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 an ancient family friend who has known my parents for almost fifty years. 

I actually went on holiday with his family when I was a child and even lived at his house in Kensington Park Gardens (featured in the film 'Notting Hill') for some time. My parents had just taken him out for dinner in London, so this time, dinner was his treat.

We ate at a Spanish Tapas restaurant where I used to live in Newbury street when I was taking my MBA. Bela's a fascinating guy. His dad lost his fortune in Hungary during the war. So his father came to England & made another fortune as a bridge player, Buyer of art & backer of racehorses. 

His father actually got so good at betting on racehorses, that the betting agencies and bookies began to pay him not to gamble.

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 fourteen 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 twelve 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 he started and 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 sceptical at the time since the internet was still at quite an embryonic stage plus there had just been a major ' 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 the 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. By the way, Bela also invented the touchscreen back in 1982.

Since then, many of the start-ups or early-stage companies I have worked at have been successful and proliferated.

One of them, Visual IQ, was acquired by a Multinational, Nielsen, for two billion dollars. Another, Zscaler, the cybersecurity company, just had an IPO which now gives the company a Market Cap of $50 Billion. - not bad for two companies that are both just ten years old.

Bela Hatvany recently sold Just Giving for £95 Million. This was a company Bela set up as a project after he had 'retired', to do some good in the world.

Newbury Street, in Boston, USA, where I lived as an MBA student, 2006-2007

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