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 a child and even lived at his house in Kensington Park Gardens (featured in the film 'Notting Hill') for some time.

So we ate at a restaurant where I used to live in Newbury street when I was taking my MBA. He'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 bet.

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.

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 cybersecurity company, just had an IPO which now gives the company a Market Cap of $9 Billion.

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, USA, where I lived as a student.

Interested in finding out more?
Click here for my video interview with Bela.