Bells and whistles be damned. First Tuesday, a London-based company that hooks up high-tech entrepreneurs with venture capital firms, has built its reputation on the ultimate bare-bones events. Forget the classic meeting model — three days, two nights, nice hotel, round of golf — this company has made its name in new economy networking by leveraging the power of the cocktail party.
It's the petri dish approach to meetings: Just put the right elements together, sit back, and watch the culture interact. The right elements for a First Tuesday event are entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and suppliers (lawyers, consultants, and others who might help young companies pull down a round of funding).
The petri dish itself is often a large bar, sometimes a ballroom, at which attendees show up, get labeled, and head off into the brine: Entrepreneurs stick a green dot on their badges, VCs a red dot, and suppliers a yellow dot. After that, the mix bubbles on its own. While a speaker is often part of the agenda, face-time is the main event.
If you have always assumed meetings need more flash to flourish, consider this company's growth. Its first networking party brought together 80 people at London's Alphabet Bar on the first Tuesday of October 1998 (thus the name). A year later, simultaneous Tuesday evening networking events took place in 17 cities in Europe, and, according to a spokesperson, events were set to happen on the first Tuesday of February 2001 in about 100 cities around the world.
The matchmaking franchise (www.firsttuesday.com) came to North America in November 1999; the initial event was in Miami, followed by Detroit. In May 2000, Laura Meyer came on as U.S. director of operations for First Tuesday North America (no relation to company co-founder Julie Meyer), and the card-swapping sessions spread to 13 U.S. and three Canadian cities. Events typically draw 200 to 300 people in Detroit and as many as 500 or 600 people in Chicago and New York. European meetings tend to be smaller.
“The enthusiasm is impressive [at First Tuesday events],” Laura Meyer says. “You might find the right employer or a distributor.” Or a few million bucks. First Tuesday claims that young companies have raised $150 million from connections made at its events.
It may seem obvious that venture capitalists — money — can draw a crowd, but the story continues. First Tuesday could have been satisfied with its red dot, green dot, yellow dot Tuesday evening mixers, but its vision is broader. The company aims to build a brand and a global network. It is leveraging the First Tuesday name to create new events, to connect entrepreneurs with people and services via the Internet, and, it hopes, to make money.
First Tuesday has developed Web services (aimed almost exclusively at Europeans) that include First Tuesday Jobs, an online listing of IT employment opportunities, and First Tuesday Offices, an online office space exchange that specializes in short-term sublets and swaps.
Off-line, in addition to its “classic events,” the First Tuesday umbrella includes Matchmaking events and Wireless Wednesdays. The latter is similar to the Tuesday events, but with a focus on educating entrepreneurs and investors within the wireless industry. January 2001 saw the global launch of this product, with meetings in 20 cities around the world — from Birmingham, England, to Riga, Latvia, to Miami.
For Matchmaking events, start-ups submit their business plans via the Web. First Tuesday evaluates the ideas and may invite a company to meet with potential investors. At the event, companies are allotted 15 minutes to make their pitch to a VC; then the bell rings and everyone moves on to the next appointment. While these events have been happening nearly as long as the classic events, the first one in North America was in January in Vancouver.
“We're global. You get the sense that you're part of a much bigger happening.”
First Tuesday makes its money by selling sponsorships at all the events as well as by taking a 2 percent cut of funding that results from Matchmaking events.
“Our distinguishing feature is global breadth, local depth. Every city leader has deep links in their community,” Meyer says, crediting the local First Tuesdayorganizers with much of the energy and creativity that have gotten the networking events onto the “can't miss” lists of funders, entrepreneurs, and suppliers. “Exchanging information with peers is critical. There's a lot of follow-up. And we're global,” Meyer says. “You get the sense that you're part of a much bigger happening.”
Carolyn Sechler, CPA, has plans to make that “bigger happening” come alive for her First Tuesday attendees. Sechler, a yellow dot, is founder of Sechler CPA PC, a virtual accounting firm, and the city leader for the Phoenix First Tuesday meetings. She ran the city's first three meetings this past June, August, and September, and then took a break to get organized. The events started again in February, with a live interactive webcast featuring Alan Steinberg, president and CEO of DevelopOnline. The webcast originated from Arizona State University, with participation from six other First Tuesday events, four in the United States, one in Canada, and one in Mexico.
While time zone considerations kept worldwide participation down, Sechler says, one Australian city is expected for her next webcast in March. With sponsorship dollars from Veritas, among other companies, and technical support from EyePopMedia and OBCTV Digital Media Services, she plans to do three webcasts in all, and the March event will be entirely wireless. All the events will be archived and accessible by any First Tuesday group.
Sechler sees the webcasts as another way to build connections among the First Tuesday network. Already, she says, the network is used when an organization is expanding or looking for resources on a global basis. As a city leader for less than a year, she's already hosted First Tuesday visitors from as far away as Spain and Scotland.
“A lot of people have believed in [Julie Meyer's] vision of providing resources, off-line and online, for entrepreneurs,” Laura Meyer says. “We've been able to do that with the Internet, by forging relationships, developing city leaders. … [We're] more efficient than some other networking events.”
On the Block
First Tuesday, an organization whose mission is to link hot emerging new economy companies with the capital they need, has an ironic twist to its story. The company was not able to come up with the venture capital it needed to stay independent and last summer was acquired by Yazam, a Jerusalem- and New York-based seed-stage investing firm.
Like many of the hopeful dot-coms it serves, First Tuesday reportedly struggled with its revenue stream as well as its fast, informal expansion. Yazam, which evaluates and funds IT start-ups, would seem to be an ideal fit with First Tuesday's mission. However, at press time, Yazam announced that it has put First Tuesday up for sale, just six months after the purchase.