SM: Take me back to where your story begins. What is your background?
PF: I was born just outside of London. My father is a professor of chemistry and my mother is an ancient history high school teacher. My background was very academic and studies were a big part of my life. After entry into technology, and how I ended up in Silicon Valley many years later, is a good story. I have always been interested in technology. I did a physics undergrad in England at Oxford. Physics was interesting.
SM: And hard. What kind did you do?
PF: It was a mixture. I found it quite interesting because it gives you a good framework to see the world. It is either cosmological or quantum. It misses out the bit in between which is you and me, people, and physical stuff. I was unsatisfied with it, although it was interesting. I left physics and moved on into business as that was more about people and less about numbers.
SM: What did you do after your undergraduate degree?
PF: During my undergraduate years I did a lot of internships at places like IBM. In the summer of 1995 I worked at JP Morgan. They told me to look into this Internet thing. Netscape had just gone public. Due to the nature of the technology being so new, I quickly became the local expert. I got up to speed very quickly.
SM: There was not that much to get up to speed on back then!
PF: Very true! Not much going on in 1995. It was being in a financial environment that made it all the rage with the investment bankers. I didn’t necessarily enjoy working in investment banking; I was there for the money. I wanted to buy books and have a good time.
SM: Where you doing your internship at JP Morgan in London?
PF: Yes. I didn’t want to do investment banking. A lot of my friends had gone that route. I saw the Internet thing, and Netscape was all the rage, and I had skills so I decided in 1995 that I wanted to work with the Internet.
SM: What was the next step?
PF: I networked my way into a a job which was a joint venture between British Telecom and News Corp. It was my first proper job. It was an AOL killer for the UK. Telecommunications was provided from British Telecom and content was provided from News Corp. I spent a year there. It was a great introduction and we had great people.
One of my collegues left, wrote a business plan, and raised some capital. I joined him as a first employee of a company called LastMinute.com. After working for a larger company for a year I joined a very small startup that only had a business plan. It grew from two of us to what is now Europe’s largest online travel company. That was a wonderful journey. It was a very special journey from business plan to March 2000 IPO. There are a lot of success stories in the US but there are very few in Europe.