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Computer Weekly April 27, 1995 - Company Profile and Background

Computer Weekly,April 27, 1995
SECTION: Pg. 40; ISSN: 0010-4787
LENGTH: 1183 words
HEADLINE: Ribble rebel; Anthony Capstick established a successful business information retrieval company in his own home
BYLINE: Jabez, Alan
Ever thought of leaving the rat race and heading off to rural Arcadia? Taking advantage of on-line databases, Anthony Capstick has created the "Good Life" in the wilds of Ribble Valley -- but, as he tells Alan Jabez, it's not without its problems.

Imagine waking every morning surrounded by beautiful countryside. Driving to work through rolling green hills. Never seeing another traffic jam. Being the boss of your own company.    Many may long for such an existence but few realise their dream.

Anthony Capstick is an exception. He has escaped the hustle and bustle of London and moved to the relaxed backwaters of the Ribble Valley. Here, he has established his own business information retrieval company. It's turnover is fast approaching pounds 60,000 a year.

Capstick had the idea of selling online business information in autumn 1990, and a few months later formed a company called Instant Search. Although he was never sure whether there would be enough demand to make a career from it, he packed in his job as a report writer with the Financial Times and decided to give it a go.
Initially he installed a PC system in his one-bedroomed flat in Islington and subscribed to a basic business online database. He then set about looking for professional people who required quick access to specific business or company information, but didn't want the trouble of finding it themselves.

Having established himself, Capstick took a gamble and uprooted his young family to Ribble Valley (an area of countryside between industrial Blackburn and Manchester).

The move has proved an overwhelming success. Capstick has now established the company in a cosy, converted house in the small town of Whalley and claims it is growing at the rate of nearly 50% a year.

To accommodate such rapid growth he has had to expand his IT facilities. Currently, he has five PCs, one laptop, two laser printers, one line printer, a photocopier and an integrated telephone system.
With a background as a report writer with the Financial Times and as a water sanitation engineer for the United Nations in Sudan, Ethiopia and Indo-China, Capstick only had a limited amount of formal IT training. Nonetheless, he felt it was essential to undertake all the company's computing operations himself, learning as he went along.
His ambition was to provide his customers with financial information virtually as soon as they asked for it -- and that is what he has achieved.
Capstick now subscribes to a large number of financial databases, such as Companies House Direct, Infocheck and FT Profile plus, and with direct access to the Internet and the World Wide Web, he believes he can provide an almost unlimited amount of business information to customers in a matter of minutes.
It is this ready access to business information that has led to an increase in the number of largely non-computer-literate professional people contacting him.

In many cases, he says he takes advantage of the fact that there are people who are untrained in searching for information on a PC, and are reluctant to learn.

Technophobia is his bread and butter and, at the last count, he estimated that he had about 1,000 enquiries a month, with at least 2,500 current active customers. Most come from accountancy and law firms which need specific company profile data, as well as small usinesses eager to get information on rival firms.

There are an increasing number of investigative newspaper and television journalists who want to track down specific company directors or investigate company accounts.

He says that such is the growing popularity of Instant Search that some of Fleet Street's leading business writers call him up with requests for financial data -- few of them realising they are contacting a location in the heart of the countryside.

But this is symptomatic of the new IT era. There is no longer a need for people to work in the major financial centres -- especially when so much information is now available electronically.

Capstick is living proof that a modern workplace can function just as effectively in the country as it can in the traffic-filled, polluted city.

He is also getting an increasing number of enquiries from overseas."We've had calls from all five continents," he says, "including a surprisingly large number from Russia."
Following an enquiry, he offers customers a choice as to how they want to receive the information. Most want it sent by fax, a few request it electronically and there are even some traditionalists who prefer it dispatched by mail.

Ideally, he would prefer to send everything electronically, as this would reduce the amount of paper in the office. As it is, he has already managed to create an almost paper-free office with fewer filing cabinets, desk-trays or bits of paper lying around than in other similar company offices.
The only significant piles of paper are the stacks of initial enquiry forms. "We still find it much quicker to write the relevant information on a piece of paper than to type it directly into the PC," says Capstick.
However, in line with modem business practice, he insists all payments are made electronically. When someone phones with a request for information, he takes down their credit card details and then, as soon as these are checked, the information is dispatched.
Capstick has written a number of programmes which monitor every aspect of the company's operations.
However, problems with moving to the country are surfacing as the company expands. The main problem is finding suitably qualified staff to recruit.
Because there is a shortage of people with IT training in the area, he has had to train the two full-time staff he has employed himself -- even though both have business qualifications. He now worries that further expansion plans might be thwarted by a shortage of suitable people in the area.
"It is conceivable," he says, "that we may ultimately have to relocate back to an urban area so as to find the right employees." But this, he says, is a move he would make only reluctantly.
To maximise use of the IT facilities, he also markets the office as a local rural business centre or "telecottage". As such, any local business person can pay a small charge to use the fax machine, photocopier, PCs or to pick up messages. Capstick acknowledges that this is only a small part of the operation, but says it can be useful during the quiet periods and it also enables him to become more integrated with the local, albeit small, business community.
In the future he plans to make greater inroads into the international business information market.
With so much business information now available on online databases, he believes there is a huge market in distributing company profiles and reports.
But while he acknowledges that he does occasionally miss the hustle and bustle of city life, he could never see himself returning to London.
He is more than content living in a rural paradise.
Alan Jabez is a freelance writer


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