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Interview: Julie Meyer, CEO, Ariadne Capital: The Dragon Roars Again

imageIn turbulent economic times, it’s reassuring to know some things don’t change. A decade after she co-founded networking group First Tuesday, Ariadne Capital CEO Julie Meyer is enjoying another boom – as investor in a new wave of web companies, and entrepreneur in a new, online edition of BBC’s Dragon’s Den. Speaking with me in Ariadne’s central London office last week, where there was no hint of an economy in meltdown despite anti-capitalism protests in surrounding streets, Meyer brushed off talk of recession, confident the next game-changing deal is still out there…

Don’t mention the crash: “I don’t think we buy into the notion of the crash. I understand there are data points that could lead someone to that conclusion, but what we see is a process of creative destruction – the dinosaurs will die, new animals will emerge, evolution goes on.” Far from cutting back in the downturn, Ariadne has just hired two new staff, has funded two companies this year- including music platform Slicethepie – and is about to fund another two, “some of the biggest deals Ariadne has ever done”. “If you invest in the right entrepreneurs and you invest now, the returns are going to be absolutely sufficient, more than sufficient to justify taking the risk.”

Inside the Den: Meyer is relishing her as TV investor queen – she’s already agreed to fund more than one online business in episodes yet to be shown. The show sets an investment limit of £50,000 on each deal – small fry for someone like Meyer but she is enthusiastic about how the show popularises entrepreneurship. Meyer revealed she was offered a spot on main, BBC Two programme, but producers had asked for a big time commitment.

Monetise behaviour, not technology: Meyer’s advice to start-ups seeking investment? Don’t create a digital infrastructure, be part of one. She is looking for companies that, instead of focusing technology, identify a behaviour that can somehow be monetised — then try to lead the sector not just in the UK but worldwide. “You’re conducting an orchestra by identifying how the cellos and flutes are going to play but you’re not building the orchestra pit, that’s already been built,” she says. “We do see a lot of people that are trying to reinvent the wheel and those are bad investment opportunities.”

First Tuesday: Meyer made her name through First Tuesday, the investment community event company she founded. The business was sold for £33 million to Israeli firm Yazam in 2000 and struggled to maintain early success as the dotcom bubble burst. “If you’re in business with people you don’t see eye to eye with it’s always better not to be in business with them,” she says now on leaving the company. In January, Meyer launched Entrepreneur Country, a business networking and events business with 30,000 names in its database, and hopes to achieve some of the goals she didn’t reach with FT like building a finance search engine and online networking.

Voice is the future: Meyer has a simple answer to what the question of what sectors will do well in the months and years ahead: voice: “The most natural form of communication is to speak rather than sit there and type.” Meyer has advised voice-to-text tech app developer Spinvox since 2006 and Ariadne joined in its $100 million funding round last year. Meyer advised Skype early in its lifetime and says companies like Liverpool-based Quire and Voicepay as part of “whole new cluster of companies” in the VoIP space.

Investments: As well as Slicethepie, Ariadne also this year backed Enriched Social Productions, a Dublin-based TV-to-web company that develops entertainment formats and runs Tesco-sponsored online talent competition 1Click2Fame. Also on Ariadne’s books – the Ecademy network, local business directory and mobile banker Monitise. All these are micro-payment, transactional based companies but Meyer says she isn’t averse to funding advertising-based businesses given the right opportunity.