Julie Meyer: The face behind speed dates for start ups

Julie Meyer came to Britain in 1997. A year later she set up her business First Tuesday to bring together start-up businesses and financial backers. In 2000, she sold up for £33m and founded Ariadne Capital.

Julie Meyer is best known for appearing as a dragon' in the online version of the BBC TV show, Dragons' Den. But the American has been a firm feature in business circles since 1998.

Following stints working and studying in the US and France, Meyer came to Britain in 1997. She used "relentless networking" to find a job and when she eventually landed one, with NewMedia Investors a venture capitalist firm backing internet start-ups she celebrated by throwing a huge networking party. "I invited around 100 key people in the UK technology scene." Shortly afterwards, one of those guests, Lastminute.com founder Brett Hoberman, was approached by two entrepreneurs, Nick Denton and Adam Gold, who were planning to start a networking business. Too busy to become involved himself, Hoberman suggested that they contact Meyer. The trio came up with the idea for a "place where entrepreneurs met the money to fund their internet ventures".

Meyer believed that they had spotted a gap in the market. "The level of entrepreneurs in Britain and Europe was as good as anywhere else, but the funding for them wasn't." So they decided to host an event on the first Tuesday of the month hence the name of the firm for start-ups and financial backers to meet. The meetings mixed presentations from well-known tech figures with informal drinks. They also produced a daily e-zine with updates on the nascent internet economy. The format worked and, helped by the buzz surrounding internet firms, attendances began to swell. As the event became more popular with the internet digerati' the firm began to attract sponsors. "Recruitment firms, legal companies, there were lots of service companies that wanted to have a presence in the technology sector."

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With business booming, Meyer decided to quit her post at NewMedia Investors to focus on First Tuesday. The company expanded into Europe and in 1999 launched in 17 European countries. The team also worked on new ways to make money. "We set up a matchmaking service which was like speed dating for entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. Entrepreneurs would have 20 minutes to explain their business before moving on to the next potential backer." First Tuesday would get 2% of any capital raised.

The firm, which now had 500,000 members, began to attract the attention of competitors. In July 2000 Yazam, an Israeli networking outfit, bought First Tuesday for £33m. By then Meyer's partners were keen to exit. Backed with capital from the sale, she set up Ariadne Capital, an investment and advisory firm for start-ups. The idea was for successful entrepreneurs to provide financial backing expertise to up-and-coming businesses. "It was a whole new way of financing start-ups." Her success with First Tuesday paid dividends. "People thought she made money with First Tuesday so she will probably do it again'."

And so it proved. One of the early success stories was Skype. As Ariadne grew, it began to invest in start-ups. "We also worked with big corporations, scanning the market for small firms with the technology they needed." At a recent funding round, the firm's value was put at £20m. So First Tuesday won't be Julie Meyer's last success.

James graduated from Keele University with a BA (Hons) in English literature and history, and has a NCTJ certificate in journalism.


After working as a freelance journalist in various Latin American countries, and a spell at ITV, James wrote for Television Business International and covered the European equity markets for the Forbes.com London bureau. 


James has travelled extensively in emerging markets, reporting for international energy magazines such as Oil and Gas Investor, and institutional publications such as the Commonwealth Business Environment Report. 


He is currently the managing editor of LatAm INVESTOR, the UK's only Latin American finance magazine.