I'd made the mistake of going to Edinburgh during the Festival. A mistake, because I was there to work and the place pretty much grinds to a halt with the number of visitors and then compounded the error by getting the train back to London on a Saturday. Not that there were engineering delays, for once, but the tourists and their screaming kids were out in force, so it was quickly apparent that I wasn't going to be able to get any work done on the journey. Until, that is, they offered a 'weekend upgrade' to first class £15 extra for a seat with legroom, constant free coffee and no toddler tantrums: I was off like a shot.
That done, I found myself sitting across the carriage from a fifty something bloke wearing a suit like it was a uniform which it probably was, for him and not looking too impressed with my torn jeans and fifteen year old t-shirt. Which was fair enough, so I ignored him and opened my laptop, finally got a wi-fi connection via the train and started to e-mail my partner in crime, Tim, updating him on my adventures with the Scottish Government.
There wasn't actually a lot to say my negotiations had been inconclusive to say the least but we were in this together so I thought it was only fair to keep him up to date. Also, it gave me something to do. Until, that is, the guy on the other side of the aisle took more of an interest and eventually introducing himself as Simon started to engage me in conversation. Well, actually he asked me to help him get his wi-fi working but, that done, we got to talking. He'd noticed some of the drawings I'd had open on the screen of my PC CAD wireframes of the 'product' and seemed intrigued. So we chatted for the remainder of the journey and a fairly pleasant conversation it was. I mean, I was a bit wary about going into too many technical details of our work with a complete stranger we had patents, but only in the EU, to date but he seemed interested enough in the things I was telling him. And he knew a fair amount about the market we were trying to get into, too, as it turned out that he'd invested in a couple of start ups in related fields.
And, yeah, I did think about tapping him for money but I didn't partly because I knew Tim would want to be consulted before I did anything of the sort, partly because our funding wasn't actually in meltdown for the moment and I didn't want to piss of the people who'd already contributed. Nonetheless, arriving at Kings Cross, I took a business card off him and gave him one of mine. And then I went home and thought no more about it.
Monday morning I dragged myself into the combined office/machine shop we rented just a unit in an anonymous business park in North London for a verbal update and planning meeting. Not that Tim was actually on time, of course I was greeted instead by Maggie, our general assistant/gopher, who was (i) irredeemably cheerful, (ii) stunningly beautiful and (iii) Tim's girlfriend. Which probably explained why she was willing to work for the pittance we paid her. Or maybe she just had a vocation for green energy and Tim was merely a means to an end. I certainly couldn't see what other attraction there could possibly be ...
Oh, yeah, incidentally that's what we do or what we're trying to do, at least: develop a singe machine capable of extracting both wave and tide energy ... and with a minimal ecological footprint. In which pursuit Mag was exceptionally useful both for her morale sustaining optimism and the fact that ... well, we dealt mainly with engineers. Male engineers. Having a curvaceous Irish beauty around the place was not exactly a disadvantage in the circumstances.
Nor, I had to admit to myself as the man himself shambled in, was having Tim on board, most of the time. OK, he had the social skills of a three year old and don't get me started on his personal hygiene but he also had a degree and a doctorate in mechanical and hydraulic engineering and, despite that, also knew one end of a spanner from the other. Which is to say that he was pretty good at designing and building things. Well detailed design, anyway. The broad concept stuff, the modelling, the theory that was my job.
I'd been up north trying to tap the Scots for a grant, of course, but also to talk to them about sites where we might go onto our next stage: Deploying a fifth scale model of The Design in an actual bay, preferably a West facing fjord or better yet ria, would allow us to do the sort of testing that was virtually impossible in any sort of controlled environment. Water is a viscous liquid and consequently acts differently on small scale models than it does on bigger ones. We had experimented with low viscosity fluids on the dinky toy versions we'd produced so far and we had reams of output from the computer simulations I'd been running but now we really needed something a bit more concrete. Or liquid. Or, maybe, just more real.
Problem was, Her Majesty's Government (Scotland Division) had made it fairly clear that they needed to see the results of such a 'real world' test before they'd even consider giving us large quantities of cash and we sort of needed large quantities of cash to run the experiment. Even at fifth scale our little invention would weigh in at a fair few tonnes of steel and currently we didn't have the cash to even pay for it to be anchored to the seabed hell, even for it to be transported to the bloody seashore never mind actually building the thing.
And that seemed to be everyone else's take on the situation, too. So, reluctantly, we agreed that I'd take it back to our existing investors, try and convince them that what they really needed to do with their cash was risk even more of it on us. Luckily we had an update meeting arranged with the most significant of them early the next week I'd been hoping to present good news from Edinburgh so we left it at that for the moment, Tim going back into the shop to bang bits of metal together while Maggie watered the pot plants and sang cheerfully to herself.
I took the rest of the day off.
I did meet the funders the next week and as expected got nothing concrete out of them. People said nice things about the progress we'd made so far, complemented us on our cash flow control (Tim and I were paying ourselves bugger all, too) and generally expressed great optimism for the future of the project. What they didn't do, conspicuously, was reach for their collective cheque books or whatever people do in these post cheque days.
