A 26-year-old has become Britain’s youngest self-made billionaire after launching a virtual business at the start of the pandemic as millions of workers were told to stay at home.
Johnny Boufarhat raised funding to help launch video conferencing app Hopin last March after Britain was plunged into its first lockdown and high streets and businesses were forced to close their doors.
The Manchester University graduate said the idea came about two years prior to the Covid emergency – although he was unable to secure any money to take it off the ground.
It began from his girlfriend’s bedroom in King’s Cross, London, in 2018, after he was left bedridden due to a mystery illness.
At the time, he began coding the programme which allows conferences to be live-streamed over the internet.
Its Zoom-style model supports home-working, enabling staff to network remotely and communicate via video calls.
Following the pandemic, Hopin’s user-base rocketed to over five million, giving it a value of £4.1billion with American Express and Hewelett-Packard among clients.
The company’s soaring value has left Boufarhat with a net worth of £1.5billion, placing him in 113th place in the Sunday Times Rich List – a tally of Britain’s wealthiest individuals.
Although now a London resident, Boufarhat was born in Sydney after his parents – a mechanical engineer and an accountant – moved to Australia from Lebanon during the 1975-1990 civil war.
The family moved on to Los Angeles then Dubai before Boufarhat travelled to the UK to study mechanical engineering.
While studying, Boufarhat developed an app that gave students discounts at restaurants.
After graduating in 2018, he was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease which left him unable to get out of bed. It was then that he had a lightbulb moment.
The 21-year-old was so ill that he was bedridden at his girlfriend’s flat in King’s Cross in London, where he was working for the construction group Multiplex. He started coding Hopin, which over the next two years grew to a small team of eight developers.
In November 2019 Boufarhat famously told angel investors “it would be the fastest growing company in the world,” just before the Covid-19 pandemic began.
He managed to secure millions in funding to launch the app in March last year after which “things went crazy”, he said.
During the pandemic, its user base soared to five million, with 80,000 organisations including American Express using it.
Hopin had sales of £54million in the year to January 2021 and is forecast to rake in £130million this year.
Although it is registered in the UK, Boufarhat lives in Barcelona with his fiancée, who works with him.
The firm has no offices and its 500 staff are mostly in the US and UK.
Boufarhat – who admits he is incredibly work-focussed – once worked seven days a week but now takes a half day off on Saturdays.
He told the Sunday Times: “I’m very, very work-focused. I just want to be as impactful as I can, in a positive way for the world… I’m boring – I don’t drink, I don’t do anything like that.
“I make sure all my food is organic. That’s the biggest change I’ve made.
“I’m very, very work-focused”.
The billionaire also ranks number three in a list of the UK’s wealthiest young people.
The seventh Duke of Westminster, Hugh Grosvenor, aged 30, came in first place in the Sunday Times Young Rich List, with an eye-watering wealth of £10.054billion after inheriting his title and a £8.3billion fortune following the death of his father, Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, in 2016.
Ed Sheeran, 30, came in at number 7 with an impressive wealth of £220million.
Little Mix – made up of Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Perrie Edwards and Jade Thirlwall – made fourteenth place with a combined wealth of £54million, up £6million compared to last year.
Harry Styles, meanwhile, was named the wealthiest member of One Direction with a wealth of £75million at the age of 27, and ranking at number 10, followed by Niall Horan, also 27, at £52million, Louis Tomlinson, 29, at £45million and Liam Payne, 27, at £44million.