Serif's sale: a familiar UK tale

A week tomorrow another UK software company will become a part of another US software company, reinforcing an inexorable industry pattern.

When DTP/graphics specialist Serif of Nottingham sells out to New Jersey-based Allegro New Media it will join firms like Lotus Organiser developer Threadz, SPC Superbase maker Precision Software and countless others who said it was impossible to grow buisness without outside assistance.

Serif will take about $5 million in stock as a result of the deal and continue to develop products such as PagePlus and DrawPlus that have become big sellers in the UK and US, as well as growing its presence in the US and broadening its product range.

According to UK president Gwyn Jones, there was no other choice. "You've got to do it," said Jones who started the company on his own money in 1987, not making revenues until 1991 with the first release of PagePlus. "It's extremely difficult to get funding as a UK company."

Jones sought to raise cash from investment companies and banks to no effect, despite Serif being one of the rare UK success stories in PC software of the 1990s. "I think software is pretty bad in that it's an industry in which people think of the players being from the US. It's almost impossible to get decent working capital and of course everyone is scared of Microsoft. In the US the entrepreneurial thing is quite different - startups don't have to crucify themselves. It should be easier to raise money in the UK but the upside isn't so good for investors. If anything we waited too long and I was ludicrously ambitious, thinking I could sell the company easily. I'm quite relieved."

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