shows it still has the drive

5th Mar 2001

LASTMINUTE.COM`S shares may have fallen to just a seventh of their flotation price last year, but the internet retailer`s bosses remain as enthusiastic and optimistic as ever.
Founders Brent Hoberman and Martha Lane Fox yesterday contrasted the euphoria that accompanied the company`s listing on the Stock Exchange last March with a quieter emphasis on trying to develop the company`s business.
Mr Hoberman, chief executive, said: “We did all the things that we said we would do. Our revenues are ahead of expectations, we bought French internet travel business Degriftour, and we launched in all those countries.”
Miss Lane Fox, chief operating officer, admitted that “people got too excited about our flotation” and added: “Where we were naive was thinking that investors would stay with us for two years, not two weeks.”
Yet the talk of progress has not impressed the market. Spooked by a string of dotcom collapses, investors have lost faith in the prospects for internet businesses. The contrast with Lastminute`s flotation a year ago could not be more stark. Nearly 200,000 private investors chased the company`s shares, which were priced at 380p.
Yesterday they closed unchanged at 55.5p, valuing Lastminute at £94.5m. However, by stripping out the company`s £70m cash balance, the actual value of the business is reduced to about £25m - a far cry from the company`s first day of trading when, briefly, it was worth more than venerable retailer WH Smith.
Mr Hoberman said: “In a sinking market, it`s not our job to fight the tide. We want to take the opportunity to quietly grow the business and resurface stronger in a year or two.”
The company`s founders said employees had become more positive, despite the adverse market sentiment. Miss Lane Fox said: “The worst period was just after the flotation [when the shares first fell]. Now they want to prove everybody wrong.”
However, the year has left both founders somewhat poorer. On the first day of trading, their combined stakes were worth more than £110m. Yesterday Mr Hoberman and Miss Lane Fox held shares worth £8.7m and £5.7m respectively.


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