Posts Tagged 'Due diligence'

The mess that is Tiscali

It’s been an interesting last few months for all connected with Tiscali. Back in January last year, there was a glow of positivity surrounding the Tiscali group, as they went ahead with their phased roll out of Annex M ADSL2+, helping them to get a foothold ahead of their competitors. Coupled with their new wholesale programme, things were looking up for the group. Their PR team was doing a good job of diverting attention away from the internal issues that were surrounding the amalgamation of so many conflicting systems, obtained through the acquisition of smaller ISP’s. And their marketing team loved to portray their beleaguered employers as a victim in the row with BT back in the summer of 2008. So where did it all go wrong for Tiscali?

Well, first of all, some connected with the group refuse to even admit that the group is in trouble. Despite being left with a battered reputation after being passed around between Carphone Warehouse and Sky for the best part of a year, they have been relentless in their pursuit of new customers. Witness the mess with 186K/Eezee DSL/Mailbox which left their clients without Internet access for as long as two weeks. Unless they changed to a Tiscali-owned supplier (ie Nildram or Pipex). Still there has been no official word from Tiscali as to the reasons behind the mess with 186K. However, this has been merely one of the number of issues effecting the group.

It is well known that there are a number of big hawks circling Tiscali’s carcass. Last year, Vodafone had a £1.3bn bid for the global group rejected. This set the wheels in motion for both Sky and Carphone Warehouse to test the waters of the UK arm, with bids in the region of £450mil coming thick and fast…and ultimately being rejected. However, only recently the Group has now relinquished it’s International Network (TiNet) to a private equity firm. Whilst in a statement made during the acquisition Mario Rosso, CEO of the group stated that he hoped to conclude the sale of Tiscali UK by the end of march.

So where does this leave Tiscali? Well if you have a service through them, expect a different name on your bill for starters. I doubt much else will change, as TiNet will still supply Tiscali (Both Italy and UK) with IP services, and Sky or Carphone will now probably have a unique agreement with an international carrier to extend it’s product portfolio. However, it will have a major bearing on the ISP sector within the UK, as no longer will there be just Virgin and BT offering triple play, but by acquiring Tiscali, Sky will also have that ability to provide triple play services. And what if they are a supplier to you? Well tread carefully. Very carefully, as they could be here today, but gone tomorrow.

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Why it is important to vet everyone you deal with

If there is one thing that this economic crisis has taught me, it is that it is VITALLY important to conduct a thorough process of due diligence on any company you plan on doing business with. Professionally every client we consult with goes through an extensive credit check before we agree to deal with them. Once this process is conducted, we make sure they agree to our terms of 30 days with NO EXCEPTIONS. This may put some big corporations‘ noses out of joint, but if the likes of Lehman Brothers can disappear, then no one is safe.

However, it is personally where I have been left surprised, and consequently learnt the biggest lessons. There are two companies in paticular that I have been looking at dealing with for two individual reasons.

1) I have always had more than a passing intrigue into the property market, and have been looking at differing ways to make a passive income through land and property. One method of which interested me was making money on the purchase by buying below value, mainly through off-plan purchases, and one comapny who specialised in these purchases was Inside Track. Inside Track claimed to be a multi-national organisation with the financial muscle and expertise to be able to negotiate big discounts from major property groups worldwide. These discounts they then passed on to their clients. All sounded good. The fact that their adverts were literally everywhere made me think that there was no harm in attending a free seminar. I did, and I’m glad I did. They rolled out what I now realise to be the standard slick knowledgeable senior salesman, who answered all questions thrown at him like a politician with a dark secret. But he had people convinced to part with their money there and then. I was not one of them, and decided to look around a bit more, but subscribe to their newsletter to understand more. I also kept in touch with a few people that I met at the seminar, who bought into the promise to become wealthy through property investment. To cut a long story short, as we know, Inside Track are no more, and these people have lost thousands, and are still waiting for their money back from the administrators.

2) The second company that I came across was New Star Asset Management, a newly created ‘stellar’ fund management company. Their adverts claimed that they had the best performing retail fund managers within the industry and despite their various disclaimers and risk warnings, their website displayed an air of confidence on their ability to obtain a return on your investment. Now I must stress here that my due diligence witih New Star essentially consisted of talking to a few people I know who invested money with New Star in various retail funds. Just as a status update, New star are currently suspending trading on their much lauded Heart of Africa fund, whilst struggling to keep their vastly under performing ‘stars’ from walking out on them.

The main point of this is not to rant against the mis-fortune of two major companies within their respective sectors, but to highlight a common theme between them. The main reason how I came across both companies was through adverts. Both companies posted big billboards on motorways, took out flashy ads in the FT and various money magazines and basically plastered their brand on most surfaces guaranteed to be looked upon by people like me who have little knowledge of their respective industries. I have learnt that the more a company advertises, the less credible it becomes.  If I want to do business with someone, I want to do business with an expert in their field. If someone is advertising everywhere, it screams desperation. With hindsight, both Inside Track and New Star had business models which seemed to consist of building a list to make a decent return. Unfortunately the downturn in the economy found both these companies wanting. In my next blog, I will talk a little about positioning yourself as an expert, as then and only then can you really start to attract clients, as opposed to chasing them and consequently seeming desperate.

I hope you have a great Christmas!

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