Female Internet Heroes: Julie Meyer
Every week we will be publishing an interview with one of our female internet heroes in order for you to MEET interesting women. READ about their WORK, THINK about how they PLAY the internet industry and see how you MATCH them. Be inspired! This week we talk to Julie Meyer.
"Mass entrepreneurship is the big idea of the 21st century" says Julie Meyer, founder of high-profile network First Tuesday, a meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and founder and CEO of investment and advisory firm, Ariadne Capital. Julie would know, as an entrepreneur, advisor and investor in the internet world, she has seen many of the 20th and 21st century technology and digital successes up close.
Her career began in France, with consulting for Hewlett Packard and 3Com, later moving to Boston to work with Motorola on the Power PC project, then UK internet investment house NewMediaInvestors (now Spark Ventures) which funded lastminute.com and WGSN, and now Ariadne Capital which advised Skype before its four billion sale to eBay, as well as Monitise, CarPhoneWarehouse, Zopa and Spinvox.
TheNextWomen talked to Julie about being an entrepreneur abroad, how the internet is impacting the society we live in and what we can expect from online business in the future.
How did you become an entrepreneur?
I became an entrepreneur because I was an outsider. I've spent the last 20 years in France and the UK.
I did a year abroad in Cambridge, England for my junior year abroad. Then I decided to go to France after graduating university in 1988, because I wanted to improve my French and I landed a job teaching English to Hewlett Packard's French employees. I was able to soon manage the entire 65 student account, develop new training products and take the firm into consulting in the marketing area.
So I got comfortable operating in an environment where there wasn't a lot of structure, and saw that as an opportunity to create and build. So in France was where I started to test my entrepreneurial muscles. I also grew up in a family where my father is a doctor, and set up the largest pulmonary medicine group in Northern California. I had a great role model in my father for someone who took his specialization and built something very successful.
How did you come up with the idea of First Tuesday?
First Tuesday was started pretty quickly after I came to London. I was looking for a job, and did a networking extravaganza to meet the entrepreneurs and venture capitalists of London at the time. Amongst the people I met was the founder of lastminute.com, Brent Hoberman. He put me in touch with the other people with whom I founded First Tuesday. It started off as a very simple networking event, to help entrepreneurs get together to share ideas. But we realized that entrepreneurs do not only want to share ideas, they really want to find money. So we made sure that there were investors at our cocktail parties too. Then it became a sort of matchmaking event between money and entrepreneur.
Did you have any mentors or advisors while you set up First Tuesday?
First Tuesday had a great ride. I learned a lot and met magnificent people - many of whom backed me in my current venture or became early clients.
But I was quite alone at the time. First Tuesday was very high profile; it was hard to find people I trusted. You could tell people were waiting for the fall. So it was difficult to share with people the issues which I was trying to fix in order to build a sustainable business. I'm probably still pretty wary of opening up as a result.
I called upon the lessons which I had learned earlier from other mentors and friends when building First Tuesday, and was fortunate to make money, and get into setting up my next venture very rapidly.
How did you start out in the business you're in now?
Ariadne Capital was set up almost immediately after I sold First Tuesday to an Israeli venture capital firm, Jerusalem Global, in July 2000. I started work on Ariadne Capital in August 2000 and incorporated it in December 2000. I realised that I had not been able to do everything which I had wanted to do with First Tuesday, and so for me, at the start, it was unfinished business.
How did you arrange financing for it?
When I founded Ariadne Capital, I invested £500 K of my own money, but also attracted leading entrepreneurs turned investors as founding "Investor Members". To date, Ariadne has had around £3 m invested into it from 47 individuals.
Who are your investors?
My shareholders include the founders of BetFair, WorldPay, Hotmail, SES Astra, and others - entrepreneurs of note. We have 47 founding investor members; they are from all over the world, but predominantly Europe. That is quite unusual. To my knowledge there is no company in the market with that kind of founding investor base. It gives us enormous leverage.
Would you consider selling Ariadne?
We have had some larger financial institutions say that they would like to talk to Ariadne about a stake in the business. Our early stage deal flow of hot start-up opportunities interests them as well as the high-net-worth individuals who are our shareholders. So I think we will get acquired somewhere in the future by a larger platform or we could take ourselves public I suppose.
How do you see the future for the business you are in?
Entrepreneurs with true grit will be separated out from those who are not fully committed to their businesses. Market downturns are great times to get ahead. Startups that we back continue to work hard through the downturn. Although difficult, when the markets turn up again, in late 2009 or early 2010, these start-ups will have a significant lead.
Overall it will be a good time to be an investor, valuations of companies will go down, they are going down and will continue to go down. That will separate the women from the girls and the men from the boys. Overall, it is a great time to be an investor.
