THEODORA OF THE DOT-COM BOOM How the darling of the dot-com era, Martha Lane Fox, became the inspiration of every budding entrepreneur. Profile by Robert Ince. The media darling of the dotcom era, at first looking more like a grungy 6th former before reinventing herself as a Pradawearing autocratic business woman, was every business journalist’s wet dream, even appearing as a panellist on BBC TV’s Question Time along luminary political heavyweights such as Robin Cook and Charles Kennedy. Her often quixotic business quests and decisions quickly won her accolades as well as making her a lot of money along the way, while earning her a place in the young entrepreneurs of all time lists the world over.
a generation of disillusioned young people, one woman has achieved what most young professionals could only dream of; immense wealth, success and respect. And all by the tender age of 30. Martha Lane Fox, self-made millionairess and icon of the dot-com era, set up Lastminute. com six years ago with business partner Brent Hoberman. The online retailer proved efficacious from the outset, specialising in selling bargain air tickets, city breaks, travel deals and ‘last minute’ life-style accessories, and has established itself as a fortuitous accomplishment for all involved as well as a prolific success story for Lane Fox. The company was floated on the London Stock Exchange and New York’s NASDAQ on 14 March 2000, during the peak of the dot-com boom. Within days the initial price of 380p had climbed to a peak of 555. At one point, Lane Fox was worth over £50m.
After its first day as a public company, Lastminute.com was valued at £733m placing it ahead of Debenhams and Iceland. The cash cushion from that floatation helped the firm both to grow and survive on the long road into profitability. Despite what seemed like a bad period for the business in 2000 as the dot-com boom slid toward a sudden death, Lastminute.com kept on going and expanding and is now probably the second most recognised e-tailer in the UK after Amazon. Their losses have shrunk, and in March this year they bought Online Travel. Lane Fox epitomises the very essence of what it is to be an entrepreneur; ambitious, mercurial, idea-driven and proactive. Her ideas and unabashed vision, which she brought to life at the right time and in the right place, made a global impact, revolutionised the travel industry, inspired many copycat websites as well as leading the way for a million other young and successful business people to bring their dreams to fruition.
People should be prepared to go with their gut instinct if they feel it’s the right thing to do. If you want to leave your job and go and do something else, then do it. Speaking in an interview with Motley Fool magazine in 2003, Oxford-born Lane Fox said of her success: “It is vital to get on with things as soon as you get that earth-shattering idea. Taking risks is a good thing if you feel like it. “People should be prepared to go with their gut instinct if they feel it’s the right thing to do. If you want to leave your job and go and do something else, then do it.” And whose better advice to take than hers, the woman who was nicknamed ‘Fast Lane Foxy’ after first exhibiting her
entrepreneurial tendencies at college when she set up her own dating agency, before going on to conquer the e-commerce world with her self-assured and inspirational approach to business and her day to day working practices in a dynamic yet volatile industry. All along keeping her feet on the ground and staying humble enough to realise that luck and hard work, as well as a propensity for shrewd business acumen, was the defining link which got her where she is today. As Lastminute.com announced its first full-year profit in November last year, Lane Fox announced she was to step down as managing director in order to “explore other challenges” and to find again a semblance of her social life, having crammed more into a decade’s work than most of us will manage in a lifetime. She has however stayed on the board as a non-executive director and still owns 3% of the company. Her latest business venture is as the right-hand woman to new Selfridges owner Galen Weston, proving that her already accomplished CV is still very much in its infancy. And if everything fails, her last remaining ambition, she has told friends, is to follow in the footsteps of her ‘role model’, the empress Theodora, who according to myth once lay in a Roman amphitheatre covered in honey and waited for swans to lick it off. However, don’t bank on her not achieving it some day. As the men in grey suits she has worked along knows, what Martha Lane Fox sets her mind to - however farfetched- Martha Lane Fox usually makes it a reality. Robert Ince is a freelance journalist.
Profile of Martha Lane Fox