Very PC – Very Embarrassing

Posted by Chris Green on Monday August 4 @ 9:11 pm

I’ve just watched fledgling UK-based PC maker Very PC put in a cringe-worthy performance on Dragons’ Den.

This company is valuing itself at 50 times earnings and has a range of computers that contain no proprietary technology and offer energy-saving features that can be achieved by anyone looking to build a PC themselves.

Very PC’s machines do offer energy savings over some of the equivalent PCs on the market, and the company has won awards for its efforts. But at this point the products offer nothing unique, and nothing that can’t be replicated easily and cheaply.

I desperately want to see a British PC maker do well, and would love to see Very PC grow and thrive even more than it has. However, performances like the one on the show just make our once proud computer manufacturing (or more recently assembly) sector look like a joke. Peter Jones, a guy who does know his tech, was annoyed – and so am I.

Five million quid – for what! Please, tell me, where is the value? It isn’t in the size of the customer base (at just £300,000 turnover, the company was clearly not selling many machines at the time the show was recorded), it certainly isn’t in the brand (Time and Tiny still have more street cred than this start-up right now), and there is nothing special about the products. They don’t look good, and they are all made out of off-the-shelf bits.

If you want a eco-friendly PC, you can actually go down to a computer fair and buy the bits to make one. If you live in London, I encourage you to visit the British Computer Fair every Saturday in Cleveland Street at UCL. If you have a car, get along to the big fairs at Bracknell Sports Centre and Tolworth Rec. Both are on once or twice a month on a Sunday.

Really – building your own PC is a doddle, it’s like playing with Lego. You will save a fortune and almost certainly achieve the same, if not better, ‘green’ results.

Very PC – before undertaking such a publicity stunt you need to acknowledge a realistic view of the market and a realistic valuation for your company, a business that builds computers that are no more energy-efficient or recyclable than the ones I or anyone else can build at home. On the basis of the sales and profit figures disclosed on the show, I’d say the business was worth, at most, about £600,000 – that’s why the panel of dragons were so unimpressed.

Please spend some time and money developing some unique energy-saving BIOS or motherboard technology you can patent and that will allow you to move away from just relying on generic PC parts alone. Then you can really make a name for yourselves globally as well as make a positive and lasting difference to the PC industry.

Go on – it’ll be good for the environment, good for the company and good for Britain.

11 responses to “Very PC – Very Embarrassing”

  1. Simon Bisson says:

    PCs are as cheap as, dare I say, chips, these days.

    I’ve just ordered a new machine from my usual parts supplier – it’s costing me a third of what I paid for my current desktop 5 years ago, and it’s considerably more powerful and flexible…

  2. Chris Green says:

    Exactly – the PC sector is a commodity product market where resellers and assemblers differentiate only on price and how much RAM and storage they can crowbar into the case for that price.

    You can’t roll up selling the same product as the next guy (albeit with a different brand sticker on the front) and expect an investor to pay a premium price for an investment.

    I’ve been eyeing up ready-built and fully-loaded quad core machines for less than a year’s budget car insurance, and would be cheaper if I built the machine myself. Then there are cheap, energy-efficient portables like the MSI Wind to consider.

    For now, I’m staying put with my two Asus Terminator mini PCs and my three Mac Mini units. All well specced, all very energy efficient, and in the case of the Asus units – dirt cheap to fit out.

  3. WHS User says:

    Well well – so far not so good for VERY PC – was it

    I love Dragons Den, I love the atmosphere, but tonight there could have been fisty cuffs !!

    Very PC are not a brand, they own no IPR, they are nothing, what a shame, and addind to the shadow of our previous world class business sector.

    I have a green Home Server, from UK based Tranquil PC – they don’t BS tehmselves – they just get on with good old fashioned excellent customer support, on their OWN products – which are excellent quality and silent – oh, and lower energy than Very’s offers – so I’m happy, unlike Peter (Very Embarrased)

  4. Anonymous says:

    He did get a roasting didn’t he ….

    I just can’t see how a small pc manufacturing firm can compete with the “Big Boys” …. especially with the economies of scale ect …

    Surely it’s only time before the likes of Dell and HP begin to make their own “green” range ?

  5. Brendan Berney says:

    The vast majority of the PC World buying public don’t want to pour over PSU spec sheets and component power profiles, tinker with the BIOS and select components that perform efficiently together. They just want to buy a PC that isn’t going to send their meter spinning. These guys are effectively providing a service and you have to hand it to them for trying. The point is that whilst you say that anyone else could do this, nobody actually is…

    In fact they do make some proprietary BIOS modifications and are also entering the world of dumb client/server systems.

