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How a 27-year-old built a US$3 billion fortune after an allergic reaction

·4-min read
Founder & CEO at Hopin Ltd. (PHOTO: LinkedIn)
Johnny Boufarhat, founder and CEO at Hopin Ltd. (PHOTO: LinkedIn)

By Benjamin Stupples and Ivan Levingston

(Bloomberg) — Johnny Boufarhat was fed up. A rare allergic reaction in 2015 left him with a misfiring immune system, making him crave in-person contact as he stayed inside to avoid further health flare-ups.

“It was so bad that for years, I could barely go outside,” Boufarhat, 27, said in a June 2020 blog post. “I wanted to go to events. I wanted to meet people.”

That frustration led him in early 2019 to start writing code in his London apartment’s kitchen for an online events platform that became Hopin Ltd. This month, the startup raised US$450 million from investors including Brad Gerstner’s Altimeter Capital Management at a US$7.8 billion valuation. At that level, Boufarhat’s stake is now worth about US$3.2 billion, making him one of the world’s youngest self-made billionaires, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

A Hopin spokesperson declined to comment on Boufarhat’s net worth.

Technology and the ease of raising venture capital has created far greater numbers of new billionaires than ever before and at increasingly younger ages. Boufarhat’s fortune highlights Hopin’s surging growth in the pandemic’s fallout, making it a major winner from the global shift to online meetings after governments ordered lockdowns and told workers to stay at home.

Clear Vision

Hopin had six employees at the start of 2020 and now has more than 800. The firm accelerated its growth this year through acquisitions, including video technology firms StreamYard, Streamable and Jamm. In June, the London-based firm also announced the purchase of Boomset, a management platform for in-person and hybrid events.

Boufarhat’s vision for Hopin was clear to his early backers.

He has “an incredible passion” for his business, said Tom Wilson, a partner at London-based venture capital firm Seedcamp, who led Hopin’s 2019 pre-seed investment round.

“We were very quick to commit in the room, which isn’t something we do all the time,” Wilson said, recalling his and his colleagues’ response to Boufarhat’s pitch. “We all turned to each other and went, ‘Wow, this is pretty amazing.’”

Boufarhat — Hopin’s chief executive officer — was born in Australia to parents from Lebanon and Armenia, but moved as a teenager to the U.K. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and management from the University of Manchester, where he developed an app for students to find discounts.

In late 2019, the self-taught programmer released an early version of Hopin, which allows users to attend break-out sessions during events and network with attendees through automated one-on-one video meetings. Boufarhat initially planned to launch the events platform in September 2020, but the pandemic forced him to speed up the schedule by six months.

‘Figured Out’

“Johnny had it figured out long before the pandemic,” said Par-Jorgen Parson, general partner at London-based venture capital firm Northzone, a serial investor in Hopin’s fundraising rounds. “Then all the arguments and market pointed solidly at what he had already thought through.”

Boufarhat is the latest millennial to become a self-made billionaire as the boom in tech, finance and SPACs creates vast fortunes at breakneck pace. The Collison brothers — Patrick, 32, and John, 31 — are each worth US$11.4 billion through online payments firm Stripe, according to Bloomberg’s wealth index. Nikolay Storonsky, 37, founder of Revolut, is sitting on a stake worth about US$6.7 billion, while Stanford University dropout Austin Russell, 26, became a billionaire last year after his driverless-car business Luminar Technologies Inc. went public. There are now 19 people under age 40 among the world’s 500 richest, according to the index.

(Source: Bloomberg Billionaires Index)
(Source: Bloomberg Billionaires Index)

Boufarhat, who lives in Spain, sold shares worth about 130 million pounds (US$180 million) from July 2020 to March 2021, leaving him with a roughly 40% stake in Hopin, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Though Hopin is registered in London, it doesn’t have a head office. Boufarhat said in a blog post to mark the latest fundraising round that he’s looking to sustain a fully remote workforce. He’s also betting the world won’t return to the way it was before the pandemic.

“Our future will be one in which people can partake in the experiences that matter to them — wherever they are,” he said. “In other words, it’s a future aligned to the initial vision of Hopin.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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