Few who saw it can now forget Julie Meyer’s car crash performance on Question Time, a grim nadir for the image of technology entrepreneurship in this country and a hideous embarrassment to the community Meyer purports to represent, and at which her new book, Welcome to Entrepreneur Country, is directed.
Because this isn’t a self-help book for the recently redundant, egging them on to found their own company and flying the flag for rugged individualism; it’s a fame whore’s manifesto, the justification for, and apotheosis of, a lifetime of vacuous self-promotion and exploitation of the most stupid and desperate elements of Europe’s tech industry.
The career of Julie Meyer, chief executive of Ariadne Capital, is a testament to the power of brazen self-aggrandisement over talent; of the parasitical over the productive. In a way, you have to admire what Meyer has accomplished with Ariadne – a name, incidentally, as misleading as Meyer’s frequent and gushing descriptions of her own accomplishments in this book.
(I say misleading because there is little evidence of any “capital” in Ariadne Capital at all – aside, of course, from the shocking fees Meyer and her associates extract from start-ups for their consulting and introductions services. There is precious little evidence that the “ACE” fund Meyer runs has much money to deploy either.)
You see, on the one hand, you can scream blue murder at the sheer effrontery of what Ariadne does and the grandiose claims it makes. Imagine if the Tech City Investment Organisation charged £500 per introduction. On the other, you can admire the red-blooded Darwinism of the model: if an entrepreneur is so stupid as to hand over a £5,000 retainer for the promise of advice and introductions that could have been garnered for free over a weekend, perhaps they deserve everything they get.
Perhaps, indeed, Ariadne is doing us all a favour, flagging up the uninvestible and the hapless. Perhaps it’s a useful filter. But then, just as you start to think: “So what?”, morality kicks in again, and the stories start flooding into one’s inbox about the litany of bankrupt chief executives whose greatest mistake was to take advice from someone with an Ariadne Capital business card… but no, I should stop there, because I’ve already said too much.
Not content with being a drain on an industry she insults with hilariously incompetent TV appearances, Julie Meyer has done everything possible to turn herself into a micro-celebrity, insinuating her way onto the online version of Dragons’ Den and talking newspapers that should know better into publishing her inane commentary under the guise of expert opinion.
Welcome to Entrepreneur Country is the distillation of those columns: a long hymn of praise to its own author that meanders through back of the crisp packet advice and irrelevant statistics, pausing for breath every other paragraph to remind the reader how fantastically important and well-connected Meyer is, lest you had forgotten from the previous page. Thus we are told, endlessly and in unbearable detail, about the exciting conferences, exotic destinations and important-sounding committees that fill Meyer’s diary.
Names are dropped in this wafer-thin and generously spaced volume so furiously that it’s as if they were just plucked from a fire. One has to wonder, though, how complicit any of these people really were in the aetiology of Julie Meyer and how happy they are about their inclusion in her book, since at least one of the people she discusses at length told me last week he wished he had never met her.
Welcome to Entrepreneur Country is not only offensive in its obsessive, lavish praise for Meyer herself. It is also shockingly poorly written, from the dust jacket advertising Meyer’s career alongside “the longest technology entrepreneurs over the past fifteen years” (what does that even mean?) to the lazy, bullet point self-help mannerisms. It’s unreadable, in fact – one of the many suggestions that Meyer may actually have penned it personally.
But we do discover one or two new facts. For instance, that Meyer has learned nothing from her public humiliations over the years. Christina Domecq, the disgraced former chief executive of SpinVox, about whom Meyer penned an excruciatingly dreadful blog post when the former’s mismanagement of SpinVox was being revealed by the BBC, is present in the acknowledgements.
We also learn that the mean-spirited rumours about Julie’s intellect are not inaccurate. There are so many inconsistencies, so many blunders, so many boasts that do not bear scrutiny, so many statements that will come back to bite her, that one is left wondering how on earth Meyer has managed to keep the show on the road for so long. She praises the disastrous Ecademy. She misrepresents James Caan’s business model for Hamilton Bradshaw. She claims to have injected £500,000 into Ariadne in December 2000. And so it goes on.
I have always been at a loss to explain Meyer’s contribution to entrepreneurship on either side of the Atlantic. After reading this book, I am none the wiser. It’s clearly meant to be dipped in and out of: it’s written too disjointedly to be an all-in-one-sitting endeavour. But if it was intended to pass time in the loo, the publishers, Constable, could have saved us some trouble and printed it directly onto bog roll. Because that’s the greatest utility the reader is likely to get out of it.
Part nauseating autobiography, part score-settling and part self-justification, Welcome to Entrepreneur Country is a book that should have stayed a hysterical blog post; a rambling, pointless, boring, hastily-assembled morass of daft advice, questionable claims and tired feminism. It’s an embarrassment to Constable – though not, I fear, as much of one as it will be to the tech industry, which, sad to say, is judged by the outside world on moronic writing like this.