Julie first came to prominence in 1998 when she founded and drove the global expansion of a network of entrepreneurs, First Tuesday, which some credit for having ignited the internet generation of entrepreneurs in Europe. It still exists today in dozens of cities though not in London. Justin Richards interviewed her for BCS.
How do you think ecommerce is changing? How has it changed over the past 10 years and how do you see it changing in future?
I've lived in Europe now, in Paris and London, since 1988 and for a couple of years between 94 and 96 I was in Boston, and the good thing about that was I got to experience the first surge of the internet, when it happened first, and to see the emergence of companies like Amazon and Priceline, the early internet companies. And then coming to London in 98/99 where I encountered the second wave of Web 1.0 where we were learning how to buy stuff online, buy tickets and all of that.
What's happened with the second wave, what we're calling Web 2.0 over the past year or two, is that the web has become social in addition to being transactional; hence, with the emergence of sites like 'Friends Reunited'.
I think 'First Tuesday', my company, was an early precursor to this. We didn't get our act together on the technology side but we could have been an important social- networking site if we had paid more attention to technology.
And so things like all these social networks are communities and a way of reaching out to that long tail, by which I mean all the other people who have similar interest groups and similar interests to yourself around the world and who you would never know unless you could reach them via a mechanism like the internet.
All of that is happening now as opposed to during the time of Web 1.0. So what I mean is that your ability to buy online and perform ecommerce is becoming more targeted and the selling towards you, of what you might like to buy or the marketing online is also becoming more targeted.
The mechanism of demonstrating preferences is becoming easier and the buying and selling is becoming more refined, more targeted. It's really less and less about technology, and the disruptive nature of the internet as technology and communications, and more and more about a marketing phenomenon, where I'm quite comfortable - I'm not a technologist.
The evolution of marketing as a discipline and as a science is fascinating to me. When you think of what Google is at the end of the day, it positions itself as a media company but media companies are really companies which aggregate an audience and then project or distribute or promote or broadcast to that audience. Sky is a media company the same as Google, and it aggregates an audience and then sells to that audience.
So I think there's going to be a very long bedding down of that in society. Whatever the stock market does, people were continuing to go more and more online during the dark days of 2001, 2, 3 and four. Internet penetration didn’t come to a grinding halt just because the NASDAQ crashed.
But you have to be aware of what's happening in terms of market adoption of new technologies, products, services and so forth and the internet reaching out for more support from a mass market. That operates not necessarily in sync with what's going on with the markets.
With so many new markets and buying opportunities out there for the consumer how do you think good project management can assist business to remain competitive?
I think the bar has been raised and it's more competitive. There are companies out there like Eloqua, which enable you to convert interest online into customers. Think of Salesforce.com, they're more the marketing side of that.
They focus on doing targeted campaigns to your database to convert them to a particular product or service. Many of these companies could not have existed even eight years ago.
You say that it is less about technology today and more about social networking. Do you think that technology has assisted social networking and therefore allowed ecommerce to move forward?
I remember that back in 1999 people raised, with help, a lot of money to build technology to do things online.
Think of a company like Venda, an ecommerce platform company, which if you need help with ecommerce real quick, they'll help out.
They were of course a buy out of the ecommerce infrastructure, including Boo.com, which was worth tons of money, many 10s of millions of pounds, which created, in their wipe-out, an ecommerce platform, which is used across the industry. So I think that Boo.com to Venda is a really interesting vignette for what's happened there.
We've just started working with a company called BeCheeky an online lingerie site. There are lots of other online lingerie sites, so we have to ask how differentiated from other sites is BeCheeky? There's Figleaves, there's Coco Ribbon. How many online sites do we need that sell lingerie?
However, there are a lot of things which differentiate BeCheeky from the others. What is not differentiated about BeCheeky is how they do online payments and sell; those of a transactional nature. The website builder that they use was able to use 'plug and play' and easily accessible technology.
To get BeCheeky up and running has cost a relatively small amount of money. They are spending all of their money at the moment on targeting specific consumers who will like that particular type of lingerie, and their continuing marketing campaign.
I think it is going to do quite well, not because it's a new idea that no one's ever had before but because of the marketing expertise of the investors which includes Quentin Griffiths, founder of 'As Seen On Screen' (ASOS), a hugely successful celebrity-orientated fashion site.
What are the differences in marketing an ecommerce type of company as opposed to a more traditional type of business, which has a storefront?
I don't know what the official penetration statistics are for how many people are online in the UK, but it's a big number. We're getting all the late conservative majority, really none techie people, who are now online.
