Beanie Babies to cyber security

Simon Kirkpatrick is not a typical internet entrepreneur. At the age of 41 he is a good deal older than most of his peers, and he took his first steps in modern communications in the army rather than a university laboratory. But then, as he points out, he is not a true "net head"; he just sees the internet as a means of expressing his ideas.

However, the latest venture in a series that started in 1986 is a direct result of the growth in electronic commerce. It is a response to the fear of cyber fraud in the shape of what is claimed to be the UK's first online escrow service.

Essentially, escrow works by introducing a third party to transactions. This independent entity holds the money paid for goods in a separate account until the conditions of the deal have been met. The aim is to ensure that buyers do not pay for goods until they are satisfied that they have received what they ordered. But the system can also protect sellers from bouncing cheques and other fraudulent payments. Demand is high: the worldwide escrow market is ex-pected to have a value of $15bn (pounds 9.3bn) next year.

Mr Kirkpatrick has a long track record in technology. In 1986 he founded Clarion, the IT training company, and sold it early in the 1990s to a division of the telecommunications company now known as MCI WorldCom. Four years later, after sailing around the world, he re-entered the business world with an internet auction site devoted to selling that hot children's toy, the Beanie Baby. Then he launched an auction site called Humpty Dumpty and acquired another before deciding to sell out to QXL, the site that has come to symbolise this sector.

The substantial number of QXL shares he received from the deal has been enough to fund the development of his current business, called I Trust You. This was launched earlier this month when eBay, the leading online auction business, agreed to use the service outside the US. But Mr Kirkpatrick is confident that other deals - like one with Exchange & Mart's online site - will flow quickly and give the tiny Guernsey-based operation sales of more than pounds 100m by the end of next year.

With online escrow services already established in the US, Mr Kirkpatrick accepts that the idea is not unique. But he feels he has gained an edge by offering what he says is the world's first multi-currency service.

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