The thriving alternative stock market, the Technology and Robotics Independent Public Exchange (Tripe) was dealt a serious blow last week when it announced that its proposed electronic share settlement system would not be ready in time for the proposed 1 April launch. At the same time, Tripe executives announced that the bill for the system had more than doubled.
Tripe?s software project, called the Share Trading Execution Services System (Stress), was first proposed in July 1989 as a way to attract small firms to the alternative share market. ?We feel that the London Stock Exchange is a technological desert and our visionary members deserve something better,? said Alfred Bangle at the time. Bangle combined, and continues to combine, chairmanship of Tripe with his job as a toner cartridge filler in his native Maidenhead.
?At first we decided that we needed a central database of all share trades on the Tripe system,? recalls David Dodgy, chairman and chief executive officer of Dodgy Deals plc, the first Thames Valley-based dealer to be quoted on the Tripe exchange. ?We modelled our system on the plan that was then being adopted by the London Exchange with its Taurus system,? he added, ?but seeing as we didn?t have #50 million hanging around, it was handy that all our members knew a bit about programming.?
Tripe?s members did indeed know something about programming computers: of the 14 listed Tripe share holders in 1989, six were computer resellers, four were consultants, three were self-employed contractors exploiting a tax loophole and the last one was their accountant who had reclassified himself as a financial reporting system and was earning #40 a week in government grants as a result.
Nevertheless, like Taurus, Stress hit early snags which resulted in delays and cost over-runs. ?At the beginning of 1991, the review software that we were using expired, and we had to have a whipround before we could afford to buy the full package,? Bangle recalls.
?Also, incompatibilities proved a problem: it soon became apparent that the project director?s wife was sleeping with the lead programmer, which made interfacing a little tricky.?
Unlike Taurus, however, the Tripe system didn?t fail in 1993 leaving its members high and dry. Instead, it decided that it wouldn?t set itself any goals at all, thus making failure impossible.
?I suppose it?s ironic when you look back,? says Dodgy. ?But the four consultants and three programmers listed on our exchange began to earn large amounts of money from programming the Stress system. As the software expanded, so it became necessary for the rest of us to upgrade the hardware platform on which it was based. When each version of the software didn?t work, our consultants would prepare a new report and the accountant would do some sums, and magically, there was always enough cash to go around.?
An unexpected boon for the Stress project came in the summer of 1993 when the developers of Crest, the ?son of Taurus? developed by the Bank of England, phoned to ask for some hints. ?We advised them on the right day rate for programmers, how to cover your tracks when the code doesn?t work, the best way to pretend a set-back was a planned re-evaluation of goals, that sort of thing,? says Dodgy. ?They also picked up a consignment of hard disks that I was trying to shift and two copies of Microsoft Money.?
Sadly, as Crest went from strength to strength, Stress began to fall apart. ?We spent so much time developing the share trading soft- ware that there wasn?t much time for any other work,? says Bernard Cobol, self-employed chairman chief executive officer of Tripe-listed programming house BernCo plc, and one of the programmers on the Stress system.
?When our accountant jumped ship to the Crest team, things rather fell apart. We realised that everyone had forgotten about us and listed on the American Futures and Shares Trading for Beta-testing or Unrealistic Computing Services (Fastbucs) Exchange instead. I think there?s a lesson for the City of London there. But I?m not sure what it is. Some of the lads are writing a report on it at the moment.?
Meanwhile, the latest delivery date for the Stress management software is January 1999. ?Things are getting a lot easier,? admits Bangle, ?because our projections show that a maximum of three of us will still be in business on that date. And because no one wants to buy shares in companies that take 10 years to set up a database, trading volumes are significantly down. I feel that this helps us to put in place a system with more limited scope, which can be selectively upgraded when we have the cash. With our revised objectives, I foresee a bright future for Tripe high-tech companies.?
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