'The tech scene's moved on. Anyone who's not in mobile is gone' - Dinesh Dhamija

YOU LIVE & YOU LEARN: The founder of ebookers on selling door-to-door, surviving the dot com crash and the role of the middleman.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 21 Jul 2015

Education opens doors, but more importantly it gives you confidence. It's so much easier if you've been to Oxbridge, knowing you went to the best. I read law at Cambridge, wanting to be a barrister. Then I looked at the salaries.

My first job was selling assurance door to door in council estates. It was no joke as an Indian in the 1970s, but at the time I thought it was. I got the prize for the most policies sold - a Dunhill lighter - and a thick skin.

In the mid 1970s, I started a travel agency at Earl's Court Tube station when a newsagent I knew there offered me the cubicle next to his. I didn't know anything about travel, but I knew Old Labour was taking half my salary in taxes. With my own business, I thought I could expense a lot, pay little or no tax and double my standard of living.

To begin with it was just me, my ex-air hostess wife and a friend's wife. We told her we couldn't pay her. 'I'm doing nothing at home anyway,' she replied. If it didn't work out, we would've had to go back to India to live with our parents.

I realised the internet would transform the business in 1997, when I went to America and saw that they were making money in their sleep. My friends thought it was just another one of my harebrained ideas, but in 1999 I created an online travel agency, eBookers. Three years later it was turning over $1bn.

Everyone's a middleman, but whoever adds the most value wins. There were lots of mom and pop travel shops living on 1% to 2% net. We took away 10% to 20% of their business and they went down. Of course we provided the jobs they had, but in a different form.

Before we sold eBookers we were hit by the dotcom crash, 9/11, the Iraq War, Sars and the Asian tsunami, but we were turning over too much to fail. We pocketed £100m and I've been enjoying it ever since. My wife said we should have sold six months earlier. She's quite perceptive. We would have got more, but we still sold well.

The conditions for entrepreneurs are far better now than before, but bubbles will always burst. The tech scene's moved on - anyone who's not in mobile is gone.

I run the UK chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs. It's for people who want to build things, not City day traders.

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