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Thursday, August 12, 1999 Published at 06:28 GMT 07:28 UK


London's swinging Netropolis

E-commerce wheeler-dealing in 18th-Century surroundings

By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall

It was the hottest ticket in town on Tuesday night, but the long queue forming outside the exclusive Home House club in London's West End was not interested in parties, concerts or nightclubs.

BBC Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall: "The hottest ticket in town"
The line of laptop-carrying nerds and sharp-suited financiers were the lucky ones being admitted to the three-times oversubscribed First Tuesday event, where Web entrepreneurs and New Media venture capitalists collide.

First Tuesday mirrors how the London of the Networked Nineties is swinging like the Austin Powers Sixties, with investors from all over the world trying to tap into a dynamic Web movement of shagadelic proportions.

Coterie goes continental

First Tuesday began as a coterie culled from a 50-strong e-mail list, meeting in a bar in Soho last October. It has grown to nearly 2,000 members, 500 coming along to the High Society-style garden party at Home House.

Julie Meyer of First Tuesday says London leads
Red badges for the venture capitalists, labeled with names such as Standard Chartered, Apax and Atlas, mingled with the green of the entrepreneurs and the yellows of public relations agencies and journalists in-between.

There is now a Website, a daily e-mail newsletter and next month, First Tuesday, "Europe's Internetworking Community", will Webcast its get-together and launch versions in major cities on the continent.

London leads the world

One of the founders, Julie Meyer of New Media Investors, was familiar with the concept from her time in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. She feels London is now the place to be.

[ image: Meyer: No place like London]
Meyer: No place like London
"The opportunity and really the impact one person can have in London, I'm convinced there's no place in the world like it right now.

"It's a good creative atmosphere and a dynamic community. We have so many success stories about people who find their financing here at First Tuesday.

"The deals are being done here and that's why we're three times over-subscribed because people know that people with the money, people with the ideas, if they talk to enough of them here they will find the right ones that they are looking for."

lastminute to take on USA

There seems no shortage of funds for those with convincing business plans and experienced teams.

Brent Hoberman: New start-ups every day
"We're seeing tremendous enthusiasm from the venture community", says Brent Hoberman, managing director and co-founder of

[ image: Hoberman: First to market]
Hoberman: First to market
"I'm being asked to advise on lots of start-ups, probably at least one a day, so we're seeing a lot of good ideas come out of here."

Lastminute is now exporting its original concept of using the Net to help businesses to sell empty airline and theatre seats and hotel rooms at bargain prices for consumers. It launches operations on the continent shortly and will tackle America with the help of a stock market flotation.

"Time to market is everything on the Internet so you need to be first," says Mr Hoberman. "We're very lucky in that we are first not only in the UK, not only in Europe but on a global scale which gives us huge potential and is one of the reasons we've attracted tremendous interest."

Local roots to help UK start-ups

Ernesto Schmitt: Local content important
Lastminute, currently staging an advertising campaign to increase its brand awareness, seems almost an old established name compared with the newest companies such as

The idea for a new format for online music distribution site was dreamt up by Ernesto Schmitt at about the time lastminute was launching last November. Peoplesound will open for business in the autumn.

[ image: Schmitt: New Silicon Valley]
Schmitt: New Silicon Valley
The 28-year-old has gathered an experienced team, including Martin Turner, formerly head of CompuServe UK, and Will Lovegrove, founder of the Ministry of Sound online, and has just won the backing of Groupe Arnault' s global Internet Fund.

"London is turning into the main new Silicon Valley for Internet businesses and the UK is the hot point for new music coming out of Europe," he says. "So we're starting in the UK and then rapidly setting up subsidiaries in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Benelux countries and even Turkey."

While he faces competition from American sites such as, he believes that British companies do have advantages over US rivals.

"A lot of it is about having a local grass roots presence, a network and marketing. We've got 150 people working for us across the UK now, finding bands and sending them to us. Without that network you won't be able to get the content and that's really what it's all about."

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