20 Oct 2014

It burst my bubble too....

I'm in the last 3rd of my working life and this gives me the opportunity to look back at a point in my career where I nearly made it....

Interestingly I think I'm at that point again.... on the verge, so hopefully I'll avoid the lightening of failure striking twice.

In March 1997 I joined Comtech Ltd, based in Bolton, I was bought out of a joint venture between Comtech and my previous employer Capitol based in Wigan.

Comtech was very early in creating a modem with a TCP/IP stack on board to be connected to field based devices that enabled the conversion of serial data from machines to IP. At that time that market was called M2M (Machine to Machine), you'll probably know it better now as IoT.

As part of the buyout Comtech generously gave me 5% of share options with an expectation that the business would float on the AIM market within 3 years.

Time passed and my role moved around the business. I helped to create the IT end of the network, setting up an ISP specifically for the M2M space. We won some great customers, rolling out 5,000 modems for monitoring the drinking habits of Tassimo coffee machine users so Kraft Foods could adjust their production lines accordingly. We sold several thousand simple wireless routers in to Bombardier Transportation to monitor VCU safety systems in light of the Potters Bar train crash and we created a retail display for the National Lottery rolled out to 1,700 sites that could be updated with a broadcast text message.

The company was due to float in June 2000 with an expected valuation of £50,000,000 and I was getting excited about paying off my mortgage.

In March 2000 I watched on with no little horror as lastminute.com floated with a valuation north of £750 million, for a website with few customers, no real solid exclusive agreements and no underlying special technology.

I remember imploring my Financial Director at the time that we 'need to get the flotation away quickly' and I was told in response 'it takes time do it right'.

Things came to a head in June with the twin MDs of Comtech planning to carry out a city institution tour the following week. Of course the call came in from Brewin Dolphin to say that they were pulling the tour as the bottom had dropped out of the market and my hopes of mortgage repayment evaporated.

Ever seen a film and wondered what happened next?

Well, I was moved on and worked with a number of tech companies in the M2M space but never with the same excitement or enjoyment as my time at Comtech. That was until I started Cloud Perspective with my partner in 2011.... I have the same feelings of excitement that I had back in 2000 albeit I'm a little older and wiser and for the most part in control of my own destiny.

Comtech ultimately got bought out by Alan Sugar and is now AMSCREEN by and largely for the technology we'd developed for the National Lottery.

If there's any moral to this story I think it is if you see an opportunity then go for it and do so quickly, keep a weather eye on the market and if there's a storm coming then batten down and don't get your bubble burst.

Martyn Leman


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