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The rise and fall of Clockwork Web Ltd

In the beginning

It was around Christmas 1996 when Stephen spoke to me about the company he was starting to do freelance work for. He was very worried that the Managing Director could have been "a dodgy geezer".

I was still working for the BBC, which was where I first met Stephen, but by that time I had requested to take the voluntary redundancy which had been offered to much of the News picture editing department? I thought that 11 years with one employer was enough and I wanted to do something else for a change.

Clockwork Web Ltd had started in November 1995 as a subsidiary of a publishing company. In the beginning it was just the managing director on a borrowed phone with one or two people doing work in their bedrooms. The domains clockworkweb.com and clockworkweb.co.uk had not been registered, and in fact there was no technical infrastructure what-so-ever.

Working Freelance

The first work I did for Clockwork Web was at the end of May 1997 to reconfigure the parent companies email server to allow email for the domain webinternet.com to be accepted.

I did freelance work on-and-off for a while, it was not enough to live off so I freelanced back at the BBC too.

I built the company's first server, an Intel Pentium 133Mhz with 32MB RAM running Linux, and installed it onto the parent company's IP network. This server started to host Clockwork Web's email, some web sites, DNS, Windows CIFS shares and other bits and bobs. A very reliable server - it was still working without and major faults and still on the original installation at the end of the Clockwork Web.

Becoming a staff member

I was still working freelance for the BBC, although this was starting to get rather too much. Come October 1997 and I was working 5 days a week for Clockwork Web. I continued as freelance until 1st April 1998 when I was converted into an employee.

Clockwork Web was using a room in an office owned by the parent company. We didn't pay for electricity, telephones, leased lines, post... It was a simple life, but the offices were rather grotty. We did not want clients to turn up at those offices so we held meetings in the foyer of a hotel over-the-road.

Later that year the four founding staff members all became board members, so I became the Technical Director.

Clients back then

By the middle of 1998 Clockwork Web had were hosting the web sites for Typhoo Tea and some of their speciality brands, Hi-Tec Sports, The New Zealand High Commission... and were pulling in work for some other major clients.

Move to Fulham

At the end of September 1998 Clockwork Web had to move out of the parent companies offices, as they were about to be knocked down. This meant that we had to stand on our own two feet. After a long look we found an office in Fulham and, via a short stay in temporary accommodation, we moved in to the new office. We had nice desks, new servers and a lock on our door.

Clockwork Web started to grow and started to supply services to some large companies. We were approached by Cable and Wireless to resell their ecommerce platform, Open Market's Transact. We resold that platform to, for instance, Dun & Bradstreet. This helped Dun & Bradstreet to start selling their excellent company search information online through the LineOne (now Tiscali) portal and Clockwork Web got a small portion of their profits. We were building web sites for Carlton Plc, Electronics Boutique, the BBC, and we even rebuilt Demon Internet's web site.

In 2000 some really large jobs came in and Clockwork Web started to specialise. We bought in expensive programmers, the best people in Allaire's ColdFusion Spectra, and we started to be contracted to build parts of sites for such as Yorkshire Electricity, B Sky B and LineOne (now Tiscali). Clockwork Web grew to, at the peak, 45 people working in two offices in Fulham and in teams working on client?s premises.

But...

And there is always a but in stories like this, there were problems: With large contracts and a large number of staff to pay at the end of each month, cash-flow became a big problem. When you are expecting 200,000 per month from a client and they pay in their own time then things can get scary.

Clockwork Web had only one major investor, which made borrowing from banks impossible. The major investor did not want to put any more money into the company, so the Managing director and his director team were put under enormous pressures.

During the winter of 2000 and the spring of 2001 a large communications company who use cable communications and wireless communications started discussing buying Clockwork Web. In fact we came to within 2 days of having the contract signed when the telecommunications company decided that they did not want to buy Clockwork Web after all.

Bummer!

Then, would you believe it, Yorkshire Electricity was bought by an American company who did not need a new web site.

Double bummer!!

And, as if that was not enough, Allaire was bought by Macromedia and they announced that they would not be supporting ColdFusion Spectra any more.

Thrice Bummer!!!

At this point we had to start to lay staff off. At first about 20 people were made redundant and there was a tightening of the belt all round. But this was also the end of the dot-com craze. Clockwork Web had been worth 5 million pounds but now it was worth almost nothing.

The team of directors tried to put in place a plan that I still believe would have got us through the worst: we did, after all, have lots of current clients.

Clockwork Web had 20 Internet facing servers including Linux and Windows NT web servers; Oracle 8 databases with Oracle trained database administrator staff; RealMedia servers; and the usual email, domain name and firewall servers. These were hosting web sites for about 80 clients; including two sites for Pete Townshend, two sites for Policy Plus, we had online shops, we were even hosting the Fulham Football Club?s web site.

But it was not to be. I think that some people were just too tired to continue, and the company went into liquidation. After all of the hard work we had put into Clockwork Web, it was heart breaking to have to move as many of the clients away as we could and shut down the servers.

The last day there were two of us in the office and all we did was to shut down the servers and wipe their hard disks. It was very very sad.



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