How tough tactics wooed Microsoft to come on-line

Dan Wagner; THE TUESDAY INTERVIEW

Dan Wagner, the multi-millionaire entreprenuer who founded MAID, has a ready story to prove just how useful his on-line business information company can be to customers.

By using the system's "key-word" search function, MAID's chief executive last year came across a small item from a US trade publication about Microsoft's then-secret preparations to launch an online network of its own.

He picked up the phone and made a cold call to Microsoft's headquarters near Seattle, leaving a cryptic message on the company's voice mail system. "Hi, this is Dan Wagner, and I'm calling about Project Marvel," he said, using the code name that the trade publication suggested was attached to the top-secret plan.

Bill Miller, the man responsible for development of the Microsoft Network, returned the call, intrigued. Mr Wagner, the quintessential salesman, right down to his slicked-back 1980s hairstyle, made his pitch, offered his range of business information to the then-nascent network, suggesting the two companies work together. A few weeks later, negotiations were under way.

A year and a half later, with the deal done but not yet announced, Microsoft was poised to launch its Window 95 operating system, which features pre- loaded access to the MSN. When MAID put out its press release earlier this month, revealing a joint venture under which MAID's products would be available through the MSN, the results were immediate and dramatic. The shares of the publicly traded company, launched with difficulty last year at 110p a share, far short of the 150p his advisers had pitched, promptly doubled in value from their admittedly low level of 82p. A day later, they rose again, to as high as 230p. Mr Wagner's own stake had climbed in value by pounds 36m in 48 hours.

Not bad for a man many in the financial press called "arrogant" and "abrasive", and whose company was reckoned to be a dud when it came to market last year.

"I was amazed at the extent of the run," Mr Wagner says. "But once it was up there I didn't think it would fall back that dramatically. We came to the market a year and a half ago at pounds 1.50, and due to a rather unfortunate set of circumstances, the price was cut to pounds 1.10 and fell thereafter. So the investors who had committed at pounds 1.50 valued us at pounds 1.50 18 months ago and all that has happened between that point in time and today is that we have achieved everything that we said we would do in our prospectus. We haven't let anybody down."

MAID is an overnight success story 10 years in the making. Launched by Mr Wagner in 1985, following his brief career as a salesman of electronics goods, the company began to make inroads in the US, signing up a clutch of leading companies - including Microsoft - that needed help with corporate, stock and industry data.

Although based in London, the company still does most of its business in the US. Part of the reason stems from Europe's status as a laggard in the information revolution. There were only 150,000 on-line users in Britain by the end of 1994, but fully 8 million in the US. Mr Wagner was merely going for the biggest market.

But he also prefers the way business is done in America. "Britain is not a nation of salespeople and America is," he says. "You can't think you are going to go to America and sell with your British ways. Americans are bottom line, everything is bottom line. If you can't justify that you're $2 more expensive than someone else, then the guy's not interested. If you can't catch the guy's attention within the first 10 seconds when you call someone, he will put the phone down."

Pushing electronics goods in London was a training grounds of sorts; so was having a father with two car dealerships. But the real lessons came in the doing. In 1986, Mr Wagner, then 21, rented a two-bedroom New York appartment with three colleagues and hit the telephones.

"I'm known to be abrasive, arrogant," Mr Wagner concedes. "But I'm a salesman, and I've had to sell in difficult situations in America. Coming back to London, I've applied those hard-hitting sales techniques here, and it's effective. People may not like our arrogance. We're straightforward: we ask for the order, instead of sitting there asking for a cup of tea."

Eight years later, MAID was looking to raise financing to expand further. The market for business information was growing rapidly, and few competitors were offering specialised services. The initial public offering was particularly popular with US investors, a fact that doesn't surprise Mr Wagner.

"The US understands us better, and that is because of the omnipresence of on-line services in America, both in business and in the home. Last year, for the first time, PCs were the dominant home appliance in US homes. They were spending more time using computers than they were watching television."

While MAID had already lined up strategic links with Adobe, the presentation software company, and Hayes, the world's largest manufacturer of modems, it was the Microsoft link that most excited investors. By 1996, MAID's range of business information - including company reports, stock information, sectoral reports from brokers and other sources - will be accessible on the Microsoft Network, likely to have as many as 9 million customers by next year.

Mr Wagner promises more from the Microsoft alliance: "This is not just about content provision," he says. The two companies will work together on developing additional services, particularly for use in the small office- home market.

Mr Wagner is pragmatic about the information revolution. He thinks too many companies have been spending too much on technology and businesses that have yet to prove their worth. He prefers to wait until the dust settles before committing himself.

"We are the guys who shoot the pioneers in the back, not the pioneer who gets shot. We're not going to work hard to create something, and then have someone else say, 'Oh that's good, we're going to do that'. We prefer to come into the market a little bit later, more polished, more professional, hopefully.

"You would never seen out of us something completely new. With MAID, I was not an innovator: I saw a chance to carve out a niche, which is what I did."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager / Development Manager - NW London - £58k + 15% bonus

£50000 - £667000 per annum + excellent benefits : Ashdown Group: IT Manager / ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant / Telemarketer - OTE £20,000

£13000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...

Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manager - City, London

£40000 - £45000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manag...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own