People are buying more and more online, not just browsing, and then going to the shop to buy the product but actually buying it online. And I think that something like ASOS shows that things that have an element of style or taste don't get commoditised.
Sure, if you're buying a stereo, you can shop around for the best price, because someone's worked out how to get their logistical costs lower. However, if it's shoes or a suit or lingerie then that involves a greater element of taste or style, which wouldn't necessarily be available from more than one place, that's more difficult to commoditize.
Whether a person is offline and goes to a store or is online, or accesses via a phone, all these are just distribution channels to a customer and if you're creating a great company why wouldn’t you want to reach your customer in whichever is the most appropriate way.
Some people will not mind having messages pushed at them to their phone; I'm not interested myself but some are. But I have no problem, because I fit a particular profile, having advertising promoted to me online.
I spent much of my life on email so if I receive, from some other community that I’m involved with, offering me some attractive holiday, I don't mind, particularly if I've opted in to receive information from them.
I think permission based marketing is going to be more and more a part of our lives. There's very little that's still negatively associated with advertising. There is too much spam but there is less of a negative involved with advertising online these days, because it's becoming increasingly targeted.
In future we'll have less bad advertising because it will be more tailored to the people it's associated with. With a store one might have a brochure but online clients can be reminded about key birthdays with the suggestion to shop with them as a solution. One has to play with all the tools in your tool kit to achieve an advantage over your rivals. You can't afford to miss a trick.
Why would you say that women aren't as interested in becoming involved in the IT industry as men are? And why do you think women are less likely to become top-level managers or such high achievers as some of their male counterparts?
I think sometimes women are their own worst enemies. It's not misogyny its just that women are complicit in this. Some people believe that women give their power away and are uncomfortable promoting themselves and think that there's something attractive in looking slightly ditzy, etc.
I think there are a group of women that buy into that, which is unfortunate. I think we are starting to get more role models of women who are both strong and feminine, and that's a good thing. I think there have been some phenomenally successful women who have used the IT industry to get ahead and make a successful career for themselves; women such as Tina Rogers (Syntech), who is a real success story.
She came from a humble background and founded a successful company, which she sold on to Misys and she had both hard and soft skills in technology. I think she was a programmer and understood technology. She became a managing director and is now a very effective chairman of a private company in the IT sector. A wonderful example of what women can achieve.
I actually think the IT industry has been very good for women. I think there are too many women who don't necessarily have a background in IT, myself included. I was attracted to the speed of the industry. The technology business, whether it's semi-conductors or the internet, moves fast.
If you're someone like myself who's a bit of a junkie for speed, then you don't want to be part of something that moves slowly. I don’t use the words 'computer' or 'IT', I say the 'technology industry', and describe it as a set of industries from the internet to semi-conductors to software development and which are changing rapidly and are infiltrating everything about IT.
Some of the best companies out there, like Spin Vox which is a communications services company (run by another woman, Christina Domecq) - are amalgamations of communication services systems.
With Spin Vox I'll leave you a voice mail and you'll receive it as a text message, so you'll never have to take your pen out again to write down the phone number that someone left you or have to keep dialling into your voice mail because you didn't get that last number they left you because they were speaking too fast. You can forward that text message and you could respond to it in a meeting.
She is very clever in that she's taking voice and making it into everything that is user generated, the You Tube generation, podcasts and video, she's saying what if I can speak a blog and speak it over the phone, basically speak a broadcast.
I, as the CEO of my company, might want to broadcast a message out to my people and I'll speak one message into my phone and the people in my company are going to receive it in a user- friendly way.
Hence, voice as an application is undergoing a lot of evolution right now. I love what I do, because although I could never build these companies I can help them; facilitate them, to achieve their potential. I'm in awe of these entrepreneurs.
When they tell me I've made a difference, helped in some (often small) way then that means a lot to me. It's so unbelievably exciting. I can't think of any other industry where there's so much excitement about creating the future.
Within IT there aren't that many qualifications or people holding those qualifications. Immediate BCS past President Charles Hughes had a theme last year regarding professionalism in IT, or the lack thereof. Do you think the government should or could do more to promote professionalism within the industry or do you think that might stifle the industry with too much red tape?
A big 'no'. Government shouldn't get involved. If we want to slow anything down then let's get the government involved, or if you want to make it more ineffective then yes get the government involved. I say, let's leave it in the hands of the entrepreneurs.
