Naturally, I went further and linked up my catalogue with Prestel, by becoming a Prestel information Provider. I rented a Bishopsgate terminal to design my own pages and put all my products up on Prestel, so potential buyers could see pics, specs and pricing and contact me to acquire them. I called this Electronic Insight and held a formal PR launch at Mullard House off Tottenham Court Road – then the UK’s ‘Electronics Central’.
At the launch I met the next individual to have a significant impact on me, Richard Hease. As Chairman of several publishing operations he was beginning to feel remote and out-of-touch so selected several press conferences to attend – and turned up at mine.
In my pitch I outlined my thinking for the future. After the formal session Richard approached me and kept saying he agreed and wanted to pursue the same thinking, my reaction was don’t give up your day job, assuming he was a magazine journalist. He got his secretary to call me the next day and underline his actual role and invited me to a meeting.
It was a meeting of minds, he had by then launched many of the UK’s computer magazines and I had been involved in the sales/marketing of a number of personal computers, without our paths having crossed. We had both set aside an hour, but spent many hours establishing that our assessments of where the market was headed were very similar, and we saw the benefit of joining forces to help to move this forward.
The outcome was that we formed a joint venture with an off-the-shelf company called MicroRental (London) Ltd. He, as Chairman of EMAP’s Business and Computer Publishing arranged for EMAP to buy my Electronic Insight and hire me to change the direction of its Telemap.
Telemap was EMAP’s Prestel division, then aimed largely at horticulture because EMAP had a number of titles on the subject. But, Prestel terminals were not really a hot topic for horny-handed horticulturalists.
EMAP’s name opened the doors at Prestel and we negotiated a monopoly of personal computing on their service. Prestel’s other big partner at this time was Nottingham Building Society’s ‘Homelink’ service. It was seeking to become a major player without opening hundreds of branch offices, instead it would use Prestel to interact online with its clients. Compared to them, we were treated like ‘trade’, though not actually asked to use a rear entrance. But, Micronet put on 25,000 Prestel users and the building society didn’t. I see today it does have a number of branch offices.
We developed with EMAP the notion for what we called Micronet 800, to be the Prestel hub for all things computing. The 800 referred to our Prestel home page, #800. Which would have news and views on personal computing. By courtesy of my trawl around computer user groups like BASUG (British Apple Systems User Group), it would offer telesoftware opportunities too. This was a technique for software to be encoded on Prestel pages such that these could be read and downloaded by the user onto their PC. These were initially simple utilities and games supplied by the user groups, but would grow. There had been two competing telesoftware systems, but we became sufficiently significant that we ensured the CET version (Council of Educational Technology) become the approved approach.
With my ACE/Dixons experience I urged that we corner the UK market in the new single-chip modems, but EMAP wanted no part of equipment stocks and sales. So they agreed that Richard and I should do this through our own company.
There were just two UK suppliers of single-chip modem systems at this time and we needed to build volumes to close them out, so we set about creating turnkey modem/software packages for every personal computer of the time – a big undertaking!
The user groups proved invaluable in producing the necessary software and we bundled it with the necessary cables and a modem, all in the one box. We called these Viewdata Network Adaptors and we had versions for the BBC, Apple, Pet, TRS-80, ACT Sirius…