The smile of web success

Interview with Lastminute.com's Martha Lane Fox & Brent Hoberman

Martha Lane Fox and Brent Hoberman are standing at a desk in front of a giant map of the world, which is pasted on the wall of their central London office. "How sweet," she says, picking up a thank-you card from a country-house hotel. It is one of a pile of similar cards. "They seem pretty pleased with us," she smiles to no one in particular. Hoberman shakes his head in mock frustration, wanting to resume their conversation.

Martha Lane Fox and Brent Hoberman are standing at a desk in front of a giant map of the world, which is pasted on the wall of their central London office. "How sweet," she says, picking up a thank-you card from a country-house hotel. It is one of a pile of similar cards. "They seem pretty pleased with us," she smiles to no one in particular. Hoberman shakes his head in mock frustration, wanting to resume their conversation.

Lane Fox and Hoberman are the new face of the British travel business. Some 18 months ago, the two young entrepreneurs launched lastminute.com, a website aimed at offloading some of the most spectacular special offers from airlines, hotels, theatres and restaurants on a web-friendly populace.

The site rapidly grew to become one of the country's best-known travel services, and the pair have now established the brand in France, Germany and Sweden. They have 200 employees in their Mayfair office and have received every kind of young-entrepreneur's award imaginable.

While some of the specials look like attempts to offload expensive hotel rooms that would otherwise have been empty in the low season, there are enough bargains there to ensure 500,000 people have joined their weekly e-mail list. "Above all the idea is that people should get excited because they realise they can do things they wouldn't have believed," says Lane Fox.

This does not mean it is a replacement of the old bucket shop; a lot of the deals on the website are obviously aimed at a certain sector of the population, offering suites at impossibly grand hotels at reduced, if still enormous, prices. "It's much more exciting saving £300 on a £600 hotel suite than £5 on a £55 air fare," Hoberman says. The site has expanded to include everything from Christmas presents to home-delivered food baskets, though the emphasis is still on cut-price travel.

Early next year their company, Last Minute Network, is going public and Lane Fox is already a well-known face on television, appearing on Question Time and Newsnight. "I always tell them it's Brent's turn to go on TV and they say, 'No, we'd like you.' It's because I'm blonde," she says, matter-of-factly. Hoberman, 31, is equally sexy in a dark, preppy sort of way. The company was his idea, and together they are pioneering the marketing of a lifestyle that until now has hardly been catered for at all.

Hoberman and Lane Fox are sitting in an empty conference room. Hoberman, dressed in a beige jumper and dark slacks, is on a chair with his feet on another chair. Lane Fox is perched on a windowsill, dressed in a dark green wool suit, fiddling with her mobile-phone cord.

Both of them had business backgrounds before launching LMN. Hoberman helped found the British internet auction site QXL.com. Were they doing their current job just for the money? "I never felt anything for QXL," Hoberman says. "I never empathised with it. There is a still a glamour about travel. I love sending people to all these amazing places with Last Minute."

Lane Fox agrees, broadly. "It sounds trite to say it's not about the money when you're going to make multimillions but that's so far away and I know it might all blow up at any time. I need to love what I do and you can't help but love a business that helps people to do all these things they weren't able to before.

"Plus," she adds with a mischievous smile, "I quite like having the ability to go and shake up the travel industry. It's fun. A year ago I was approaching airlines and companies to put deals together and they would put the phone down on me. Now, those very same people are sending me their CVs."

Both have travel in their blood, but in rather different ways. Hoberman was born in Cape Town, and has visited his relatives there almost every year, despite a family life that saw him living as a child in Boston, New York and London. "In a way, all that travelling as a child had a reverse effect. It makes me happy sometimes to stay in one place," he says.

What are his favourite holidays? "I'm a sun-worshipper," he says. (Martha, sitting above his left shoulder, interrupts: "You also like blonde ladies in bikinis!") "But sunshine," he continues, "has to be combined with things to do. Not so much museums as society, seeing how people are different, and in what way. I also like having my friends on holiday, though my fiancée doesn't always agree! The irony is that starting Last Minute means I have no time to do my favourite thing, which is going away for weekend breaks."

His favourite short-break destination is the Grand Hÿtel du Cap, an art deco masterpiece with fabulous Mediterranean views on Cap Ferrat, between Nice and Monaco. This year, he's been on holiday to Morocco for a week, and on a couple of weekends away to country-house hotels. Otherwise, he's working, from eight until midnight on weekdays, midday to 8pm on Saturday and Sunday.

Lane Fox has been on no holidays at all this year. In her youth she was a traveller of a different kind. Her father, the archaeologist Robin Lane Fox, is an inveterate overland traveller and used to take the family on expeditions when they were children. "We'd sleep on the floor or in the airport or whatever, because it was the culture that mattered," she recalls.

As a student she travelled to Mongolia with a girlfriend, hitching and hiking from Ulan Bator to Kazakhstan, Pakistan and China, one of the most extreme overland journeys in the world, in regions with no public transport. "It was completely mad but I have a rose-tinted view of it now," she says wistfully.

Hoberman and Lane Fox aren't the Richard Branson kind of travel pioneer, restless to cover every inch of the globe in the most peculiar ways. Last Minute is undoubtedly a boon to any traveller, though.

Will they replace travel agents in the future? "I think there'll always be a place for travel agents but they're going to have to change their emphasis and offer a more personalised service, because they won't be able to compete on the range of offers we have," says Hoberman.

"Right now, all the major travel companies are emphasising individuality and quirkiness, and in a way that is what our website is all about," says Lane Fox. "And the market's only going to grow."

www.lastminute.com

News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
News
people
News
people
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
peopleAt the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Service Charge Accountant

    30,000 to 35,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: We are currently recruiting on...

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    Day In a Page

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?