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Thursday, 2 March, 2000, 19:00 GMT
Martha my very dear
Pose
Martha Lane Fox and Brent Hoberman pose for an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery
She is the toast of Britain's internet jet set. Martha Lane Fox, the 27-year-old co-founder of Lastminute.com, has seen her company lurch from standing start to budding stock market sensation in less than two years.

When the business floats later this month, she and work partner Brent Hoberman will be rich beyond the dreams of even a rollover lottery winner.

The pair are expected to be worth upwards of 30m a piece when Lastminute hits the trading floor, with an estimated value of up to 345m.

The prospect of such immense riches has already begun to take its toll, not on Lane Fox, but on her contemporaries. Whether she knows it or not, she is cited as chief victim of the emerging syndrome known as dotcom envy.

MLF
"About as technical as a peanut"
Put simply, many of Lane Fox's contemporaries are bitterly envious of her success. If anything, the fact she tries to come across as such an unassuming hotshot - "about as technical as a peanut" is how she described herself once - only exacerbates their intense feelings of jealousy.

In fact, she probably remains blissfully unaware of such seething antipathy. As a confessed workaholic, who packs in 14 hour days, seven days a week, a social life comes low in her priorities.

She has expressed regret at missing out on friends' birthday parties and while men queue up to be seen in her company, she admits to be happier working than courting.

Sleep, shop, work

"Outside work, I sleep, go shopping and think about work," she said in a newspaper interview last year.

All of which makes her gesture of flying 35 friends to the South of France for a Millennium celebration somewhat out of character, although it's not noted whether she booked the venture with only 24 hours to spare.

Martha Lane Fox has fast become the public face of what is now Britain's second most recognised e-tailer, after Amazon.

Martha Lane Fox
University ambitions: To be an actress or prison governor
Career: Spectrum new media consultants, Carlton TV, Lastminute.com
Ambition: To build 'the best website in Europe within five years'
Historic figure most identified with: Roman empress Theodora who was covered in honey and had swans lick it off.
The face itself, pale and bookish, hints at her aristocratic lineage. Her great uncle is the 6th Marquess of Angelsey while her father, Robin Lane Fox, is a renowned classics scholar and Oxford tutor, as well as gardening columnist for the Financial Times.

It's no surprise then that Lane Fox enjoyed a privileged education, at Westminster School and then Oxford University, where she studied ancient and modern history. Similarly, Hoberman, who is four years her senior, was educated at Eton and Oxford.

Although she denies being known as "Fast Lane Foxy" at school, and blames her "very cheeky" brother for dreaming up the name, the reason why the rumour has stuck is because it sounds so plausible.

Her unstyled, dishwater blonde hair and wholesome home counties appearance, coupled with her conversation that is peppered with "fantasticallys", "terriblys" and "phenomenallys", led one journalist to brand her a "cyber-Jilly Cooper".

But evidence suggests that in the world of business she is anything but a dizzy Sloane.

Holiday
Lastminute is rivalling high street travel agents
Hoberman came up with the idea for Lastminute.com in 1996 while working at a small internet consultancy in London. His reasoning was that he never had time to plan anything such as holidays, and so was always trying to arrange something at the last minute.

He put the concept to Lane Fox, one of his colleagues at the time, who promptly dismissed it before re-thinking and coming round to the idea.

The pair eventually raised 600,000 from backers and launched in 1998. The site locates "excess inventory", otherwise known as unsold aeroplane seats, hotel rooms or theatre tickets, and offers them at bargain prices over the web.

To date it has about 800,000 registered users - a figure which is rising by about 30% per month - and has offices in London, Paris, Munich and Stockholm. Lane Fox has also said that efforts are being made to try and break into the US market.

Contrasting sidelines

Both Hoberman and Lane Fox have vigorously denied suggestions they will "take the money and run" post floatation. Instead, they say their futures are tied up with the company, and they are keen to develop the site further.

But Lane Fox does have a couple of contrasting side projects - one as a trustee of the prison reform charity Reprieve, and another as a director of a new London nightclub.

The prisons link is one that dates back to Lane Fox's teenage years, when she began writing to inmates in her spare time. Penal reform has long been a passion and through university she had planned to become a prison governor. She eventually ducked out fearing she wouldn't fit into the civil service mould.

A committed opponent of the death penalty, she backs the work of Reprieve, which funds law students to help convicts on Death Row in America.

The nightclub investment, which was only announced last week, perhaps shows that while Lane Fox is committed to Lastminute, she is also keen to spread her influence wider.

The planned members-only club, called Century, will be located in the Soho and, according to its prospectus, draw its clientele from the "media and leisure" industries. Lane Fox will be a non-executive director.

But unless she cuts back her office hours, it is the jealous wannabes who will fill out the bar at the trendy nightspot, while she, as ever, assiduously works late into the night.
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01 Mar 00 | Business
Lastminute sets float price
13 Jan 00 | Business
BAA in Lastminute deal
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