Julie Meyer is an entrepreneur and investor who, since 2008, has helmed EntrepreneurCountry Global, a subsidiary of Ariadne Capital in London, which aims to bring new economies to larger, non-traditionally-tech companies. Here she speaks to Red Herring about the cycle of disruption and design, the importance of creating entrepreneur infrastructure worldwide, and the concerns of a Palo Alto-obsessed Europe.
Why did you initially found EntrepreneurCountry Global?
Entrepreneurs see something; they understand something about consumer behavior, consumer intention. The good ones bring that to life. It’s like how to view into the future. And what does that vision tell you? That in every industry the world is no longer linear, it’s exponential. That means that we’re no longer buying and selling, we’re participating in a transaction where consumer data is a new entrant to the model.
The reason we set up EntrepreneurCountry, which is an operating platform for the fund but also a market space, is that it’s very clear how the digital winners – the Facebooks, the Apples – are winning. Because they are platforms; because they are organizing the economy for their industry, and they are engaged with the economics.
What do you perceive as the future for major corporates, which don’t have proven track records in tech?
We think that the future – particularly in Europe and European VCs – is working with large, non-tech companies in many sectors and helping them put together a business model where they can become a platform and can organize the economies of their ecosystem. It’s really important. We’re investing in digital enablers rather than digital disruptors in the system of countries in EntrepreneurCountry’s market space.
The question I asked myself seven or eight years ago was, shoot: what happened to the rest of the world? Is the rest of the world bust? Did it fall off a cliff? The answer is of course ‘no’, and if you read Carlota Perez, she looked at the past 300 years of this news every 60-80, from disruptive tech to a new common sense.
And so it became pretty clear to me that the likes of Volkswagen and Paddy Power and TESCO imitate the winners. It’s not quite as straightforward, but they essentially take a page out of the handbook of the winners and become platforms. They can’t do that on their own, because they’re not Apple, or Amazon, or Facebook, and they don’t have the same developer expertise or consumer insights of a Steve Jobs. But they can do that with entrepreneurs, who have an insight into consumer trends and understand how to monetize them.
What effect have this decade’s financial crises had on that ethos?
I think change and crisis cause smart people to think harder about where they are, and what they need to do to win. Because it becomes clear when you’re going through something like a financial crisis, that the future is not going to be like the past. So you think, ok, what are my assets? The assets of large companies are their customers: they’re a highway for digital cars to go down. Imagine if every European digital entrepreneur said, ‘Oh my God, I need to do a deal with Volkswagen, or TESCO.’ They think they need to do a deal with an App store or someone in Palo Alto.
But all these retail groups, media groups, banks etc – if they found a way to help digital startups and test-pilot their products – and not necessarily with huge sample sizes – that would be great. And that’s what we do at EntrepreneurCountry. Even though it is only around 200,000 ‘citizens’, they’re an über-engaged, early-adopter group.
How important is it for you to include places such as Tanzania, Libya and Kenya alongside more traditionally-recognized tech centers such as Israel, Germany and the U.K.?
I think the macro trend is absolutely that good entrepreneurs can come from anywhere on the planet. I really believe that, that ok, let’s face it – the infrastructure of entrepreneurship is not evenly distributed, so if you’re starting up in Libya my God you’ve got some problems. I don’t think that the goal must always be to go to Palo Alto – as much as I love it. That won’t solve the issues of uneven entrepreneur infrastructure. There’s big opportunity, and big money, to be had by distributing that infrastructure around the world.
I think we have to be rational. There’s a huge hoopla, very self-congratulatory, in London, Berlin and others, that we’re doing so well with all these startups. Yes, well done. But we learn Carlota Perez – I think this woman is brilliant – that we are in the second half of the Carlota Perez. The point is how the social and economic institutions, aka the big guys, how they fight back. The key is that the big guys employ the digital enablers fast.
I have no problem with billionaires winning. But I do have a problem if society doesn’t prosper. That’s what we learn again and again, every 60-80 years, is that the faster the empire embraces the new technology, the better it is for Joe Average. That’s proven. So it’s important that more people understand that, because everyone’s got a role to play. We’re moving to a new common sense, and everyone has to play a part in creating that new common sense.
How does Europe fit into all this – and how can its traditional differences with Silicon Valley work to its advantage?
There are so many influential and intelligent people out there in the digital industry, but for me right now it’s all about the design of what’s going on, the design of how companies go to market, and the socioeconomic institutions, i.e. the corporates, and how the empire will fight back.
I think it’s a way for Europe to win. And I’ll just throw that out there, because I don’t think it’s healthy for so many European entrepreneurs to feel like they have to go to California to get their funding, then go to California for their distribution, for an app, and then frankly it feels that the single play in the playbook of European venture capitalists is to figure out which Americans they’re going to sell them to. It doesn’t feel like it’s creating long term value, if the ecosystems are not being built and developed in Europe.
Europe is a first-born child. I think America is a later-born child. As a later-born child, I can really understand the American way of doing things: let’s change things; let’s turn over the applecart. Let’s blow it all up, spend billions to recreate an industry. People who can do that go to Palo Alto.
Europe is different. You see it with the Uber wars. Actually, there’s a whole part of Europe that says, creative destruction, all very well and good, but it’s also important to take care of the employees. And we’re not interested in blowing everything up. We’d rather like to enable industries and ecosystems, and we don’t really like people talking about themselves all the time. Is there a way we can have a stake in the outcomes, and focus on the industries rather than the personalities. There’s a fundamentally different approach. As Carlota Perez says, it’s time for that older child.