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[June 26, 2014]
Mel Mor r is ; Mel Morris has made a mint out of the worldwide gaming app Candy Crush Saga. Now he is turning his attention to businesses near his... [Derby Evening Telegraph (England)]
(Derby Evening Telegraph (England) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Mel Mor r is ; Mel Morris has made a mint out of the worldwide gaming app Candy Crush Saga. Now he is turning his attention to businesses near his home sweet home, right here in Derby. Oliver Astley reports.
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. He has already rejoined the board at Derby County and is looking at other oppor tunities.
Aside from supporting efforts at the iPro Stadium, Mel Morris intends to become a one-man Dra gons' Den, looking for a dozen-or- so businesses that he believes have significant potential to expand. Developing software and timely investments in the right technology has put Mel into a similar league to TV tycoons such as Sir Alan Sugar and Peter Jones.
Now Mel believes that harnessing his technical know-how and business experience to local enterprise will provide the potential to help gen-erate more success and jobs for the city he has called home for a vast proportion of his life.
Mel, who left John Port School, in Etwall, at the age of 16, is soon to close a deal to fund the expansion of an as yet unnamed Derby business, a move he expects will result in the creation of 100 jobs. He says: "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." In addition, he has also agreed to spend a seven-figure sum on a state-of-the-art computer-assisted surgery machine for the Royal Derby Hospital and he is funding a five-year support programme for the Prince's Trust to help young people find work.
On the business side, neither Derby County nor any other enterprises in ..P14 which he invests can expect charity. He says: "I'm interested in businesses that operate on a lean model because simply throwing money at a business can do more harm than good." It is a sensible attitude, almost certainly informed by his experiences of having ridden the dotcom boom and bust roller- coaster back at the turn of the millennium.
From the word go, it was technology that inspired Mel. A childhood fascination with the sci-fiworld of shows such as Star Trek, Lost in Space and Stingray fired his imagination. Devices dreamt up in Hollywood beamed to the Morris family home in Littleover proved to be the spark that began a career at the cutting edge.
A recent highlight was the flotation of King, the company behind the international smash-hit gaming app Candy Crush Saga, played by millions of people every day. Thanks to its flotation on the New York Stock Exchange in March, on paper, at least, he is worth several hundred million pounds.
Luck often plays its part in business but Mel has developed a habit of having the right idea in the right place at the right time and with the right backing. However, it would be a mistake to assume that it has all been plain sailing and that he is possessed of some kind of entrepreneurial Midas touch. There have been times during his career when things have gone horribly wrong.
After leaving school at 16 with a vague idea of working with computers, Mel has gone on to carve out a 40-year career exploring the frontiers of what software can do.
In the early 1970s, computers might aswell have been from another planet. Mel says: "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 and know-how have played a role in revolutionising internet security, office work, computer dating and the mobile gaming industry.
He says: "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, ..P16 500 million people bitten by the Candy Crush Saga bug Candy Crush Saga was released by video game developer King on April 12, 2012, for Facebook, followed by a mobile phone app for smartphones on November 14, 2012. It is estimated that 500 million people have installed Candy Crush and more than 150 billion games have been played to date.
The game earns King an estimated Pounds 550,000 a day in the United States alone.
The game consists of 590 levels - comprising 40 episodes of 15 levels each. To advance through the levels, players are encouraged to use social networking to the next stage or pay a small fee to gain extra moves.
he spent time training to be a metallurgist at the Qualcast foundry, in Derby, returning home daily covered in dust and grime.
His big break came when he got a job as a trainee computer operator at a firm in City Roadwh i ch was involved in producing brake shoes for cars. He developed a talent for writing software quickly and efficiently and, by the age of 22, he was ready to go it alone. His first step as an entrepreneur was to set up Link Management Services.
