Philip Taysom is defying doctor’s orders. He has a virus and has been told to stay in bed for a week. Instead, he’s sitting in a pub in Hamble, the yachting village near Southampton, being interviewed by us. Tomorrow, he flies to the States for a series of business meetings. As the co-founder of internet service provider Planet Online (sold to Energis for £75m) and VData (reversed into InTechnology and floated for £454m), Taysom could have retired years ago and indulged his classic car obsession (he drives a 1973 Porsche). But, at 42, there are no signs of this entrepreneur slowing down.
Hampshire-born Taysom started out in the computer games industry, working as Activision’s European technical co-ordinator. Taysom was one of the tech wizards adapting popular arcade games such as After Burner, R-Type and Hang-On for Commodore 64s and Amstrads.
In the mid-nineties, he and another Activision employee, Stuart Hibbert, set up consultancy firm Network Innovations, helping the likes of Reuters and Condé Nast Publications to launch online. “The internet was just taking off here in the UK – and we had a commercial knowledge of the web that few other people had,” he says.
In his spare time, Taysom was tinkering away with a blueprint for a B2B internet service provider, which he pitched to private equity firm 3i in 1995. “I asked for £1m in return for a 50 per cent stake in the business,” he recalls. “The regional director of 3i looked at me in disgust and said, ‘Internet? Is that that email thing? Oh, it’ll never take off. We have far too much mail already.’ He turned down what later became Planet Online. He could have made a fortune – but the vision just wasn’t there. It’s ironic to see how many digital companies 3i has in its portfolio today.”
It was Yorkshire businessman Peter Wilkinson, running computer hardware specialist ESS and disk storage firm Storm at the time, who helped Taysom get Planet Online off the ground. “Mutual friends suggested we meet,” says Taysom. “I remember this very cold conversation where Peter said, in his gruff northern accent, ‘You’d better come to Yorkshire, hadn’t you? I’m not bloody coming south to meet up with you.’ We were both too stubborn to make the effort, so we ended up meeting in Kings Cross. He looked like Bill Wyman [of the Rolling Stones], with silver flowing locks and an Armani grey coat. We sat in the car for six hours, smoking and discussing setting up an ISP.” Wilkinson agreed to fund it on the condition that Taysom up sticks to Yorkshire to run it.
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