David Soskin - Cheapflights, chief executive of the internet travel site

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013


Leaving my job in investment banking to take the helm of Cheapflights was my best decision. I'd been working at ABN Amro in mergers and acquisitions. The life of an investment banker can be quite compelling, yet when I went to my Harvard Business School reunion in 1999, all the talk was of the internet, and some of the alumni were doing very clever things, such as Meg Whitman at eBay. I was intrigued. Yet most of the business plans I saw for dot.coms were just awful and entailed heavy losses in the early years.

Cheapflights was so different from the other dot.coms I'd looked at. It had a robust financial model, it had been profitable since day one, and it had strong relationships with key travel industry players. Together with some other private investors, I bought the company and took over as CEO in 2000. Company sales have since increased 12-fold, and we have 900 advertisers on site, compared with 70 when I started. We paid a fair price for the business, but it's now worth far more.


In 1989, I founded Asquith Court Schools, which owned and operated nursery schools. My worst decision was getting venture capitalists involved. I eventually sold Asquith in 2001 for £66 million. It sounds like a pretty good exit, but I could have sold at twice the price and in half the time if I hadn't invited no fewer than three VCs to invest. They quarrelled among themselves and hated each other. I had not been prepared to operate with people who shared the ethics of a Cairo souk. These guys had no understanding of corporate strategy or the Asquith business, and they had a very short-termist view.

As they were major shareholders, I had to go along with them. I fought my corner and it was exhausting - more often than not, I couldn't prevail. Maybe if I'd just had one VC it would have been better, but I ended up with three. I think British VCs are good at buying undervalued assets from dozy Plcs, but not at dealing with start-ups. They're often the kiss of death for many smaller businesses.

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