Focused tech firms will survive any downturn

8 Jan 2009

Julie Meyer kick-started the First Tuesday tech investment gatherings in London in 1998. Today, she runs her own venture capital firm, Ariadne Capital, which has invested in firms such as Skype and SpinVox.

The First Tuesday monthly gatherings embodied the spirit of the turn-of-century boom times. How important is it for aspiring tech firms and investors to network?

The core principle of First Tuesday was to share intelligence, learn about who’s doing what and get your company discussed over a glass of wine.

People have to meet, no matter what happens in technology. Online never replaces what we do in the real world, and people need to meet to facilitate and accelerate.

As a venture capitalist in these tough economic times, do you think it’s going to become harder for start-ups to attract finance?

These times are challenging but investment in promising start-ups will continue. The groups that are going to continue to invest are entrepreneurs who have already cashed in. Entrepreneurs will back other entrepreneurs. It’s a virtuous circle.

The guys who built businesses in difficult markets have a point of view that goes, ‘Yes, the world melts, and yes, we’ve seen this before, but we worked hard, survived, cut costs.’

The people who don’t know what’s going to happen are people who have come out of corporate environments that were structured, where they’ve never had to survive through lean times before.

What trait or attitude will get young or established technology firms through the recession?

WorldPay founder Nick Ogden once said the one achievement he is most proud of is never having missed a payroll.

WorldPay was sold to Royal Bank of Scotland, but Ogden’s proudest moment was keeping his people paid through the tough times. This challenges the fact that people think entrepreneurs are just all out for the money.

What they are really out for is accountability. They don’t always work for themselves, they work for everybody.

How do you sum up the DNA of successful entrepreneurs?

Entrepreneurs are people who choose to live abnormal lives. In this market, what will separate the men from the boys and the women from the girls is the fact that the people who will cash out in 2011 and 2012 are working very hard right now through the downturn, not off doing MBAs.

Venture capital (VC) firm Sequoia Capital – which invested in Google – recently delivered a memo saying it was a bad time to expand a business or launch a start-up. Do you agree?

You’re not going to see fewer start-ups. But what you will see are firms that will live by their wits, which were built using their own resources, as well as family rounds and leaner VC rounds.

Without question, the VC community is going to be much more choosey about where it will invest, but by no means is the market closed. Great companies will get funded.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years