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Enron survivor sails to success

Kathleen Brooks
BUDDING entrepreneurs consider this: you co-found a business and, after a while, you realise the culture isn’t right for you. What do you do? John Paskin abandoned his first dream of becoming an entrepreneur in 2007 and went back to his corporate job as an IT manager at BP and waited until the time was right.

A year and a half later and Paskin’s dream of founding his own IT company was back on track. In late 2008 he founded Commodity Flow, a software programme that analyses the movement of cargo ships, in real-time, around the world.

He founded the company with three former colleagues from his time at Enron. Paskin, an IT executive at the firm, worked for the energy trading company from 1997, and was about to relocate to its headquarters in Houston with his pregnant wife when it collapsed in 2001. “We didn’t understand how bad things had got at the time because it felt incredible, back then, that the seventh largest company in America could go under.

Living through Enron’s collapse did teach him something about running his own business: “The biggest lesson I learnt was to be straight up and honest,” Paskin says.

Commodity Flow buys data on the movements of cargo ships across the world from the Lloyd’s Register website, Fairplay, it crunches the data and then displays it on a map of the world using different colours to determine if a ship is entering or leaving a port, what cargo it contains and if the ship is full or empty.

“This information helps to spot trade patterns,” says Paskin. “For example, directly after last month’s earthquake in Chile, we were gathering data about the damage to ports in the area. This could have affected the copper price since Chile is the world’s largest copper producer.”

Commodity Flow now has six employees, and a team of developers based offshore in Bangalore, India.

The hardest part for Commodity Flow’s founders has been selling: “We have excellent technical capability, but we’re bad at sales. That’s been a learning curve for us,” says Paskin, in his straightforward style.

It took 12 months to develop Commodity Flow and it recently won its first client, a large energy trading company based in Geneva. Paskin and his three partners each put aside a sum of money to start Commodity Flow. “Now that we have a revenue stream, we want to expand more aggressively,” says Paskin. “We’re looking for angel investors or venture capital firms to take a stake in the company.”

After 15 months working on his own business, was it a good idea? “Part of it’s fun, being in control of my own future,” says Paskin. “But I wouldn’t wish it on my children!”

CV | JOHN PASKIN

Age: 45
Grew Up: Wales
Education: English Literature, Cambridge University
Lives: Richmond
Family: Married with two children.
Drives: Honda CR-V
Reading: A book on poker.
Hobbies: Poker, sports: “Any sport with a ball will do,” and family.

After Cambridge, Paskin was due to take up a post assisting a Welsh poet when the funding fell through. He then drifted into accountancy in 1986: “It was horrible,” recalls Paskin. He fell into IT when he was working on a database for an advertising agency.