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This Much I Know: Martha Lane Fox, entrepreneur and philanthropist, on navigating IPOs and the dotcom crash

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lastminute.com, the online travel company, was founded in early 1998: “a time when, it seems strange now, but there really wasn’t a belief the internet would necessarily survive, yet alone be a tool we used every day,” says cofounder Martha Lane Fox. Two years later, at the peak of the dotcom bubble in March 2000, the company was publicly floated, “representing this brave new world of entrepreneurialism in the UK”. A week afterwards, the tech market crashed.

Martha is an internet entrepreneur, philanthropist and public servant. She sits on the boards of Twitter, mydeco.com and Marks & Spencer, chairs the board of the digital skills charity, Go ON UK, and was on the board of Channel 4 from 2007 to 2011. In 2013 she became the youngest female member of the House of Lords, joining as a crossbencher. She was appointed Chancellor of the Open University in 2014 and in 2015 launched the charity Doteveryone.

Speaking to Seedcamp partner Carlos Espinal, Martha discusses how lastminute.com was able to survive and even flourish amid the dotcom crash, eventually being acquired for £577m by Sabre Holdings in 2005. As well as explaining the roots of the company’s success – mainly landing great deals, and building strong relationships and partnerships – she talks candidly about the biggest obstacles the company faced, including overspending on technology and floating prematurely: “‘We IPO’d too early. It’s as simple as that.”

Martha also addresses her work at Doteveryone, the British charity finding new ways to make the internet work for everyone. “I’m not some crazy tech utopian. I don’t believe startups and software are going to save the world. I think it’s an indelible part of the world but there is a lot that makes it inequitable,” she says.

Tune in to learn more about Brexit’s implications for the future of the UK’s technology sector, what founders should expect from their board directors, and how to address gender inequality in tech.

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