CLIFF Stanford has two passions: playing on the Internet and making money. After selling his company, Demon, he now has bagfuls of the latter - pounds 33m, to be precise - and plenty of time to indulge in the former, writes Kathy Marks.
Demon, for those readers unacquainted with the key players in cyberspace, is Britain's largest provider of Internet access. Mr Stanford founded it in 1992 with pounds 20,000 and sold it to ScottishTelecom yesterday for pounds 66m, pocketing half himself.
Despite building a fortune on the back of the anorak brigade, Mr Stanford, 44, is clearly not just a computer nerd. He has a flair for business and a head for figures; he learnt book-keeping from his mother at the age of 10 and started out as an accountant.
But the key to Demon's success is the prescience with which, in the early 1990s, he anticipated the extraordinary explosion in demand for the Internet, hitherto the preserve of academics.
It was Mr Stanford's establishment of the first low-cost dial-up service - subscribers were offered access for just pounds 10 a month - that democratised the Net, opening it up to a whole generation of "techies". Operating out of cramped offices in north London, Demon had 1,000 subscribers within six months.
Mr Stanford grew up in Southend-on- Sea, Essex, where he helped his mother out with her book-keeping jobs and was running payrolls by the age of 15.
His entrepreneurial skills were apparent early on. At 14, when he was selling local newspapers as a part-time job, he devised a marketing scheme that would enable him to win a competition to sell the largest number of copies.
He joined a Billericay accountancy firm after leaving school, but quit in 1983 to found a computer programming company, Impetus. Sadly, reports that he worked out of the boiler room of his local cinema in Southend are apocryphal.
Mr Stanford, who set up Demon with Giles Todd, the former technical director, has always been explicit about the motives that drive him: to make as much money as possible as quickly as possible.
So is pounds 33m enough to be getting on with? "There's no such thing as enough money," he said yesterday. "I like having money in my pocket, I like buying nice things. But it would be no fun to win it on the football pools. The thrill for me is to make it through big successful business deals."
Mr Stanford, who is married with an 11-year-old son, is in no hurry to spend his new-found wealth. He has treated himself to a Saab convertible, but has no other plans to splash out. Nor is he about to rest on his laurels. He has another business venture up his sleeve, soon to be announced. But he hopes to have more free time now that Demon is off his hands. "For the last six years, my hobbies have been the Internet, the Internet and the Internet," he said. "Now at least I might get the chance to play on it again."Business, page 22
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