Brent Hoberman on IPOs, Rishi Sunak and Founders Forum’s future

Brent Hoberman Founders Forum

Rishi Sunak is well-suited as prime minister to support the UK tech industry but needs to better communicate that the country is open to high-skilled overseas talent, the co-founder of entrepreneur community Founders Forum has said.

Speaking to UKTN, Brent Hoberman said that Sunak’s track record means he is the “right man for the job” of maintaining UK tech growth, with startups last year raising record levels of funding.

“I think he’s clearly somebody who understands it, supports it and wants to see the UK continue at success in that area,” said Hoberman, who has co-founded multiple businesses in addition to Founders Forum.

During his time as chancellor, Sunak backed the Kalifa Review into the UK’s fintech sector, laid out proposals to make the UK a “global crypto asset hub” and looked at measures to make it more attractive for companies to list in London.

However, Hoberman believes the government can do more to attract tech talent post-Brexit, and that increasing immigration can boost UK growth. In a recent LinkedIn post, Hoberman took aim at Home Secretary Suella Braverman, describing her as a “hard-liner” and “who seems to appeal to the lowest common denominator of little Britain nationalism”.

“Internationally, I think people need to know that they are still wanted,” Hoberman told UKTN.

Made.com and when to IPO

Hoberman is a serial entrepreneur and has founded more than 10 companies, including online travel platform lastminute.com in 1998 and robotic kitchen automation startup Karakuri in 2018.

He also co-founded online furniture company Made.com, which went bust just over a year after a £775m IPO. Hoberman has previously said that while on the board at Made.com he advised against an IPO.

“I’ve always said after lastminute.com I wouldn’t personally be on the board of a company going public,” Hoberman told UKTN.

There are three reasons why Hoberman thinks a company should go public: to raise a large amount of money in one go, get liquidity for long-time shareholders or use the cash to acquire other companies.

Hoberman gave the example of lastminute.com, which after its IPO went on to buy 14 companies.

“I think particularly when there was so much private equity capital around companies were delaying their IPOs and I think that was probably a good thing,” Hoberman said.

Last year scores of UK tech companies achieved eye-watering valuations, such as Deliveroo’s £132m raise at a $7bn valuation ahead of its IPO.

However, amid a worsening economic outlook in which some startups must accept downrounds, Hoberman’s advice is: “Don’t think about short-term valuation. The real end goal is building a lasting legacy company.”

Instead, scaleups considering an IPO should ask whether it will make them a stronger company in the next five to ten years instead of getting caught up in short-term valuations.

“The short-termism of the public market, you’re going out there setting targets that you really cannot disappoint on as you are really trying to run your business quarter by quarter rather than the way the best companies in the world run it,” Hoberman said.

The future of Founders Forum

Hoberman co-founded Founders Forum in 2005 with Jonathan Goodwin as a “response to the lack of credible, peer-to-peer European entrepreneur networks to rival those that existed in Silicon Valley”.

The group consists of Founders Forum, accelerator Founders Factory and investment arm Firstminute Capital.

It now runs forums and summits across the world – and it is bracing for more expansion after Silicon Valley Bank recently took a stake in Founders Forum Group for an unknown sum.

“I can’t disclose what those ventures might be but it’s pretty obvious if you start to think about what they do and what we do,” Hoberman said.

Hoberman, who was awarded a CBE in 2015 for services to entrepreneurship, said the partnership provides the opportunity to work with Silicon Valley Bank on new initiatives as its mission is “aligned” with Founders Forum Group.

Founders Forum Group has since taken a stake in creative agency Clerkenwell Brothers, which rebranded to Founders Makers.

In the future, Hoberman would like to increase the number of “deeper events” similar to its existing climate tech, health tech and gender diversity events with the chance of more events to link entrepreneurs with capital.

“The great entrepreneurs get chased by the venture capitals, the absolute best are the ones who have got great breakthroughs. So they don’t need it,” said Hoberman.

Hoberman said that there are many family offices in the UK that wish to invest in technology, but don’t know where to start.

Founders Forum Group along with Informa Tech co-founded the UK’s flagship technology event London Tech Week, an event Hoberman said he would be open to making this a national tech week that has more of a regional focus beyond the UK capital.