When Acorn Computers was disbanded in 1998, Quentin Pain realised he would need to find a job. Pain, now 55, had built a software company based around servicing its users – if Acorn had no customers, he had no business.
Pain’s connection with Acorn began back in 1981 when his brother gave him an early model as a present. At the time, Pain ran a small motorcycle courier outfit and began “fiddling about with software” to make an accounting program for his firm. “It was strange, I had left school without many O levels, but as soon as I started using the computer I just took to it.”
In 1983 Pain and his wife sold their share of the courier business after a young driver was killed in a crash. They set up their own recording studio, but after two years realised that making music “wasn’t going to pay the bills”. Pain started looking for new business ideas and eventually dusted off his old accountancy software. “It had worked for me and I thought it could help other small businesses.”
He updated it to work on the latest Acorn machines and called it The Accounts Book – “a simple name, but it worked”. He then started placing advertisements in PC magazines and taking part in computer fairs. Boosted by the success of Acorn Computers in the mid-1980s, his firm, still called Apricote Studios, started selling the software. Throughout the 1980s and the 1990s Pain worked on new editions. “It was the ultimate lifestyle business. I would wake up, do some code, speak to some customers. My wife and I were both happy and we didn’t hire any new staff.”
In the 1990s Acorn pushed into New Zealand, Australia and America, and Pain signed deals with distributors to sell his programs abroad with minimum effort. Even when Acorn started losing ground, Apricote’s sales held up, having developed a cult following among Acorn aficionados. But in 1998 the gravy train came to an abrupt halt when Acorn disbanded. It was quite a wake-up call. Apricote had sold £200,000 a year of software in its prime, so Pain decided to try and create a much larger firm. This time his accountancy programs would run on all types of machines. “At the time Microsoft was dominant but I knew that different companies come and go.” Eventually, he found the programmer he was looking for. “The guy was a genius.” He would soon need to be.
In 2002 Pain found a backer willing to invest £100,000. Making a program that could run on any operating system was “harder than I thought”. But by 2006 his first product, software to help people manage their personal finances and get the most out of credit cards, was ready.
His insistence on products that were compatible with any computer now paid off as Apple grew. The dearth of Apple-ready competition meant his products were soon in Apple stores. He also built an app that could be use on smartphones. When newly named Accountz also began producing software for small businesses, Pain’s products were soon in major retailers, such as Dixons and PC World. “The great thing about being sold on different computers is that my products pop up in different places around a shop.” This year the firm is on course to sell £6m worth of software and Pain now plans to target America.