WHEN Oxford entrepreneur Gareth Reakes sold his third start-up for £10.8m, he was ready for a fresh challenge.

It soon appeared, in the form of his nan, Vera.

He said: “My nan used to give three rings on the phone and then hang up, just to let my mum know that she had made it through the night.

“It was reassuring for my mum, but she was only one person in the family. We thought we could solve this problem and give other relatives peace of mind.”

A computer graduate of Oxford Brookes University, Mr Reakes, 38, linked up with business partner Steve Purdham, who had worked with him at his previous start-up, music-streaming business WE7, sold to Tesco and now named Blinkbox, and based at Oxford Business Park.

With Steve’s wife Julie, they developed an online service called 3rings, which automatically contacts a network of family and friends, using an app, text message, e-mail or phone call to tell them an elderly relative is OK.

At first they designed an array of sensors to build a ‘pattern of normality’ which would alert the family to anything unusual.

But they soon realised that was too complicated, and decided the ‘three rings’ code was ideal.

Mr Reakes said: “Other companies are looking at how to solve this in a technical way, through installing lots of hardware. But we learned that simplicity is the key.”

Their service is activated by three rings on a phone, and relatives can choose whether to be alerted by email, text or phone.

After talking to family and friends, he realised that older people wanted security, but didn’t want to be a burden.

“I could understand that they prefer it if their children don’t need to ring all the time to check on them,” he said.

The 3rings service is Internet-based, but activated by a traditional landline. “There is no hardware, nothing to install and no new technology for the older person to understand or worry about.

“We use a home phone that everyone is comfortable with.”

Sadly Mr Reakes’s nan has since died, but Mr Purdham’s mother Iris, 82, has tested the service and features in a video on the 3rings website.

Mr Reakes said: “My nan certainly would not have had a smartphone, but the grandchildren are happy to use them. Our system is about offering different channels.”

They used part of the WE7 windfall to set up an office at Oxford Business Park, employing six full-timers to launch the business.

“At the moment our primary aim is to make people aware of the service,” he said.

Contact: www.3rings.co.uk