Network: How to tap the wealth of the Net

For Julie Meyer, individualism is the key to wealth on the Internet - that, and canny marketing.
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The Independent Culture
Julie Meyer co-founded First Tuesday with a database of 80 people. Now the Internet networking community brings together more than 20,000 entrepreneurs and investors across Europe.

For someone who professes to be an introvert, a job organising networking events might have seemed a dead-end career choice. But as co-founder of First Tuesday, which organises forums for rapid networking between entrepreneurs and investors, Julie Meyer has made it her business to know everyone worth knowing in the world of technology.

Her vision stems from an early preoccupation with individualism and the creation of wealth, both themes that crystallised in her mind when, as a student, she read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. She bought the book at the airport on the way to Barcelona for a Spanish course, and became so hooked that she missed a week's classes. "It's all about entrepreneurs, people who are driving wealth creation in society," she explains. "It was a catalyst; it changed my life. Rand has this philosophy of radical individualism, of becoming 100 per cent accountable for everything in your life.

"It affirmed to me a lot of things about the people who are in a position to have an impact. They accept responsibility for their actions and will not accept control over their lives. These people free themselves up to really create."

Meyer, who is American, studied humanities in the States and at Cambridge, but she describes herself as "the least career-oriented person" at college. The learning curve rose steeply when she arrived in France as a 21-year- old, with no job. "That was a defining moment," she recalls. "I was an outsider in Paris. Nobody made it easy for me; people are not particularly welcoming. I learnt a lot about making things happen - I became a much more driven person.

"In the States, if you ask someone, 'Can you do this?' the answer will almost always be 'yes', because they want to appear positive. In France, they almost always say 'no'. What they mean is: 'Prove to me how badly you want to do this.' That forced me to negotiate for everything."

She found herself a niche in marketing, explaining technologies to the outside world as a consultant for companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Motorola.

"My role was always to help engineers to communicate their ideas and I got comfortable in that role of intermediary," she explains. "I've always had a customer focus; I think the skill is to understand character, not personality. So much is driven by personalities, what people show to the outside world. The people you do business with long term are people whose characters you are comfortable with."

She returned to Boston in 1994, a year that saw the launch of Netscape and an acceleration in the use of information technology in the States. Overseeing a corporate budget of $4m, Meyer found herself stretched - but was frustrated by company politics, preferring a personal approach that she has successfully translated to her First Tuesday activities. "It's like filling an emotional bank account," she claims. "If you need to draw on favours, is a person going to say yes or no? It's give and take; if you're overdrawn it doesn't matter how right you are about an issue."

In 1997, Meyer opted to do an MBA at Insead to give herself a better grasp of finance. "When I was first in Paris, I went to an Insead ball and met people who seemed interesting but who didn't take themselves too seriously," she recalls. "I went back to Boston and met people from Harvard and by contrast they were very focused, and you had to say, 'Chill out'. Yet I didn't think they were as savvy. I met people in Boston who I thought would be fish out of water in London. I think Americans' identity is very much bound up in their work and what they can see they've achieved. They take that very seriously, sometimes at the expense of a sense of humour."

Instead, Meyer has taken seriously the maxim "it's not what you know, it's who you know". At Insead she studied with Ernesto Schmitt, founder of the successful start-up Peoplesound, and since leaving has formed strong professional and social bonds with some of the industry's leading players, among them Lastminute.com's Brent Hoberman, and Michele Appendino, founding partner of Net-partners.com.

Meyer's hardest six months came directly after she emerged from Insead's hothouse environment. She was itching for action, but job offers for conventional high-flyer posts left her cold. So she waited, and she talked to people, and when she spotted a gap in the market - to create links between Silicon Valley and the UK's Internet scene - she acted, and took a job in venture capital with New Media Investors.

By October 1998, plans were taking shape for First Tuesday as Meyer talked with her co-founders Nick Denton, Adam Gold and Mark Davies. "We just said: 'Let's get together people who are doing Internet business, and set it up as a cocktail party.'

"What was crucial was that we had that blend of investor and entrepreneur. A lot of entrepreneurs here had no idea about how to get money or how to tell their story. Often they would start off with a non-story and say: 'I've got some legal problems.' You have to tell a story with a certain finesse, so that somebody doesn't feel as if they're being pitched to. If you can do that, you've won half the battle."

Through canny marketing and skill in using connections, Meyer has watched the idea blossom across 27 cities. "First Tuesday feels messianic. Really, these guys are changing the whole world. I think it is my revenge on socialism, which I see as having put a real damper on people's ability to create, to drive and generate wealth.

"People may make themselves fantastically wealthy, but they bring 200 people in their wake," she adds. "It's all about inspiring a whole new set of role models."

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