Mel says: "I developed an operating system that allowed people to automate a lot of processes. 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." The experience prompted Mel to leave Derby for the United States, where he worked for computer giant Wang, near Boston, Massachusetts. After a fewyears away from his home town, he longed to return but he left Wang with a deeper understanding of the business environment in the US, many American friends and a number of high-profile contacts. On his return, he then set up Minitech, in Derby's Litchurch Plaza, developing software that speeded up data storage and retrieval, hugely important to every business. He recalls: "It was a time when it could cost Pounds 200,000 to upgrade a computer system.
Mel wrote a piece of software that enabled computers to access information more quickly. It would recognise the information that a user needed most often and make it readily available.
He says: "The software was put on an 8in 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 sceptical to begin with but once the technology was seen to work, it sold like hot cakes. Minitech employed around 120 people at its peak, turning over Pounds 20 million with profits hitting Pounds 4 million.
Despite achieving success in software, Mel hit problems in the early 1990s. He recalls: "Wang was a big customer and we lost a lot of money when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the States. And I'd made the biggest mistake of my career when I decided to build the Mickleover Court Hotel.
He says: "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 andwhen 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." ..P18 After picking himself up and dusting himself down, Minitech morphed into Prometrics, producing software that monitored howofficeworkers used their PCs. It was a hit with those big firms who like to keep an eye on what their employees are doing so as to increase efficiency.
It caught the eye of US-based PlatinumTechnology. The business saw potential in the software and was intent on selling it to the US military establishment. It resulted in Mel returning to the States and spending time involved in highlevel talks in Washington DC.
However, being an employee was never part of the Mel Morris plan and, by the mid-1990s, it was theworldwide web in which he saw potential. He was naturally intrigued by developments.
Mel says: "Initially, I wanted to set up something on the internet because I just wanted to experience it. 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 internet?' "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." It is a model that is currently being used by dating application Tinder which boasts millions of users that it is yet to transform into revenues.
At its height, uDate, based on Pride Park, had 15 million users but Mel feels like he missed a trick. He reveals: "The uDate site could do everything that Facebook does now. 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, Mel has had the chance to meet founder Mark Zuckerburg. Understandably perhaps, he has never mentioned the similarities between uDate and Facebook.
Despite the dotcom crash, uDate floated on the Nasdaq stock exchange in 2000. Monies raised amounted to a fewmillion rather than tens or even hundreds of millions that the founders might have expected at the height of the dotcom boom. Nevertheless, after being built up on a relative shoestring, it sold for Pounds 100 million three years later.
The Mel Morris business formula tends to involve developing innovative ideas and technology thenmatching them with the sales and marketing muscle of a third party. It worked a treat with uDate, and the company netted Mel a reported Pounds 20 million.
At that point, 10 years ago, Mel could have retired to the country and taken it easy. Instead, the cash provided the seed funding for King, then an Anglo-Swedish start-up specialising in tournament-style games played over the internet. It also funded Prevx, his next and arguably most demanding project (the Mickleover Court Hotel notwithstanding).
He says: "That industry is the most brutal I've ever been involved in. We went through three waves of technology." It was a hard slog getting the security software right. It had a good reputation with experts and when the US Department of Transportation and some high-profile US corporations had information stolen, Mel was called in to help the FBI to solve the problem and discover who was responsible. In late 2010, the Morris formula was repeated with Prevx being sold to US firm Webroot for a sumsubstantially higher than has been reported in the national press. Prevx had the technology and the expertise whileWebroot had market penetration that the Pride Park business could only dream about.
Mel says: "Prevx had revenues of $3.5 million. Webroot has adopted the technology we developed across the board. That is now bringing in revenues of around $100 million per year." Hehas a share inWebroot and has no intention of cashing in his Candy Crush Saga chips yet either but he is devoting more of his time and resources to investing in local firms.
There are already a few benefiting from a mixture of funding and expertise, dramatically increasing the chances of the city seeing more technology firms catapulted into the top flight.
Appropriately enough, this is also where he would like to see the Rams.
''Wang was a big customer and we lost a lot of money when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the States.
'' That industry is the most brutal I've ever been involved in. We went through three waves of technology.
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