Martha and Brent reunite for new challenge: to make Twitter pay

Brains behind attempt to repeat the runaway success of online travel agency

Martha Lane Fox and Brent Hoberman's youth, establishment connections and grasp of new technology made them pin-ups for the dotcom boom, when they showed how business could harness the vast emerging power of the internet.

Eleven years older and wiser, the entrepreneurial duo who masterminded the rise of the online travel agent are back in business together seeking to exploit the latest technological phenomenon: Twitter.

Twitter Partners, a new marketing agency that advises corporations how to sell products via the social messaging service, have taken on Lane Fox and Hoberman to steer it to riches.

Twitter allows anyone to leave short messages online and on mobile phones. Sent messages can be checked for key words, allowing firms to contact users who have mentioned particular services. With launch clients Virgin Media, Universal Pictures and Warner Music, Twitter Partners could be in the right place at the right time; just as was when it launched in a "broom cupboard" office on Portobello Road, London, in 1998.

After first making a splash on the front pages in the late 1990s Lane Fox and Hoberman had a rollercoaster life, receiving accolades and opprobrium, and, in the case of Lane Fox, multiple injuries from a car crash that almost killed her ("It was touch and go," she later remarked).

Now 36 and still walking with difficulty, Lane Fox, the daughter of the historian Robin Lane Fox, works on a portfolio of interests including death row charity Reprieve, of which she is patron and trustee, and directorships of Channel 4 and Marks & Spencer.

Four years her senior, Hoberman, an Old Etonian management consultant, runs, a design service that generates 3D views of rooms containing furniture sold by retailers.

Lastminute, however, remains the foundation of the duo's reputation, and whose ultimate triumph is a good omen for Twitter Partners.

Two years after they founded the online travel agent – which allows users to book late flights and holidays – Lastminute floated on the London Stock Exchange in what is now pinpointed as the peak of the dotcom boom. Almost 200,000 subscribed for shares in the hope of making a fortune. When the bubble burst, shares – which had hit 487p – crashed to 17p. Hoberman and Lane Fox lost tens of millions of pounds.

Lane Fox, whose girlish looks, background and business flair earned her the sobriquet of "It girl", quit her 14-hour days as managing director in 2003. Within five months, the 31-year-old was making headlines again, when her open-top jeep skidded off a desert road and she hit a rock outside Essaouira, Morocco. Her body was smashed in 24 places and she was taken to a Moroccan hospital. Using his contacts in the travel business, Hoberman chartered a jet to fly her back to Britain, where she spent a year recovering at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

As she recovered, so too did and in 2005 the US travel giant Sabre bought it for £577m. The sale made £13m for Martha Lane Fox and £26m for Hoberman, who resigned two years later. Since Lastminute, they have helped each other's business start-ups. Hoberman invested in Lucky Voice, Lane Fox's karaoke booth operation which began with a single outlet in Soho and has now spread to Islington, Cardiff and Manchester and will soon open in Brighton. She is also on the board of

"It would be an awful, terrible thing if Brent wasn't deeply integrated into my working life," Lane Fox, who is currently holidaying abroad, said in an interview last year.

Will they be able to make their new project work? They will be less involved than they were in Lastminute; Twitter Partners is founded and chaired by the Skype phone service veteran Peter Read. However they have extensive knowledge of selling a variety of services across new technology.

Twitter has taken off in the UK, rising from 100,000 users last February to 1.8 million this February. Stephen Fry, Sir Richard Branson and Jonathan Ross are among the celebrities who pass on news, tittle-tattle and wry asides.

Twitter has the capability to make and break business reputations, according to Guy Levine, chief executive of Web Marketing Advisors, who is advising chief executives how to exploit its potential.

"In the old days you went to the cinema and it took you two weeks to tell everyone you knew what you thought about the film. Now you can do that before you even leave the cinema," he said. "The same applies if you're in a restaurant and the starter is cold. You can tell everyone. There could be a whole tirade about your business that you don't even know about. Even if you don't know if you can use Twitter, you have to monitor it to know what everyone's saying."

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
New Articles
i100... with this review
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Graduate BI Consultant (Business Intelligence) - London

    £24000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Graduate BI Consultant (B...

    Service Delivery Manager (Product Manager, Test and Deployment)

    £40000 - £55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager (Product Ma...

    Technical Product Marketing Specialist - London - £70,000

    £50000 - £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Cloud Product and Solutions Marketin...

    Trainee Helpdesk Analyst / 1st Line Application Support Analyst

    £18000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam