Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Death Of A Salesman

The very sad news reached me yesterday that my former business partner Paul Robinson had passed away after a brief fight with the big C.

It is very unlikely that there will ever be anyone quite like Paul again.

I first met him when running Interactive1 and he came to sell the monitoring system produced by his company Jyra to our clients, which included Shell and PwC. I thought he was a salesman, it turned out he was the Chairman of NASDAQ’s most traded small cap company. It was 2000 and the height of the dot com boom.

A couple of years later, just after I left i1, Paul approached me with an idea for a streaming media company. By this point I had already formed Narrowstep Ltd, and we went on to form Narrowstep Inc together. Paul was a master fundraiser (read: salesman) but had a dereliction for detail.

Narrowstep was largely conceived and built around several rounds in the Toucan Bar round the corner from our first offices in an attic in Queen Anne St in central London. I never had so much fun establishing and building a company.

Paul’s background was as colourful as his character. From what he told me (and remember, Paul was a salesman first and foremost), he grew up in Ireland the son of a senior exec at EMI; he went to St Columba, which he hated, and then found his way to England, via Trinity College, Dublin, to a career in the nascent IT industry. He was variously a very early employee for Cisco, ran the Singapore office for Prime Computers and made and spent a small fortune. There are various hazy stories such as the Porsche he wrote off on the day he bought it, resulting in a hefty driving ban and the tax bill for several tens of millions for stock options in Cisco he had long sold at a meagre strike price. There was always something a bit rock and roll about Paul.

After building a number of companies and taking them public, including Jyra, Narrowstep and Mobestar, Paul moved back to the Far East, married a Thai lady and started a recording studio (or so he said).

When this all fell apart towards the end of 2009 he turned up at my business club in London dressed all in black with six guitars and three enormous suitcases, drunk as a skunk off the first class flight from Bangkok. Everyone thought he was an aging rock star. Naturally, we had a few more jars and I found him a hotel for the night.

A few months later I heard from him again. He was recovering from his first round of kemo and we discussed some new deals. I set up a day of meetings for him with some likely companies and we stalked around town like the old days.

But he looked frail and was wearing a dapper three piece suit and mackintosh in the Spring heatwave.

So, Paul, it seems that you have made your last sale (or is there another one to come at the Pearly Gates ?). It was great knowing you, mate. You made life interesting.