Anti-porn device nets pair pounds 30m fortune

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The Independent Online
RUSSELL HOTTEN

Three Britons whose company developed computer software to prevent children downloading pornography or other undesirable material from the Internet became multi-millionaires yesterday when they sold their invention to the the US.

Entrepreneur John Kimberley, 48, marketing specialist Peter Simpkin, 44, and Richard Whitehead, 48, a programming expert, have been paid pounds 30m by an American computer company - realising a phenomenal return on their original investment of pounds 600,000.

The software package that they developed puts restrictions on use of the Internet and can be used equally by companies, schools, or individuals.

The story of their company - Firefox, based in Solihull, near Birmingham -is one of several get-rich-quick tales about the industry. UK companies are flocking to the US where hi-tech firms are the latest glamour stock, with financiers willing to invest millions in operations with no track record.

"Things are moving so fast in America," said Mr Kimberley. "Bankers really understand the market, and are willing to take on young companies. Not like in the UK, where the City only takes notice after you have been around for 10 years, or so."

Firefox , which employs 100 people, was floated on the Nasdaq exchange in May with a value of $100m (pounds 66m). It raised $20m for the original backers, with Mr Kimberley getting $3m. Shares were priced at $18, twice initial expectations, but shot to $30 in furious trading. Mr Kimberley still owned 23 per cent of the company after the flotation, and the deal announced yesterday with California-based FTP Software converted that into about pounds 15m. All three founders take up senior posts at FTP.

Firefox is not the first hi-tech company to hit the big time on the US stock market, but it is still a long way off the heights achieved by the US company Net-scape. Floated last August at $28 a share, Net-scape's price reached $75 on the first day, before closing at $58. Just 15 months old and not making a profit, the company was suddenly worth $1.07bn, about 40 times its annual turnover. The chairman's holding alone was worth $670m.

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