Fevered anticipation gripped the run-up to Lastminute.com’s flotation in 2000. ‘Mom and Pop’ private investors clamoured to take a piece of the pie not devoured by institutions.
In the lead up to flotation demand had soared, the company raised its flotation price range from a range of 190-230 pence to 320-380 pence. When the company listed, its share price then took shareholders on a spectacular rollercoaster ride with an unenviable fall coinciding with collapse of tech stocks.
On its first day of trading in March 2000, the massively oversubscribed shares rose 28% to 487.5 pence from the 380 pence flotation price, which had valued the company at £571.3m. Within two weeks the price had dropped to 270 pence, the following month had fallen to 190 pence, and on April 17 2000, £35bn was wiped off the value of the London Stock Exchange, following the biggest ever one-day fall on the New York Exchange the preceding Friday.
There was brief respite when Lastminute’s announced positive first quarter results in May, but two weeks later Boo.com went into liquidation, and confidence in the dotcom sector evaporated.
Lastminute’s founders Brent Hoberman and Martha Lane Fox bore the brunt of the vitriol aimed at dotcoms, and it’s clearly something that still stings a little: “Well we courted the publicity to build the brand for cheap, so you take the rough with the smooth. “What I was surprised by was that we were being blamed for the entire collapse of the stock market, which is not true. And people were getting pretty angry about the fact they’d lost £135. And yes it was £135 and I don’t want to suggest it wasn’t a lot of money, but I was surprised at some of the anger that was unleashed. It must be because it’s just easy to write mean emails.”
Nevertheless, it’s an experience Lane Fox took on the chin, often calling the most irate individuals and finding them to be “delightful” once she’d had her say. She describes the period as exhausting, but claims not to have been battered or bruised by it. “I was just exhausted as anybody who’s taken a company public knows. We worked frikkin’ hard, incredibly hard building the business. Then you had this extraordinary process going around America and the UK selling the shares. There comes a time two weeks after the float, where the share price was going down and the media was getting nasty and I was getting some beastly emails. I’d been up working ‘til past two or three in the morning for about six or seven weeks and I think I couldn’t see the end clearly at all. But it passes.”
Lastminute, unlike some others, survived, and regained some momentum on the market. So, has dealing with adversity in business and the near-fatal car crash she was involved in while holidaying in Morocco changed her outlook on business?
“No, not really,” she says simply. “I know that people probably always look for these moments in time where everything changes, but no, I think it’s just reinforced what I think is important, which is working hard and being nice to people. I don’t have many philosophies about life, but that’s one of them.”