They came, they saw, and they conquered – but what has become of these eight online pioneers since their start-up heydays? Martin Cowen finds out
David Crossland’s appearance here might be unexpected. But in May 2000 Airtours – which was the UK biggest travel business by a mile – launched an e-commerce strategy that promised “a holistic approach, which integrates distribution and customer relationship management with appropriate content and product, encompassing the multitude of distribution channels…including interactive TV, mobile technology, the Internet, call centres and the high street”.
It never happened, despite eye-watering levels of investment, for a number of reasons. But Crossland’s vision of a multi-channel future for travel was way ahead of his vertically integrated rivals.
Airtours became MyTravel, and was bought by Thomas Cook Group in 2007.
Crossland appears to have kept his head down since leaving MyTravel. He was involved with SpeedFerries and has expressed an interest in helping Jersey, where he lives, to become a leisure destination. In 2007, Crossland and his family were still worth £124 million, according to the Sunday Times Rich List.
Martha has kept a lower profile than her Lastminute.com co-founder Brent Hoberman and is a non-exec director of Mydeco.com, Hoberman’s ‘furniture fix for the decorati’ interiors site.
She is also a non-exec at Marks & Spencer and Channel 4. She also owns a karaoke business, Little Voice, which runs a bar in London’s West End.
She is also an active campaigner and spokesperson for Camfed, the Campaign for Female Education.
The non-Governmental organisation is dedicated to girls’ education and poverty eradication in Africa by sponsoring young women through school and providing support for businesses
Lane Fox is also a trustee of Reprieve UK, a registered charity that organises lawyers for prisoners, not only for those facing the death penalty where it is legal but also for those “subject to imprisonment outside the reach of the law in the ‘war on terror’.”
Tae Kwan Do black belt Alex Zoghlin was the brains behind Orbitz, whose brawn came from five US airlines who pumped a reported $150 million into the site in 1999.
Zoghlin, as chief technology officer, was Orbitz’ first employee. He hung around until 2003, leaving before its IPO and before Cendant stumped up $1.25 billion for the site in 2004.
He left to set up G2 Switchworks, and is still there as chief executive.
G2 Switchworks launched as an alternative distribution system, with the modest aim of putting the GDSs out of business.
The very idea prompted a run of column inches and conference appearances in 2005/06, but the challenge never materialised.
However, G2 is now a viable distribution business with a number of products for agents and airlines.
Its high-profile venture capitalist backers TPG and NVP have stayed loyal since their initial, undisclosed investment three years ago.
Having set up Holiday Autos in 1987, Jacobs sold the leisure car-rental broker to Lastminute.com in 2003 in a cash-and-shares deal worth around £40 million.
Jacobs stayed there for a year or so until leaving to “pursue other business interests”. These other interests now include Totally Travel, which he set up with tour operating legend Harry Goodman. The business owns 1st4cruising.com and Go-NowTravel.com.
Recently his New New Angel vehicle bought The New Angel, restaurant/bed and breakfast in Dartmouth for a reported £1.3 million. Jacobs is also a major stakeholder in Freeads.co.uk, the UK’s largest independent classifieds site.
Ahead of her time in the low-cost, but not no-frills, space, Cassani launched go! on behalf of British Airways in 1998 with £25 million, and led a 3i-backed management buyout in 2001, valuing the carrier at £110 million.
Less than a year later, EasyJet bought go! for £374 million, 3i trousered a profit of £220 million and Cassani – who never wanted to sell out to the orange ones and was described by CNN as “furious” about it – took away a modest £16 million.
She took a non-exec role at Marks & Spencer in 2003, but stepped down in order to head up the first phase of London’s 2012 Olympic bid, passing the baton to Sebastian Coe once London had made the shortlist.
A brief spell as chair of Madrid-listed Spanish low-cost carrier Vueling in 2007 is her most recent reappearance.
The shy and retiring Dubliner was already a household name through various activities before he launched Deckchair.com in 1999.
His prelaunch media activity to generate interest in the project backfired when the site kept crashing during its early days. He told the BBC at the time: “We are getting 1,500 hits, which is frankly breaking the back of our one steam-driven computer.”
His involvement in the online travel sector was short-lived as well as profitable. He sold the site six months before September 11 2001 to World Travel Holdings in a cash and share deal worth £9.2 million.
World Travel Holdings itself pulled out of travel completely two years later having sold Deckchair.com’s URL to Online Travel Corporation in a £150,000 fire sale. Lastminute.com has since sold the site.
Geldof has done all right for himself. There can’t be many former online travel site owners who have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Dhamija walked away with a reported £90 million from the sale of his stake in Ebookers to Cendant in 2003, and has been quiet since then, if a comprehensive search of the web, trying to track him down, is anything to go by.
YouTube.com throws up a couple of clues as to his recent activities. He appears in two videos, both shot in 2007. In the shorter of the two, he reveals: “I have invested in a private equity fund, a wind farm, a property business. Various diverse investments.”
A longer clip is taken from an ‘Inspiring Entreprenuers – The Asian Advantage’ event held at the British Library. “I have a 10-year non-compete,” he says, “so I can’t be in travel.”
In 1996, Simon Breakwell was into his 10th year at British Airways when he decided to cold-call Bill Gates and suggest Microsoft have a look at doing something with travel on the Internet.
He was in situ in Seattle when Expedia launched a few years later, progressing to EMEA president when he left in 2006. He is still on the Expedia Inc board.
During the past two years he has been taking a break, but told Travolution that he is looking at new ways to get back into travel. Meanwhile, he has joined a London-based financial investment firm Vollman Brothers.
His personal interest in cycling has led to his to launching a sports milkshake business, Goodness Shakes.