When I left school at sixteen I went for an interview at the BBC. The job was to be an apprentice technician but I wanted to work in the BBC research department. 'Oh, you can't do that', they told me, 'we don't interview for those jobs, WE choose the brightest people from the top universities'. I was later told that they discard the chosen few when they reach thirty having done a Joe-90 brain dump of everything they know and could invent, pushing them out to mundane engineering jobs or managerial positions, the implication being by the time you reach that age all inspiration has gone and although competent your Eureka career has foundered.
So when I rather casually mentioned to a then partner there was a better way to send high definition video than the options available at the time he didn't believe me. It is true that he probably didn't reject the idea because of age but more likely because he didn't believe that some tiny Thailand based company could actually come up with something that could be, at least in the narrow confines of our industry, significant.
But then a year or so later a Chinese company tried to clone our idea from the technical fragments I published on-line when trying to promote it. I had already consigned the idea to the 'oh well' pile, by now a quite significant weight of unpopular scrawlings. But the free publicity we got - the Chinese company didn't even have the imagination to call our idea something different so it was easy to find us on Google - brought renewed interest. One such company, a US based semiconductor company, wanted to work with us to promote the idea and as their devices matched rather well with the concept we agreed. We got access to their sales channels and personally we got on well as they were similarly aged to me (and presumably as redundant of ideas as I should have been) and had not been that runaway Silicon Valley success (they are actually based in Colorado) but had had their ups and downs but stayed together through all of it. And so began the Asian trips, to Taiwan, to Korea, to China.
We also got an order, our first, from a Korean company, who, although we had yet to finalise everything, committed to releasing products based on our concept. We got on well with them as they had a good group of (young, still vibrant, idea filled) engineers and were small enough for us to talk directly with their top decision makers.
Then we had an offer, out of the blue, from a US start-up company. Although they were a start-up these two people who came to visit us had sold their previous company for $455 million, a company I knew of well. Can we buy exclusive rights to your idea they asked?
When we came to Singapore from Canada we had been running our company for a year already. But the high cost of living of Canada, and the fact they had just refused our application for permanent residency which made me working there illegal, made us up and leave. That move was difficult. We had bought a run down house with the aim of slowly renovating it (and it was all we could afford). Now we had to complete those renovations to be able to sell it and at least pay off the mortgage. It meant working flat out for months completely refurbishing kitchens and bathrooms - well the whole house (the photos of the renovation can be found here) and also meant we had to pay for all of the materials now instead of spreading it over months and even years. When we moved to Thailand we had just enough money to pay cash to pay off the loan on our house. Our car was already paid for and as there is no yearly tax on the house and the cost of living is so low, although we almost literally satang-less, we had a roof over our head and enough to put food on the table. And we had our business.
But, as with most businesses, we had our ups and downs. By the time we had this offer we were on a down. Ploy had to sell some gold for us to pay the bills and although we had enquiries no-one seemed to be ordering. They offered us $60,000 for the exclusive rights and another $60,000 if we helped them file objections to the patents the Chinese company had filed (for our idea). We refused. They kept coming back but the offer was always the same (in fact I think it got less!). We just didn't like them. At all. We knew and they knew they were taking advantage of us as we had no money (at this time less than 10,000 baht). We could have got a loan based on our house or car (at some ridiculous interest rate) but instead, on an off-chance, we asked a friend. And our friend helped us. With a little bit behind us and with the renewed confidence this offer had given us went out to get new orders.
But after a few months of travelling around Asia and despite a huge level of interest nothing arrived in our in-box. The Korean company wanted to go into production in October and all this travelling had delayed my work in completing the project. Since meeting the Korean company they had repeatedly asked us to give them exclusive rights to our idea. I talked to Ploy. What is we took their offer. No more travelling, a lump sum in the bank and monthly income from their sales. I have to develop new products for them, but only them. Any visits are confined to just them. I will have more time to myself. Ploy agreed and they immediately accepted my offer of $250,ooo for the exclusive rights (the most we thought they could afford) and the potential monthly sales would be about $30,000.
I informed the US company who we were collaborating with. I knew they wouldn't be thrilled, but they would still get the sales from the Korean company. Initially they seemed to accept it but then after two long Skype calls they insisted on coming to see us. Give the exclusivity to us they asked. We will pay you $1,500,000 for it. That seems a no-brainer, but I was already exhausted from travelling around Asia whilst also trying to finish the design, now I would have to promote this (with them) all over the world, from Russia to Brazil. When would I find time to design. When would I find time to count that money. I didn't want to accept. The offer from the Korean company seemed to best suit my semi-retirement plans.
But friends on Facebook, albeit not in possession of the full facts, pointed out that this is a once in a lifetime offer. Ploy pointed out that this a once in a lifetime offer. Never again would we be looking down the back of the sofa for a few baht. But Ploy did also understand my dilemma and when we met she explained that at night she wanted to hug her husband, not a pile a money. So they made another offer, $750,000 (maybe more) plus all the monthly (worldwide) sales but I don't need to do any sales support unless I wanted to. They would do all of that, I would just be left to design.
It was 4.30p.m. on Monday and they had to leave to catch their flights back to China (the US company have an R&D and sales branch in China and it they who I talk to. Only their CEO is in the US). I was mentally exhausted. I had been churning these proposals over in my mind day and night for the last few days. Again I had been doing no design work. One more thing I asked. If we did accept this I want to offer something to the Korean company. I have to visit them in ten days and wanted to come back with my limbs intact if at all possible. I dreaded having to tell them of our change of mind, even though nothing was signed. They agreed immediately.
As I write this at 5a.m., having been awake since 2.a.m. I am in possession of an e-mail from the Korean company; no problem they said, we will wait to see what you offer us but we will just continue with our product development. A weight is lifted from my mind.
So this old codger may actually have made a success. Finally. Money in the bank and a regular monthly income for years to come. Free time to explore new ideas or just relax. Time to actually enjoy that money or finish one of those books. And it is one in the eye for the BBC research department recruitment policy.
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