However, in terms of professionalism and what that implies in terms of trust, I'm more of a supporter. The market is a pretty good mechanism to gauge true professionals. If their customers value what they do they'll continue to use them. So there's a nice market mechanism, which takes care of the majority of unprofessional people. Brands take care of another part of the professionalism situation.
Take, for example, IT technical operations and support, or Geek Squad who help people like me, who work from home but have no idea what to do to set up a home office to get set-up and running and stay that way. Therefore, I know when I call Geek Squad/Carphone Warehouse to come to my house to help me out, I can trust the guy's not a serial rapist and I can trust him to come into my flat.
Those guys who respect the brand they've created will have the mechanisms in place to make sure that that network engineer knows what he or she is talking about and is not going to make a complete mess of things. Why do we need the government to do anything in that situation?
The brand of the companies, the market mechanism, should protect the customer. If Carphone Warehouse doesn't do a good job I won't use them again. I'll still have the same problem with my home printer one day and will use someone else. So these things take care of themselves. Are there going to be some messy situations along the way? Are Geek Squad going to mess up with some people sometime? Of course they will.
Would you, therefore, be a supporter of more self-regulation with voluntary codes of practice?
I am just confident that smart business people, who care about their businesses, figure out how to fix most of the market problems. So what your referring to is a market problem - who do you know who to trust because there’s not a degree that says IT professional?
Who do I know who to trust to work in my company; there's no accountant-esque thing? But there are ways of establishing the companies the people have worked with, brands, and the number of years they've spent in the industry, all kinds of different ways, which are actually more effective and more efficient. They just are!
What do you think UK PLC is doing well in at the moment and what's it doing badly?
I think there are some really fantastic and successful businesses out there. If you look at a company like Morse, which has made a shockingly good investment in a company called Monitise, which in turn invested in a mobile banking services platform which has secured the adoption of the Royal Bank of Scotland and four other banks.
This is a once in a generation opportunity. This is a UK Plc that has acted as an investor in a massive opportunity. It has created a global leading opportunity which has been recognised by the World Economic Forum in Davos as a technology pioneer; a huge opportunity. So I think there are incredibly innovative things that happen out of UK plc.
I think it happens on a case-to-case basis and is down to the leadership of those firms. I think that Duncan McIntyre the CEO of Morse was very smart man to back Alastair Lukies who was the founder and entrepreneur of Monitise.
There are other examples. I'm very impressed with firms like Iris Software and Sage. These companies lead the world although Iris is more focused on the UK.
There's kind of a tension between sales and marketing. The US tends to be much more marketing led, the UK more sales led. Even the terminology reflects that. In the US marketing people are gods within the company and the sales rep just goes in and papers up the deal.
Here sales guys are the gods and the marketing people are diminished, they're not recognised. I think certainly it's important for you to prove people buy what you sell. For start-ups, for larger companies, profit is extremely important.
I think that while we do have a good base of technologists, coming out of engineering schools like Loughborough, we also have a very strong orientation towards sales, and I think we can add to that a strong orientation toward marketing and become an even greater UK plc. I think the sales orientation is a great strength and I think the UK has many great sales people.
I think that people who look down their noses at sales people are under-estimating them. That's the core of commerce, of capitalism. This is why we have the first world living conditions we do in the UK and why everyone's coming to London. It’s because it's a financial centre and a centre for business.
So sales are pretty fundamental. I went to business school with a lot of smart people who didn't respect sales. You could be the smartest person in the room and not have a clue about how to sell something. Selling is a skill and should be respected.
Why have you stayed in London and not gone to another business centres yourself?
I've always wanted to be at the centre of things. And I perceive, and I think it's true, that London is the centre of things. As a financial centre it's more important than New York. It's a very international city. New York is international for an American city but I think London outstrips it. It's fascinating to live here and I do like British people.
I've lived in Paris, I've lived in the States, and I've lived in Britain. There's something about the British culture that I prefer. My business is here and I chose to live here because I felt there was an opportunity to fit in and yet also stand out. I think I fit in enough to be effective, but I stand out enough to have a difference.
However, when I lived in France, for seven years, I didn't fit in enough and I stood out way too much. And if I'm in the States, I fit in but I don't stand out enough. I like the fact that the UK has three spheres of influence, in Europe, in the Commonwealth, and with America.
I think there's only two countries I could live in at this point of my life, the US and the UK and I think broadly speaking that has a lot to do with trust, of the governments, not to do something really silly with regard to foreign or economic policy. Iraq included.
I think I would not be able to live in France, because I think the UK and US have merged together in terms of economic and foreign policy. I think the UK is a great nation and has a fascinating culture.