Monday, February 08, 2016

Dinner with the founder of Justgiving




Bela Hatvany was in town, He comes to Boston a lot since He has family and Business interests here as well as some history (although He now lives in the South of France). He's a very old family friend who has known my parents for almost fifty years. I actually went on holiday with his family when I was sixteen and even lived at his house in Kensington Park Gardens (featured in the film 'Notting Hill') for some time.

So we ate some steaks at Grill 23 near Newbury Street, where I used to live when I was taking my MBA. He's a fascinating guy. His dad lost his fortune in Hungary during the war. So He came to England & made another fortune as a bridge player, Buyer of art & backer of racehorses.

Bela told me that He was treating me, as my dad bought him & his wife dinner in Holland Park, London, last week. Bela told me a great story about when He was at Harvard Business School. He was asked by IBM to complete a data/software project at the end of the first year of his MBA.

IBM told him it would take 14 software programmers a year to complete. Bela explained that He figured out a way to do it much quicker - He actually completed the project alone, & in only 12 weeks. After that, he was in quite a lot of demand.

Here's one of his other companies, Silverplatter, which He sold to Wolters Kluwer for $113 Million in 2000. These days He invests in a whole host of new companies, such as Justgiving, which has grown immensely as a business.

I remember clearly Bela telling me about his idea to set up this online giving site back in 2000. I was more than a bit skeptical at the time since the internet was still at quite an embryonic stage plus there had just been a major 'dot.com crash', which took shares in my wife's company, Akamai, from $400 a share to $1 a share.

However, his idea was spot on, and they got first mover advantage in the market, so everyone knows the Justgiving brand now. Looking back, I realize that this did teach me a valuable lesson; to be more open-minded about start-up ideas.

Since then, most of the start-ups or early-stage companies I have worked at have been successful and proliferated, sometimes by 2 or 3 times a year.

One of them, Visual IQ, was acquired by a Multi-national, Nielsen, for two billion dollars Another, Zscaler, the cyber security company, just had an IPO which now gives the company a Market Cap of $9 Billion.

Now Bela does have some political views that I'm not exactly on board with. For example, he has financed a team that includes several Economists, who lobby on various issues. particularly that of universal income.

In my opinion, whenever the government gives one group of people money, they have to take it from another, usually, the group that has earned that money. The problem of universal income is that you are rewarding one group of people for doing nothing and taking that money away from those who have actually earned it.

It's similar to the moral hazard issue of bailing out mismanaged banks, instead of letting them deal with the mess they have caused.

Bela is in the George Soros (another Hungarian, a financier who studied at my alma mater, LSE and infamously 'broke the Bank of England'  and the chancellor of the Exchequer, Norman Lamont, and now supports many left-wing causes) mold, using his wealth to back left-wing causes.

Bela Hatvany recently sold Just Giving for £95 Million. Now that's not a bad deal for a company Bela set up as a project after he had 'retired', to do some good in the world!

Newbury Street, in Boston's 'Back Bay', where I lived while studying for my MBA