Do you think that is true generally as well?
Entrepreneurship is the big idea for the 21st century. If you look around the globe, at the emerging markets, Africa, India, China it really is entrepreneurship which is driving them. But even in our own backyard, more and more people are running their own businesses, thinking of themselves as their own P&L, their own brand. The world is going radically towards the individual and the entrepreneur. People are going portfolio and the corporate enterprise is losing its grip on the individual. It's not perceived as safe or better anymore.
How do you think this will impact societies?
There will be a jarring fundamental discord between the nanny state and the empowerment which the Internet brings to people's lives. The governments which will lead will echo this theme, and understand that their job is to get out of the way, and enable business to lead. This will play out over the next 25 years.
You have worked in the US and in Europe, does start- up culture differ between these continents?
Since I arrived in Paris in 1988 and London in 1998, the speed of change and the expansion of entrepreneurship in the UK and Europe has accelerated. Those of us building digital businesses are no longer a digital island. It has gone mass market, and there are many many serial entrepreneurs who are reshaping society with their companies' products and services.
The speed at which people live their lives and at which they embrace change is probably faster in the US than in Europe in general, but there are pockets in the UK and Europe where there is no noticeable difference.
There are people everywhere who live their lives free to create because they believe in their own success. And unfortunately there are also people everywhere who are afraid of their own power to create and who don't believe in themselves. I don't believe the US has a corner on the market of smart entrepreneurs, but they have perhaps built a society which is slightly more open to people reinventing themselves in different parts of their lives after taking chances to build businesses.
Does US society catch on faster to change?
People who love America and want to live there love its freedom to create and build and try new things. It's a frontier and pioneer mentality. The "new new thing" is valued in the US for the novelty and discovery of something which could be big.
Would you say Silicon Valley investors have more experience with making money from the internet? Are they more comfortable with risktaking?
I would have said that maybe ten years ago. In fact, Ariadne's model of getting successful entrepreneurs to back the next generation of entrepreneurs creates a virtuous circle and helps to de-risk these hyper growth start-ups in many ways.
People who take risks know how to de-risk activities. They are comfortable with acting in situations with imperfect information, and they learn to adapt very fast to what's going on in the market. It requires a flexibility of thinking and emotional intelligence in reading people.
What explains your success?
I was fortunate to have wonderful parents. My mother instilled in me a strong work ethic, a sense of purpose in my life, and a belief that I should always do and expect the best. I also got my strong moral compass from my mother, so I don't get nervous about confrontation with people who are doing things which I believe are wrong. I stand up for my beliefs, and I know that comes from the strength which my mother instilled in and encouraged in me.
Also, I have a high level of self-confidence. I believe I can do things, if I set my mind to it. I do not set unreasonable goals, I am incredibly focused and very driven. Successful people have a sense of purpose and a sense of urgency. I have both.
Do women "pitch" their company different than men?
I hate to make generalisations, but men are probably better bull-shitters, but who knows?
It requires a lot of confidence to both raise capital and to stay in control of your own business, and so women are getting better at that. But I've worked with some outstanding and amazing female entrepreneurs. Women are "catching up" fast, and being an entrepreneur is a good thing for women as they set the rules of engagement for their firms themselves then rather than playing to other people's rules. I encourage my girlfriends to be entrepreneurs - those of them who have the qualities of persistence and work ethic.
What advice would you give to young aspiring women?
I think the advice I would give is, figure out what your unique contribution is and do more of that. Do not try to compensate for your weaknesses. Build on your strengths.
Any female entrepreneurs you think will become successful in the coming years?
Christina Domecq of Spinvox which delivers the voice to text application is already successful. They have created a whole new category of communications application. Sarah McVittie of Texperts is also a rising star.
FACTBOX:What does web 2.0 mean to you?
Web 2.0 means having a dialogue real-time in the market online, and an overall network orientation to business.
What do you know about web technology?
Web technology is not really tech any more, but online services. I have been working with technology businesses for twenty years, but I would never say I am a technologist. Web 2.0 is about services that technology enables becoming embedded in our lives.
So the Internet and Broadband were disruptions, and a classic web 2.0 application is a social networking application or a remote home monitoring application which leverages technology to enhance your life - in terms of making you more connected to your friends or secure at home.
How do people find you on the internet?
I spend a considerable amount of my time speaking, writing and communicating the ideas which Ariadne stands for in the market. That draws in opportunities and entrepreneurs. We have a lot of entrepreneurs say when they experience Ariadne, that they have found their entrepreneurial home.
Do you have a community?
We launched Entrepreneur Country in June, and are building it out online now to be launched later this year.
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