LONDON (CNNfn) - The Greek multimillionaire entrepreneur behind one of Europe's most successful low-fare airlines has opened what he claims is the world's largest cyber cafe Monday.
Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder and chairman of U.K.-based no-frills carrier easyJet, opened the first in a chain of giant Internet cafes, called easyEverything Internet shops, opposite one of London's largest railway stations.
Stelios Haji-Ioannou eases onto the Net
The huge 10,000 square foot store, opposite Victoria Station in central London, has 400 screens and will offer access to the Internet from prices as low as 1 pound ($1.60) per hour. The standard telephone costs alone for home users in the U.K. is around 1.05 pounds. London's first Internet cafe, Cyberia, charges 3 pounds for a half hour session.
Haji-Ioannou said he could open a further four stores in central London over the next three months. "The plan is to get 2,000 screens in central London by the end of the summer," he told CNNfn.com. "That's critical mass as far as I am concerned."
The large store format is designed to produce economies of scale that will make each site profitable at the £1 per hour rate. Haji-Ioannou believes he can tap into huge, pent-up demand to get access to the Internet, which he said he discovered when he was trying to promote the on-line booking system for easyJet, which went live in April 1998.
EasyEverything: 400 screens per store
"I realised there were a lot of people getting frustrated because they didn't have access to the Internet. So we started trying to think of ways to expand the reach of the Internet. We went to a couple of cyber cafes in London to try to do a cross-promotion. And having spent a few days in nerd land, I realised that in spite of all their failings, that they were too small, too expensive and too nerdy, these places were absolutely packed," he told CNNfn.com.
Haji-Ioannou is convinced that he has the formula to make the concept work. "The most important thing is cost here. At the moment the barrier to entry is 1,000 pounds. You have to buy a computer, wire it up, get a phone-line or an ISDN line even, and all of these things are very expensive to the average man in the street. So I said if I can write a business plan that works at 1 pound an hour I would go ahead with it," he told CNNfn.com.
He believes that the 85 percent of people who don't have PCs in the U.K. are also frightened off investing large sums of money in the equipment because of the fear of obsolescence.
He believes the interest in on-line shopping and the heavy discounts that are on offer by buying over the Internet will attract people into his Internet shops.
Haji-Ioannou admits that he is stepping into the unknown with his latest step to build up the "easy" brand, but he is confident enough in the concept to pump 10 million pounds of his own money into the scheme.
If successful, he plans to open more stores across the U.K. and the rest of Europe, with Amsterdam his first target city on the continent.