. It launches into a crowded market just as the tech investment climate grows chilly, and at the very moment when consumers are getting more cautious about parting with their cash.
If the site’s backers want to recoup their investment via an IPO, they may have to be very patient. However Brent Hoberman has pulled in big names from Europe’s web scene like the Skype founder Niklas Zennstrom and insists they are in it for the long term.
Lastminute.com was a symbol of all the energy – and idiocy – of the UK’s dot com bubble. Mydeco will be far more low-profile in a more mature market but its progress will tell us whether the latest bout of bubble thinking is over.
Brent Hoberman tells me he is relying on what he calls counter-cyclical start-up theory. “When the big players retrench, the opportunities to innovate increase. Going against the grain is where entrepreneurs win.”
Good luck to him - he's one of the nicest guys to have emerged in British business in the last decade. But I fear this time Brent Hoberman's timing may be just a little out…
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