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[May 17, 2014]
Candy Crush made me millions... now I want to invest it in Derby [Derby Evening Telegraph (England)]
(Derby Evening Telegraph (England) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) THE Derby computer wizard who made a fortune backing the firm behind mobile gaming app Candy Crush Saga is putting his financial clout to work in our city.
A one-man Dragons' Den, Mel Morris hopes to help more than a dozen businesses expand and create jobs.
Developing software and timely investments in the right technology has put Mr Morris into a similar league to TV tycoons such as Sir Alan Sugar and Dragons' Den star Peter Jones.
Yesterday it was revealed that the multi-millionaire was a new entry on the Sunday Times Rich List.
Now Mr Morris believes harnessing his technical know-how and business experience to local business has the potential to help generate more success and jobs for the city. Mr Morris, who left John Port School at 16, is about to close a deal to fund the expansion of one, as yet unnamed, Derby business - a move he expects will result in the creation of 100 job.
He said: "There are a lot of fantastic companies out there that I'd love to invest in.
"I like to see people succeed and avoid some of the huge mistakes that I made." He has also agreed to spend a seven-figure sum on a stateof-the- art computer-assisted surgery machine for the Royal Derby Hospital.
And he is funding a fiveyear support programme for the Prince's Trust to help young people find work.
A childhood fascination with the fictional technology in Star Trek, Lost in Space and Stingray is where it started.
Devices dreamt up in Hollywood beamed to his home in Littleover proved to be the spark that began a glittering career at the cutting edge for him.
A recent highlight was the floatation of King, the company behind the international smash hit Candy Crush Saga, played by millions.
Thanks to the floatation of King on the New York Stock Exchange in March, on paper at least he is worth several hundred million pounds.
Luck always plays its part in business but Mr Morris has a habit of having the right idea in the right place at the right time.
However, there are a few notable exceptions.
For the best part of 40 years, he has been exploring the frontiers of what software can do, having left school with a vague idea that he wanted to work with computers.
In the early 1970s, computers might as well have been from another planet.
He said: "It was very different. Imagine having the oldest mobile phone you can think of but it would be as big as a kitchen with no visual display, just a teletypewriter." Having developed an understanding of computers as a teenager, through a variety of different companies, his ideas have played a role in revolutionising internet security, office work, computer dating and the mobile gaming industry. He said: "People shouldn't feel constrained. Those TV shows and films I watched as a child showed what technology could be.
"Einstein thought that imagination is much more powerful than intelligence and what I've found in business is that breaking the mould is always the biggest challenge." In this context of breaking the mould, it is appropriate that on leaving school, he spent time training to be a metallurgist at the Qualcast foundry, in Derby, returning home covered in dust and grime.
His break came when he got a job as a trainee computer operator at a firm in City Road involved in producing brake shoes for cars.
He learned how to write software quickly and efficiently, a rare and sought-after skill in the 1970s, and by the age of 22 he was ready to go it alone, setting up Link Management Services.
"I developed an operating system that allowed people to automate a lot of processes," he said.
"The business took off and I was approached to sell it to a part of construction firm Costain but it backfired big-time and I was made redundant." It prompted him to leave Derby for the United States, working for Wang, near Boston, Massachusetts. He then set up Minitech, in Litchurch Plaza, developing software that speeded up data storage and retrieval.
"It was a time when it could cost Pounds 200,000 to upgrade a computer system," he recalled.
He wrote a piece of software that enabled computers to access information more quickly, allowing them to recognise the info that users needed most often.
"The software was put on an eight-inch floppy disk and sold for between Pounds 7,500 and Pounds 30,000. Choosing our product was like buying a chip for a car to make it go faster rather than turbo- charging it.
People were very sceptical to begin with but the technology sold like hot cakes and Minitech employed around 120 people at its peak, turning over Pounds 20m with profits hitting Pounds 4m.
It would be a mistake to assume that Mr Morris has lived a charmed life though, moving from glittering success to glittering success. He hit problems in the early 90s. "Wang was a big customer and we lost a lot of money when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the States," he said. "And I'd made the biggest mistake of my career when I built the Mickleover Court Hotel.
"I've run a number of businesses and the most important factor is timing. Young entrepreneurs think they can do anything.
"It was the biggest and most expensive hotel in Derby and when the property crash happened, the valuation went from Pounds 17.6 million to Pounds 4.5 million in the space of six months. I still have the paperwork." After picking himself up and dusting himself down, Minitech morphed into Prometrics, producing software that monitored how office workers used their PCs.
It was a hit with big firms and Mr Morris's operation was bought out by US firm Platinum Technology.
By the mid-1990s, the worldwide web was gaining prominence and Mr Morris was intrigued. "I wanted to set up something on the internet because I just wanted to experience it," he said.
"Some colleagues wanted to set up a conventional dating agency. I thought they were mad but I said 'why don't we do something on the inter net.
"The breakthrough application was that our technology was better at matching people and there was a two-way match so to interact with someone they had to be interested in you." At its height, uDate, based on Pride Park, had 15 million users but Mr Morris feels like he missed a trick.
"The uDate site could do everything that Facebook does now and I made the monumental mistake of not realising that people were more interested in what their friends and family were doing." Because Facebook is so important to King and its games, Mr Morris has met founder Mark Zuckerburg. Understandably, he has never mentioned the similarities between uDate and Facebook.
Despite the dotcom crash, uDate floated on the NASDAQ stock exchange in 2000 and sold for Pounds 100 million three years later.
Effectively, the Mel Morris business formula tends to involve developing innovative ideas and technology then matching them with sales muscle of a third party.
It worked with uDate, a company that netted Mel a reported Pounds 20m, cash that helped support both King and Prevx, his next venture.
The formula was repeated with internet security firm Prevx, sold to US firm Webroot in late 2010 for a figure substantially higher than the Pounds 10 million recently reported in the national press.
He said: "That industry is the most brutal I've ever been involved in. We went through three waves of technology.
"Prevx had revenues of $3.5 million. Webroot has adopted the technology we developed across the board and is bringing in $100 million per year." He has a share in Webroot and has no intention of cashing in his Candy Crush Saga chips yet either and is devoting more of his time and resources to investing in local fir ms.
There are already a handful benefiting and more could yet profit from the magic touch.
READ MORE ON OUR WEBSITE Go to derbytelegraph.co.uk ROARING ON THE RAMS THOUGH floating King on the New York Stock Exchange was a tremendous achievement, the prospect of roaring on the Rams at Wembley is at the forefront of Mel Morris's mind at the moment.
"I've been very impressed by the dramatic transformation that has taken place over the last two and a half seasons," said Mel, who has spent time as a director of the club "The atmosphere in the ground during that last game against Brighton was electric and I think was the best game I've seen there for excitement and the style of play. It was approaching what we would get at the Baseball Ground." HI-TECH KIT FOR HOSPITAL AN interest in technology has led Mel to get involved with the Royal Derby Hospital to fund the purchase of a Da Vinci Si Robotic Surgeon.
The machine is controlled by a surgeon but its movements are more precise.
After speaking to the hospital, Mel decided to fund the state-of- the-art piece of kit and is involved in negotiations with the supplier.
He said: "I'm so excited by the thought of bringing this to Derby. Fewer than 20 hospitals in the country have one of these.
"Not only will it help speed up surgery for patients, it will help the hospital with its recruitment because surgeons want to be able to work with the most advanced technology." (c) 2014 ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved.
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