Please note: this interview page was updated on 5 March.
Julie Meyer, famed entrepreneur and founder of Ariadne Capital, recently sat down with Rude Baguette to explain how a little Lutheran girl from a Californian farm village became one of the Wall Street Journal’s 30 Most Influential Women in Europe.
Meyer credits her strong work ethic and taste for business to her early years surrounded by entrepreneurs like her father, quipping that she never knew what a ‘normal’ life is—in other words, life without 100-hour work weeks and a passionate drive to build massive enterprises.
Meyer is the first to acknowledge that this spunk puts her at odds with less driven people. She admitted that she’s unsympathetic to laziness and sloppiness and mystified by people who don’t constantly push themselves. This has led to some clashes with former employees who aren’t as willing to pour their heart and soul into their work as Meyer is, from a protracted legal battle brought by sales consultant Rachel Lowe, who Meyer revealed only brought in £1000 of revenue over the six months she was paid a £21,000 salary, to a dispute with Tony Langham, CEO of PR firm Lansons. Meyer explained that she stopped paying Lansons’ retainer after six months in which the firm had done more harm than good, produced little discernible work, and which saw Langham go back on his initial promise to manage the account himself, handing it over to an intern instead.
Getting David to dance with Goliath
This firm determination has served Meyer well, however, in an industry where the old adage that women have to work twice as hard to get ahead holds true. When she was eleven years old, her father proclaimed that “women want four things in life”: to have a great job, to be a great mother, to be happily married, and to look good and be fit. Meyer’s father meant the list as a lesson on how to stay focused in life, advising her that she would be lucky to achieve two of these ambitions, unhappy if she tried to fulfill three, and would fail at all of them if she tried to do all four.
Meyer took the advice to heart, but quickly made it clear she wasn’t going to play by any rules meant solely for women. Wanting to escape her father’s shadow, Meyer moved away from California—first to college in Indiana, where her literature classes endowed her with the love for a well-turned phrase that still characterizes her work today—she refers to the need for collaboration between large companies and nimble startups, for example, as a “enabling David & Goliath to dance”.
Move to Europe
Frustrated that she hadn’t managed to learn French at university, Julie moved to Paris at age 21. She quickly felt at home in Europe, admiring its complexity, and took the transatlantic move as an opportunity to discover what she was capable of. She didn’t have to wait long to find out. First Tuesday, a networking organization for entrepreneurs she founded in 1998, sold two years later for $50 million. Julie then got the idea to create Ariadne Capital, an investment firm dedicated to backing great entrepreneurs from around the world.
The past two decades of Ariadne’s history suggest that Meyer seems to have an uncanny knack for finding the next big thing. Ariadne was one of the first companies to back Skype and gave early support to successful businesses like Espotting, Monitise and BeatThatQuote. While Ariadne Capital Limited, distinct from the Ariadne Capital Group structure which oversees many of Meyer’s initiatives such as her investment platform, has recently been put into administration. While Meyer chalks it up to “quite serious” mismanagement by managing director Amit Pau – a fact that is even alluded to in Clause 3.8 of the administrators’ report – she remains a firm believer in the company’s mission.
Meyer explained that she sees “entrepreneurship and the financing of it as a social good, capable of solving profound social issues”, and is always searching for new ways to help entrepreneurs flourish. Based on her Ecosystem Economics® framework, she developed the EU’s first ‘plug and play’ investment platform based in Malta – ECO2 – which is already soliciting considerable interest. For example, Rimac, a Croatian hyper-car manufacturer widely seen as a direct alternative to Tesla, and Eviation, a disruptive electric commuter aircraft provider that has received widespread coverage, are among the most exciting companies currently seeking financing through the ECO2 platform.
Meyer has had a bit of a rocky road in Malta, where, as she said, “the rule of law is understood differently” and “contracts are not the final word”. Ariadne held a very successful investor summit in the small island nation, generating a lot of excitement and featuring a keynote speech by Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat—but also, Meyer feels, a lot of jealousy, along with a healthy dose of misogyny. She explained that male employees who had to be let go due to poor performance lashed out at her on social media sites such as Twitter, Glassdoor and LinkedIn. Meyer chalks this overreaction up to these men having difficulty accepting a “rather Germanic, very unemotional, very clinical” woman terminating their employment.
A man’s world?
Men’s trouble getting behind the idea of a powerful, ambitious female entrepreneur is something that Meyer has noticed throughout her career. She recalled the funniest thing someone said to her over the past year—that she must have “male energy” because of all she had accomplished.
Instead, Meyer prefers to credit her feminine energy for getting her so far. She mused that women, thanks to qualities such as trust, transparency, and collaboration, are uniquely poised to succeed in an ever-changing world. Meyer herself is very upfront about both the tremendous challenges of entrepreneurship—she advises young people not to become entrepreneurs unless they’re desperately attached to the vision they have – and its numerous rewards.
At the end of our interview, Meyer hastened to add that she’s “relentlessly optimistic”: it’s a quality that’s carried her from central California to European boardrooms, and one that will certainly serve her well in her next adventures in what she calls Entrepreneur Country.
Editor’s note: All statements made within this interview represent the personal views of Julie Meyer and do not in any way reflect the views or the editorial position of Rude Baguette. Tony Langham has provided an official reply to Rude Baguette; that reply has been included below.
RESPONSE BY TONY LANGHAM:
In early 2017 Ariadne Capital (Ariadne) paid an undisclosed sum to Lansons to settle the two year old legal dispute between the two firms.
On 3 November 2014, nearly 9 months after the two firms started working together, Julie Meyer of Ariadne emailed Tony Langham and said “I confirm you will be paid in total” after being asked about a number of outstanding invoices. However, this did not happen, so in early 2015 Lansons suspended work for Ariadne as there were a considerable number of unpaid invoices and Lansons commenced action to secure payment from Ariadne. Ariadne, which had not expressed dissatisfaction before, responded by taking legal action against Lansons, claiming under delivery of services – an action that Tony Langham described at the time as “a joke lawsuit”. Two years later, Ariadne withdrew its legal action and paid an undisclosed sum to Lansons to settle the dispute.
Tony Langham said “This is the only time in our 29 year history that we have been involved in a dispute like this and it’s not something we’re keen to repeat. Winning the legal battle was, partly, a pyrrhic victory but we pursued Ariadne for payment as it was a matter of principle that we felt strongly about.”