Work fast, iterate and be ridiculously obsessive – Brent Hoberman on building a successful company

The co-founder of,, Founders Forum and Founders Factory speaks at London Business School about his entrepreneurship journey – and offers some sage advice to his younger self as well as the next generation of founders

Brent Hoberman and Luisa Alemany

Brent Hoberman is one of the most well-known names in modern British business. He is the Co-Founder and Executive Chair of Founders Factory, firstminute capital and Founders Forum Group.

If you’re of a certain age, you will remember his and Martha Lane Fox fresh faces beaming out of a London black cab with the strap line: do something – – which promised to transform the way people booked holidays and theatre tickets, borne out of the internet and the birth of e-commerce. The tale of the dotcom disruptor’s spectacular rise and equally swift fall from grace as the dotcom bubble unexpectedly and brutally burst is the stuff of business mythology, but what is less focused on in media column inches is how Hoberman and his co-founder Fox, still managed to net about $1bn for the business when they sold it in 2005, just seven years after its debut in 1998 and the entrepreneurs were still in their 30s.

Today, such a tale of young, exuberant founders and market over-hype leading to a vertiginous fall is much more common as the number of tech-based startups mushroom to the extent that launching a dotcom, app or AI-based enterprise today is possibly seen as even more acceptable as a career choice than joining a big bank, private equity blue chip or global consultancy. Back then, in the halcyon days of the first tech bubble, leaving a comfortable corporate career to pursue an untested business model was considered “a bit crazy”, as Hoberman recalls in a fireside chat with Luisa Alemany, Academic Director, LBS Institute of Entrepreneurship and Private Capital.

As part of the Summit Series, serial entrepreneur Hoberman, who is now better known as a venture builder and angel investor through Founders Factory and Firstminute Capital, joined Alemany, Associate Professor of Management Practice at the Nuffield Hall in LBS earlier this month to speak about his entrepreneurship journey to an audience of LBS students, alumni and friends – and that journey began at Eton, perhaps ironically as the home of the establishment. There, his father, an engineer, helped him to set up a pirate radio station, which was ahead of its time. “There just wasn’t a lot you could work with back then as an entrepreneur.”

Then, at Oxford University where he studied modern languages, Hoberman tried to set up a magazine to be placed in cinemas – a Playbill for the movies – which in his appropriately inflated pitch he claimed would become a top circulated publication. He even hustled a bit, cornering film producer David Putnam when he came to speak at the Oxford Union for investment. But in the end, Hoberman listened to his inner Richard Branson, which told him: “Don’t do it; it’s not a good enough idea.”

The idea for emerged from a combination of experiences and thought processes. In 1995, Hoberman was working at Spectrum Strategy consultants, set up by partners from BCG and Booz Allen Hamilton after being fired from his job at Mars & Co (a story for another time, he says).

“It was just 10 people, so wonderfully entrepreneurial and just media and telecoms strategy.” For Hoberman, this was the equivalent of hitting the jackpot. “I was getting paid for just reading and researching the media and telecoms market. I would have done that in my spare time. My job was to understand and help people build business plans in these sectors. There was one I owe some credit too. It was a TV commerce platform. It struck a chord. A platform where people buy online, all automated. I thought, wait a minute, I’m an early adopter and I love gadgets, why don’t I and why can’t I buy more online. There was Amazon, but almost nothing else.

“I looked at models like teletext (the first text information service launched by the BBC in the early 1970s), which many people now might not even know and package holidays did very well on teletext. I loved the internet and knew it was going to get massive and then, there was my experience with unsolved inventory. So, when I was at university, when I had a girlfriend , I would want to take her to a fancy hotel and naturally want a better room than I could afford. So, I’d call up a hotel and say how many suites have you got for tomorrow night, and they might say seven or eight, and then I’d say: ‘Great! I’ll take one for 70% off, and that would work for one in three hotels. All of which really led to my vision of going out at the last minute, providing a convenient and cost-effective solution for people looking for entertainment and leisure on the one hand and solving the inventory challenge for industry on the other.”

Hoberman is full of surprises. He reveals that he wrote the business plan a full two years before he left his full-time job at Tim Jackson’s auction site QXL but felt at the time the internet was too small and he didn’t have the technology experience yet to confidently pitch in front of investors. He also learned two very important lessons from working with former FT journalist Tim Jackson at QXL. “He used a lot of his own money and was always stressed,” recalls Hoberman. “It made me realise that when I launched my own business, I would raise funds and get a partner.”

In the rich discussion, in which Hoberman unashamedly reveals that part of steering a successful enterprise is simply a lot of hard work, he also reveals another not widely known fact about him. Despite his cut-glass English accent, he was born in South Africa and spent the first five years of his life there. His grandfather was the founder of a fashion chain called Truworths, which now has hundreds of stores around Africa. “So I guess part of my entrepreneurial journey was seeing my grandfather’s passion; passion for wanting to solve a problem. I could see that he loved what he did every day and how much his work didn’t feel like work.”

His parents emigrated to the US and his father attended MIT in Boston for a year before he joined the Ford Foundation. The family arrived in London when Hoberman was 10 years old. Shortly after that, Hoberman’s mother moved to Paris, but he chose to stay in the UK.

This early, immigrant, life, he says, gave him the “steely drive”, ambition and tenacity to keep going with optimism despite setbacks and scoffs.

Hoberman’s focus is now on the Founders Forum Group, which he founded in 2005, which includes top tier events and services for entrepreneurs, venture building operation Founders Factory and early-stage fund Firstminute Capital. Some top tips for wannabe founders?

  • Find a business partner you can really trust, with a complementary skillset and who should be someone you would have a great time spending a weekend away with
  • Have a positive human and planet-centric mission that will attract top talent    
  • Get your smartest people to do the boring tasks – they will find a way to automate them
  • Work at clock speed. When you are starting out do what Reid Hoffman says and be embarrassed by what you launch. Learn quickly and iterate fast.

Watch the full interview.