So we I'd taken Maggie with me as the investors were all male, too left the meeting feeling fairly despondent. Well, OK, I was feeling despondent. Maggie appeared to think of it as a minor snag which would soon be overcome and therefore nothing to worry about.
As it happened she was right, but that didn't make it any less annoying at the time.
Nor did her sudden decision to drop into St Pancras to check Eurostar times so she could take Tim to Paris for their anniversary, believe it or not thereby leaving me standing around on the concourse while she gathered the relevant information. Which is where I saw Simon giving a parting hug to a drop dead gorgeous and much younger woman who was about to board a Brussels train. Bastard's got himself a trophy wife, I thought to myself rehearsing my general prejudices against those already as rich as I was trying to become and went back to, well, waiting for Maggie.
I was somewhat taken aback, then, when The Man himself came up to me and said hello. I mean, I was a bit surprised that I'd even recognised him and certainly wouldn't have expected him to remember me. But maybe that was another one of those business skills people were constantly telling me I lacked. In any case, I managed to be polite, even offered to buy him a coffee he refused, citing urgent business, but still dawdled long enough to enquire what brought me to the station, why I seemed to be dressed 'appropriately' (his word) for a change.
So I told him. About the funders, I mean, not about Maggie's little romantic adventure, and ...
No, he didn't reach for the metaphorical cheque book. But he did express an interest in coming to see us at some point, having a chat about our 'financial options', whatever that might mean, and so I suggested he give us a ring. Which he agreed to do taking another card off me and then he walked off.
By the time Mag found me again he was long gone. I didn't bother to tell her about the meeting I mean, I knew nothing would come of it.
So, when he did ring, a few days later, I wasn't in the office. Maggie we tried not to let Tim anywhere near the phone was thoroughly polite, but also didn't have the faintest idea who was calling her or what he was talking about. Luckily, Simon was quite persistent in retrospect, I think he could sniff profits, even then and eventually did succeed in arranging a visit. After which Mag got straight on the phone to me to give me the news and when I'd explained the context a piece of her mind for not keeping her informed in the first place.
Despite such minor communications glitches, when the time came for the visit, we were more or less prepared. Which is to say, we'd cleared the place up a bit, polished the models and re-edited the demonstration vids and Mag had forced Tim into a shower and some clean(ish) clothes. None of which made a lt of difference, as it happened. Simon, who pitched up in what looked to me to be a hideously expensive car, focused in on technical details with extraordinary rapidity.
Oh, he looked at the models and demos, of course, but he was far more interested in the numbers. Took a lot of our calculations to pieces, in fact, reassembled them with forensic skill and generally gave us a good going over. I did remember, in passing, my deliberate vagueness when I'd first met the guy on the train but nothing like that was possible under this onslaught.
I think even Tim was impressed. Actually, I know he was impressed, but that was by the car like all mechanical engineers he was, and is, a petrol head at heart. I'm not sure, though, whether the fact that a self described financier was giving him a hard time about loadings, failure modes and even production strategies even struck him as odd. Maybe he thought everyone dealt with the world that way.
Mag and I, on the other hand, knew that they didn't and we weren't so much impressed as ... relieved. Relieved, that is to say, when all the analyses had been concluded and we found that, apparently, we'd significantly over-estimated some aspects of likely performance, similarly underestimated others leaving us pretty much where we'd started out.
"Which is good," said Simon, in a sort of conclusive tone. "These are better figures than I've seen for anything else being developed in this area and I've done my research."
Well, yes, I thought, that's pretty obvious. But I just nodded and he went on.
"So: How do you propose to take it forward? You said funding was an issue?"
And it started all over again, this time on the financials our estimates for the costs of the pilot model, a projected full scale prototype, even our best guesses at quantity production figures.
Not that we got into anything like the same level of detail, this time around. Instead, Simon started to laugh. And, to our mutual consternation, kept on laughing for a considerable time. When he did finally pull himself together, he gave us the fairly terminal verdict that we'd underestimated the costs involved by 'orders of magnitude'.
Oh, well, I thought, if he's right bearing in mind that no-one was terribly keen on funding even our vastly more modest predictions it was about time we all found proper jobs. But he must have seen the desolate look on my face because he continued with some urgency.
"What you need is a proper business plan I have people who can do that and some proper funding. And I have people who might be able to help with that, too. But I need something pretty bloody professional to show them something like a DVD in the first instance. Get them intrigued, then pitch in person."
I was still reeling at the implications of all this and the apparent volte face when Mag crystallised our collective thoughts.
"And so and indeed," she said, the brogue suddenly overt, "And how much will that cost us all, as a fact?"
Simon smiled, suddenly shark like.
"Ten per cent of the equity, if it all comes off. In the meantime, I can do you a good deal on the presentation side of things. My daughter went to RADA but she's recovered since runs her own production company."
He handed me another card.
"She's good," he said, "give her a call."
"Her name's Ruth."