When Martha was introduced as “Baroness of Soho”, it felt for a moment like we joined the set of the UK edition of the TV series “Silicon Valley”. This must be the most creative startup title ever, beating “Chief Connector of Dots” hands down. However, it didn’t take long to realise, Martha was very real, and so is her title.
Martha started her career in consulting, where she “was sent all over the world and learned about business and the internet”. Three years later, in 1997, she co-founded lastminute.com, which she took public. “I survived the dot-com crash, but was then involved in a real-world crash, which left me with 28 broken bones.”
She now leads what she calls a “portfolio life”. She works with the House of Lords, Twitter, Chanel, a charity called doteveryone and has a karaoke business.
A little known fact about Chanel is that the actual revenue driver is their handbags. The perfume business is tiny.
Twitter has 350m users, which is small compared to Facebook’s 2bn, however, Martha finds the amplification it has on the offline-world phenomenal. During the 2017 Westminster attack, she worked in a part of the parliament where no announcements could be heard. The only way she found out what was going on was through tweets from MPs from the other side of the building. This resonates very much with Biz Stone’s realisation that he created something powerful with Twitter, when he read about an earthquake moments before feeling it.
When Martha was asked what the future holds for the internet, she remembered that in the 1990s it was meant to be a force for good, and to give everyone a voice. In the future, responsibility should be the new normal. She would like to see innovators ask themselves what impact new technology could have right at the design stage, ensuring there is transparency, especially about their business model, and more diversity.
Martha did not share much about her engagement in the UK national security strategy, except that we should look more into the tech development in Russia and China. She sounded a little concerned there.
When asked what keeps her motivated, she just said, “sugar-free champagne and a lot of prescription drugs”. Let’s hope she never opens a health-advice business
Yossi Vardi co-founded, led, funded and helped build more than 80 high-tech, energy, natural resources, and clean-tech companies. Many of them went public, including Tekem, Alon Energy, Granite Hacarmel, answers.com, scopus, International Lasers Technologies, epals, tocows, brightcove, other were acquired : Gteko (by Microsoft), Tivella (by cisco,) Airlink (by sierra wireless), Foxytunes (by yahoo),starnet (by IAC),Gift project (by ebay).
Martha Lane-Fox, Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho,CBE is a British businesswoman, philanthropist and public servant. Martha is founder and executive chair of Doteveryone.org.uk, a charity fighting for a fairer internet and building a movement for responsible technology.Fox co-founded Last Minute during the dotcom boom of the early 2000s and has subsequently served on public service digital projects. She sits on the boards of Twitter, Donmar Warehouse, The Queens Commonwealth Trust and Chanel.
Written by Alex Koelbl, founder of Heading On, who attended the Unbound London 2018 Festival.
EnSpire Oxford is a University of Oxford initiative to help connect people to the entrepreneurship resources they need, and to promote entrepreneurship across Oxfordshire.
Sign up for our newsletter