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Entrepreneurs Panel

Steve Purdham
Michael Oliver
Charlie Mullins
Laura Tenison
Jennie Johnson
David Pollock
Jeremy Roberts
Brian Hay
Debbie Pierce
Richard O'Sullivan
Julie Meyer
Tony Caldeira

Brent Hoberman

Imagine starting a business in your bedroom and then selling it just seven years later for $1.1bn.

That is exactly what Brent Hoberman did when he established in 1998 aged 29, alongside co-founder Martha Lane Fox.

Hoberman, who was born in South Africa, had the idea for the travel-related website, which offers discount hotel rooms, flights and package holidays, while he was still at university.

When we catch up with him in Manchester at the one-day Telegraph Festival of Business he tells us that he didn’t think lastminute. com would take-off (excuse the pun) quite as massively as it did and that the idea came about when he was romancing the ladies at Oxford University.

Hoberman says that he realised very quickly that he could not let the success of go to his head and that he decided early on that he was not going to succumb to the pressure of trying to go one better.

“Obviously there is an expectation that the next thing you are going to do is going to be as big as the first one, but I have always warned people off that way of thinking,” he adds.

Interestingly enough, Hoberman says he no longer runs any businesses: he just helps other people run them.

He established PROfounders Capital – an early stage fund for digital businesses, backed by entrepreneurs, in 2009. He is the founder and chairman of, an online interiors site and he is also chairman of, a direct-from-factory consumer crowdsourced homewares retailer.

So how important does he believe entrepreneurs are to the recovery? Hoberman says he agrees with the official Government line that entrepreneurs are the “backbone of the economy” but adds there are a lot of people who don’t see running a business as an option.

He says he was lucky because he was inspired by his grandfather who was also an entrepreneur.

However, he tells us that more should be done to educate people about the benefits of running their own businesses. It’s about letting people know about local entrepreneurs, as they can see and really understand their businesses and are proof that anything is achievable, he continues.

He says it is a “great thing to be your own boss”, but being an entrepreneur is not for everyone.

“I think we mustn’t get into the sort of blind thing of everybody can do it all, because actually it can be soul destroying and really hard work and you have to make huge sacrifices.”

So does he think the Government is doing enough to help small and medium-sized business?

He tells us he thinks it is great they are encouraging people to invest, but that more focus on trying to help existing companies get bigger faster is needed.

“It is not just obviously about the funding - it is funding that will come as the company gets more successful. So how do you help them do that?” he asks.

He would also like to see an overhaul of employment legislation to make it easier to hire and fire people.

“It sounds brutal but actually it worksand the argument against it, well I find it very frustrating. I think it is a very populist argument that plays well to the crowd who don’t understand that it actually means, net, fewer jobs will be created.”

Hoberman says that entrepreneurs have to take risks with their businesses, as the world is changing so fast.

“I think too many small businesses are already in an evolution not a revolution phase.

“I also view growth in many businesses as defensive, because you need scale economics to be able to defend your business,” he adds. So what advice does he have for budding entrepreneurs?

He tells us that you should only start your own business if you are passionate.

“You have to love it and imagine you will love what you do every day and create an environment that you love, which may mean working with a friend and giving half the business away (something which he has experience in, as he had a 60 per cent stake in and his friend Martha Lane Fox had a 40 per cent stake).

“It will mean you enjoy it and your probability of doing better is then more than that 50 per cent loss of the business,” he concludes.

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