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INTERVIEW

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The 3,000-to-1 shot Julie Meyer has achieved more in her lifetime than most people can even dream of – so she started her own country

WRITING

Ben Walker PHOTOGRAPHY

Ariadne

So this is where it’s at. Malta. While a bitterly easterly wind refrigerates our mutual home city of London, I finally track Julie Meyer down to the tiny island nation in the southern Mediterranean Sea. It’s early February when we speak and I’d assumed she’d be in the Alps. “Oh no! I’m originally from California, I don’t like to be cold,” she says. “Here, I can go out without any nylons on. It was 20 degrees yesterday. I’ll do anything for this kind of weather.” But there’s more to Meyer’s Maltese sojourn than a fondness for winter sun. She’s doing business there. Lots of business. “I’m trying to solve the problem of how big money connects to small startups,” Meyer, the chairman and chief executive of Ariadne Capital, tells Dialogue. “The big money like the Sovereign Wealth Fund of Norway or pension funds based in Manchester. People who have £150 million to £250 million and want a return on technology venture capital. And I’m excited to do that out of Malta because I like to find and discover places before other people do.” So why Malta? “This little country, it’s very strategic,” says Meyer. “There’s no crime, no terrorism, no refugee crisis. There’s no unemployment. It’s got a lot of stuff going for it. It’s in the EU. It’s totally English speaking. It’s very digital. The largest its population will ever be is 800,000 – but you’ve got the ability to codify and create frameworks and format IP, such that you can run remote businesses from Malta. The Maltese are strong in gaming, they are strong in financial services, they are strong in lots of industries, but that doesn’t mean that they have all those people here, it means they have an infrastructure which powers the platform, which drives the global industry.”

Ideas, groundbreaking products, new places: Meyer is quite the pioneer. She is the ultrasuccessful early-stages backer and facilitator of milestone internet businesses: Skype – “look at the net benefit, the happiness, it has brought grandmothers and granddaughters who can connect for free”– peer-to-peer loans broker Zopa and online travel agent Lastminute.com. Malta might be close to her heart as a hub for global business development but, in general, she is sceptical of the way national governments handle entrepreneurs. “When people say location doesn’t matter they don’t add any substance to that statement,” she says. “Just because you can pick up a smartphone anywhere in the world, can you really set up a business that goes global anywhere in the world? No, you cannot. But if Malta can do it, then maybe Madagascar can. And if Madagascar can, maybe some other poorer parts of the world can. Places where people can play into the opportunity… then they can say, ‘My God, I was born poor in Namibia, but it doesn’t matter, because I know I’m smart – and here are the tools that are available.’” As it is, she suggests that most governments fail to provide those tools. “I think it’s a token gesture,” she says. “There is a whole lot of money spent but governments believe countries are there for all of their constituents and there has to be a sort of even-steven. I understand that. And I also believe that most people in government are good – I don’t make Blackshirts out of people just for the heck of it. But I do think there needs to be an implicit prioritization of entrepreneurs even if there isn’t an explicit one. I start from the premise that we are here to create wealth for all, and that’s a good thing, and that all of society benefits from that.”

Dialogue Q2 2017

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10/02/2017 12:17

Dialogue Q2 2017  
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