I read today that UK online auction site QXL is closing down after 11 years. And it reminded me of how a couple of Brit tech journalists made their fortunes in the early years of the last dot com boom.
Those with long enough memories will remember that QXL was founded in 1997 by former Financial Times journalist Tim Jackson. I knew Tim from before this when he was with the Independent. I kept in touch with him when he went to the US to research his book on Intel. I also remember meeting up with him on his return and his enthusiasm for a then nascent start up over there called eBay. Shortly after that, he went ahead and founded QXL. Tim did approach me about handling PR for his new venture. But he had no money at that point and my then employers were not comfortable about working in lieu of future shares in what seemed a highly risky venture at the time.
Clearly hindsight is a wonderful thing. QXL later went on to float on the Stock Exchange, and at one point, was valued at £2bn. Tim’s own shareholding was (briefly) worth £272m at this time. Although, he didn’t cash out at this point, he certainly made enough later to not to have to worry about his future financial security.
But Tim wasn’t the only tech journalist to make it big. Perhaps even more remarkable was the story of Richard Jones. I knew Richard from his early days at VNU’s now long defunct Personal Computer Magazine (there was clearly something about this magazine – Richard replaced Drew Cullen on the title, who went on to co-found The Register. Their then boss, editor Ben Tisdall, is somewhat of entrepreneurial talisman). Richard ended up moving to EMAP and launching Network Week. But around 1996, went off to set up a new Internet venture. Richard was a quiet, unassuming individual – so it was somewhat of a surprise to get e-mails from him saying he was in New York, sleeping on friends floors, trying to get VC investment for his business. The rest of course is history. Richard’s venture was Fortune City, one of the early success stories of the Internet years. The company floated on the Neuer Markt in Germany in 1999, and achieved a valuation of several hundred million dollars. Richard was able to cash in on this and moved to Monaco.
So where are today’s would be Web 2.0 millionaire entrepreneurs amongst the UK’s tech journalist fraternity? As Nick Denton commented after the last Internet bubble burst:
Business success, in the internet as much as in financial speculation, is down to timing as much as any other quality. In the go-go years of the new economy, commentators talked incessantly of the first-mover advantage that accrued to the entrepreneur first into a particular market. They forgot to mention that the virtue of being, not just first in, but first out.