    Whilst I agree that they were a bit over valued, the dragons’ reaction to them was disproportionate. The only thing I can assume about Peter Jones is that he has some agenda there (Siemens Nixdorf anyone) and actually the funniest thing I heard last night was PJ suggesting using RS232 comms, (power-hungry TTL technology from the 1970s)!

    BTW I am nothing to do with VeryPC but I am a PhD level computer scientist with 25+ years of experience who uses computers seriously every day so this is fairly important to me.

  6. Chris Green says:

    A fair point on the PC World average customer. Can’t argue with that.

    It would seem that the BIOS customisations that they make are not the sort of thing that can be patented. Does anyone know different? Maybe Very PC can comment on this?

    I disagree that nobody else is doing this – Dell are already in this space with an aggressively marketed product, as is HP.

    The point that was being made on the show, and which I echo, is that for an investor there was no unique selling point, just A selling point. As soon as low-power PCs become a big enough deal, and before any real money is made by the likes of Very PC, all the volume manufacturers will steam in and do exactly the same thing, capitalising on their economies of scale to do it cheaper.

    That’s why Very PC needs a technology that it can legally claim as its own in order to differentiate itself from the rest of the market and give it a UNIQUE selling point.

  7. Brendan Berney says:

    Fair enough, good points there…

    Although I don’t think the big boys’ offerings are quite as efficient (Dell ~ 47W vs VeryPC ~ 29W) and seem to be a bit ‘greenwashy’ although they are a move in the right direction and it is all a good thing.

    I think though it was the first time that I have had genuine sympathy for the subject in this programme. The reaction was quite disproportionately angry really, especially PJ who also demonstrated an ignorance of the facts in a way that would have been amusing were it not also potentially damaging and who worryingly had the others nodding along like ‘Churchill dogs’.

  8. Liz says:

    Oh dear, oh dear. According to Very PC’s own site, a Treeton (crap name BTW) appears to cost £452 and is a fairly standard Mini ITX system (which has been around for years incidentally) in a standard Noah case.

    For £175 (+ postage, + power cord (£3+VAT) should you not have a spare) you can get a kit from mini-itx.com with the same case, the same amount of RAM (1Gb) and a bigger hard drive (250Gb versus Very’s 160Gb) and a less powerful but even more energy efficient Intel Atom processor (nice!). In fairness, the Treeton price includes Windows XP so I need to add another £53 to my price but even so…

    Even if you’re not the PC-as-Lego type, finding a passing techie to bolt it all together for you shouldn’t cost anything like the £220-odd price difference – chances are you can get away with Dominos and a beer or a bottle of whisky. Or if the nextdoor neighbour’s 8 year old is available, maybe an ice cream.

    Oh and as for the software stuff, I may be wrong but I’m fairly sure that the best you can do on software is copyright/intellectual property rather than patent (seems to have worked for Microsoft, but I doubt they’re in that league somehow).

    Also I’m a little confused – are they claiming to have written custom BIOS software or have the just tweaked some settings? If it’s the latter and that’s worth £5m, I’m in the wrong job!

  9. Can’t comment about Very PC, because I don’t really know anything about them. But I absolutely agree about your points about building your own PC to be greener. The problem isn’t helped by the likes of Eee leading the way in developing throwaway laptops. What happens to all the batteries etc? Landfill most of the time, I’m sure.

    It’s the same with mobile phones; although I have taken deliver of my new Sony Ericsson 902, I kept the old one for two years before it fell apart (small tinge of guilt). But, unlike mob phones, desktop PCs cases last forever…

  10. andrew says:

    Desktop PC’s have no real future.Most of the growth in the PC sector is in laptops, but the real growth is in Mac os x.Any new pc manufacturer selling windows pc’s is going to run into trouble

  11. John Adams says:

    Unfortunately for Very this dragons den thing gets repeated. I was supplied with a very system, to install some software on to ship on to a client. It had numerous faults. Which I documented at the time.

    Blanking plate still in place in front of floppy drive,
    Hard disk loose and at a 20 degree angle.
    And wait for it they used a low power AMD cpu designed for a laptop, in a desktop motherboard. These are thinner than the standard CPUs and they had not modified the heat sink to accommodate for this. It wobbled and broke the CPU.

    We rebuilt the PC and got a replacemnt CPU from them, this was in 2008, so I hope they have improved.

    I just saw this as another example of how the modern youth, has not got the enginnering skills of the past.

    I only posted this as Verys MD was rationalising the whole dragons den thing, they were right he was wrong.

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