The management of Microwriter Ltd has offered to work for share options and no pay if the company’s institutional shareholders – Allied Dunbar, Legal & General, Sun Life and Baring Brothers – again reject proposals for a rights issue to raise much-needed funds. Last year, the investors turned down a call for UKP819,000 upfront and a further UKP3.5m at an unspecified later date, but director Mike Davies, although serious about the no pay offer, does not think there will be much opposition to the present attempt to raise UKP1.3m through a four-for-one rights issue. He says that several things have come together to make Microwriter an attractive proposition. The recent success of paper-based personal organisers such as Filofax and Time Management International, argues Davies, really opens the way for electronic organisers. Whereas people have to be relatively organised themselves to use a Filofax, an electronic device has the added advantage of being able to create order out of random entrys. The existing Microwriter hand-held computer has built-in alarms and can sort out entries in its sleep state. Since its launch at Info 83, 20,000 have been sold. Compared to Psion’s Organiser II, which between May 1986 and February 1987 alone garnered UKP5.5m worth of sales, and is currently being produced at a rate of 100,000 per annum, this does not look very impressive. But, claims Davies, the fact that the Organiser is not suitable for dynamically changing information as it is difficult to enter data quickly, opens up a major market opportunity for someone who can come up with something more powerful. Not surprisingly, he thinks that Microwriter is that someone and a new product under development is that something.
Obviously, his confidence is shared by his fellow managers – hence, the no pay offer. The new Microwriter has an 80-character display; 32Kb of both ROM and RAM on-board with extra memory available on plug-in cards. At present, it is only at the prototype stage, but Davies expects it to be available in the shops by next February at a price of UKP150. The current model has only a 16-character display and costs around UKP200, but the biggest changes will be the use of VLSI chips on a multi-layer board and a minute single piece elastomeric keyboard with QWERTY keys as well as the existing five chord keys. Davies says that the chord keys – each character is entered by pressing a combination of keys, similar to chords on a guitar – allow users to enter data faster than they can write, once they learn the key combinations, and do not require the user to move fingers around the keyboard. The QWERTY keyboard will be suitable only for slow entry because the keys are so small, but it will reduce the amount of what Davies calls missionary work necessary to get the so-called ‘five-finger exerciser’ accepted. If all this fails to persuade the institutions to subscribe to the rights issue, Microwriter chairman Sir Mark Weinberg will put in a further UKP650,000 of his own money, boosting his holding in the firm to just below 50%, and Mike Davies and his colleagues will be working only for share options in a venture that Sir Mark himself admitted to the Daily Telegraph last week must continue to be regarded as distinctly speculative.
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