The Birth of a Business – 20th Anniversary

In CompanyNet’s 20th anniversary year, we take our first look back at the origins of a two-decade success story.

Kevin Grainger and Neil Francis, founders of CompanyNet, pictured in 1996.

A whole new world

The year was 1996, and the internet was very, very new. It’s hard to overstate the spectacular growth of the internet since 1996. Suffice it to say that fewer than nine per cent of households were online in 1996, compared with nearly 90 per cent today. For businesses, the figure was almost identical. This was the world in which our founders, Neil Francis and Kevin Grainger, saw an opportunity.

An early piece of market research among the company’s founding documents was very prescient. It said: “There are 3.5 million small- and medium-sized businesses in the UK, 3 million of which are not on the internet. The internet offers businesses a wonderful marketing opportunity … and the ideal medium to compete in a global market”.

The UK was on the cusp of an internet revolution, and we were there to help them make the most of it.

Web pioneers

The initial model that CompanyNet set out to follow was the provision of small-scale internet services for other businesses, as the web arm of a marketing business called ‘Company Connect’. For a monthly fee, CompanyNet would create and host a small online presence, with a small website and email services.

This was soon expanded to creating ‘internet directories’ and ‘corporate internet and multi-media services’ – websites for professional membership bodies and private companies. This would prove invaluable early experience, and we became one of the first companies in Scotland to offer web services.

“A computer is urgently required”

Early business plans and board minutes underline how different the world of 1996 was for tech startups. “CompanyNet will require its own internal computer equipment,” suggested our first business plan. A few months later, once business started coming in, the board noted that “a computer is urgently required“!

A computer was bought – and CompanyNet was on its way to becoming a key player in the Scottish tech scene. Find out how we pioneered open access to government information in our next blog post, covering 2007-8…

We’ll continue to chart the history of CompanyNet over the coming months. Follow us on LinkedIn and on Twitter to stay up-to-date with everything we do.

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