Armadillo’s 20th Birthday on the web!!

On 3 June this year, I will be celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the launch of Armadillo, the first company Information database to commit to web delivery.

Yes, we were the first in the world on the internet in those heady days, where everyone thought the internet was too slow, had no security and would never catch on commercially.

We even got opposition for using the World Wide Web for commercial purposes as some people decided it was meant to be primarily for academic use with everything free.

Looking back, what we did really was groundbreaking. In 1995, based near Old Street roundabout in London, an area known today as Shoreditch and Hoxton, I started down the road of trying to raise finance to bring out an online company data system.

At that time there were 3 ways of sending data. X25 was the traditional direct link giving the old green screen data and the new in-vogue way of Microsoft windows and colour, but you had to load a dozen of the new 3.5 inch floppy discs ( remember those? ?) to put the report structure into the PC.

There was also something called the INTERNET, that was new and had a structure called the World Wide Web.

Well, thoughout 1996, I found it difficult to find finance, being told there were already too many players and anyway, everything would be free in a few years with the internet. No one would listen to me.

I will always remember a weekend in November 1996 when I had to make a decision. Each of the 3 ways of delivery would cost the same, but I could only afford one, just, if I did a bit of this and that, either way, a massive gamble.

In April 1995 , I was shown the new World Wide Web as an academic tool by my cousin, then a research scientist in Boulder Colorado. I was there for his wedding. It was 3-4 months after Tim Berners-Lee uploaded the web structure in CERN. I thought, very nice, if you’re into cell wall research!! However , later in Barnes and Noble the bookstore, my cousin showed me the books on the new web. Imagine a corridor of bookshelves, 10-20 meters long, 1.8m (6ft) high of books on a subject that was completely new. I never understood a word, but I knew then that it was important.

In June that year, back in the UK, I went into Foyles in London. Then a huge book store, I found 2 books. In Dillons, none.

Still, I knew there was more to this. I found a University of London day course on the internet and went on one of those with my then Sales Director, later I appointed him MD,  Theo de Regibus.

We learnt to use a browser called Gopher. Great fun day. I accessed the university of Colorado site from a PC in London. In those days… Amazing!

So, back to that weekend. It was a huge decision I had to make, risk everything, and that meant my business, my house, everything on chasing my dream to have my own online database or do nothing and carry on the business as a corporate research company.

Well, rightly or wrongly, I decided the way forward had to be the new way. So I gambled everything I had on the web. Bring out a system that would be accessible ONLY through the web. No-one really can know what a gamble and risk that was. The web was untried and untested as a commercial tool. It amuses me that round Old Street London today there are lots of burgeoning web companies and they call it Silicon roundabout. But these companies are working on a tried and tested platform. It just was not there back in 1995-97 when we launched.

Besides, Theo, 2 others need a mention, Alan Douglas and Dave Lanning our database programmers who still work with me. Someone said to me the other day, I must be the founding father of the Shoreditch tech revolution. I don’t know about that, as it makes me sound really old. But we as a team certainly helped build the bar revolution round that area!

What we created was a commercial web system that no-one had at the time. It was the first. It was an amazing feeling.

So we went out to our clients to sell the new product that we launched quietly at the Solicitors and legal exhibition in June 1997.

Guess what they all said..

The internet?! Too slow, no security, we can never connect – it’ll never catch on!!

So Happy Birthday Armadillo. The First and longest running corporate database on the web with access to reports and documents on 250-270 million companies in over 200 countries. Also available via a mobile App. Pay by subscription, account or credit card (also groundbreaking at the time)!!

So now we are the oldest and some say the founding fathers of the London Fintech revolution. We certainly brought out disruptive technology and guess what, we haven’t stopped. We’re still innovating and are working on lots of new projects.

So watch this space!!


Manny Cohen



7 May 2017