Like many entrepreneurs, I’m a bit schizophrenic. I have to project confidence while constantly de-risking situations which I realise would make a lot of people collapse. To make matters (worse/better – choose), I have become partners to many entrepreneurs as their financial backer / confidant/ advisor/ Board Director/ bag carrier. So their anxiety becomes the knots in my back that I get pounded out twice a week in the deepest of Thai massages where Eva my therapist keeps saying, ‘tell me one more time what is it that you do and why?’
And I’m an entrepreneur because as the daughter of a great one, I didn’t have a chance to escape the fate. Growing up as my father built the pulmonary medicine industry in California, I saw the incredible toll it took on him to manage his partners, team, hospitals, burgeoning business, while broadcasting on TV the perils of smoking, the demise of tuberculosis, and championing great respiratory healthcare. One divorce came after another, and only much later did I realise, you honestly wouldn’t choose the life if you had a choice. But that’s the rub: you don’t have a choice.
I have some amazing friends as my shareholders at Ariadne Capital and the Limited Partners in our venture capital fund. We pioneered the ‘Entrepreneurs Backing Entrepreneurs’ model for the financing of entrepreneurship in Europe in 2000. I threw in the first £550 K of cash, but then asked the founders of Betfair, Coller Capital, Easynet, Genia, Hotmail, QualComm, SES Astra, WILINK and Worldpay and NXD’s of Amazon, Dialog Semiconductor, and others to back me in bringing this model to market. Those who had made it through the burning building of building a start-up had a lot to offer those who were considering the flames ….
I can really only exhale when I spend time with entrepreneurs. Over a glass of Chateau Neuf de Pape at either Julie’s Bar, Amaya, 34 or Mestizo, we will talk about the obsession that drives us… and it is just that: it’s an addiction to the thrill and the exhaustion of building our firms. It’s not about keeping score; it’s about bringing the inevitable to the present and slaying the dragons again and again.
I’m sure that my drive and my enormous competitiveness with myself comes from years of playing basketball and volleyball 3 hours a day as a teenager and young woman. I hated losing so badly that I played a game with myself that I hadn’t actually lost, but that we had merely paused until I could win at the rematch. This (un)healthy need to hit the goal always and best means that today I never accept ‘no’, never give up and never go away.
When I moved to Paris at age 21 in 1988, I started modelling as suddenly my no body fat 177 cm had a purpose other than sports. I loved the runway but found the industry strange: women far more striking than I was were lacking in the confidence to be themselves. It’s as if their beauty had claimed them rather than releasing them. I managed to bungle myself into job after job just because I had this unstoppable drive to make money, to experience the unknown, even if it meant walking down a runway in a different European city.
Strength in women is not necessarily understood – by ourselves, our friends, our men, our employees, our detractors. I never thought of myself as strong or feminine – something that people regularly call me today. I was just brought up to be me. Because my father was an entrepreneur with little time, and he probably didn’t know what else to say, he said pretty much one thing: ‘Anything you set your mind to, you can achieve, Julie’. If I heard that once, I heard it a thousand times. In my darkest hours, those words replay themselves in my mind like an old record where the needle is stuck. My father believed /es in me. So I better as well.
As I got older, I realised as I did the informal benchmarking over the years with my girlfriends who I love all dearly that some were more confident than others: their level of self-belief had a strong correlation to a positive relationship to their dad. I started to realise how lucky I was. My father is a very conservative, traditional man, but not at all sexist. His high expectations for me meant that I set high standards for myself in every aspect of my life.
But here’s the thing: I’m not always strong. My strength is intermittent, unreliable and prone to surges and black-outs. As an entrepreneur, I have thrown myself into the market, into the arena, and there is no safety – just a set of milestones, curve-balls, near death experiences and – yes thankfully – breakthrough moments. And we exhale on weekends with friends who also run their own firms at Julie’s Bar, Amaya, 34 and Mestizo.
Like many obsessions and addictions, I would choose to be otherwise, but I didn’t choose this. And a long time ago, I realised that life is a mental game. What you believe, you make happen.
I will always remember one particular basketball game in high school where we ended the first half 49 to 8. It was an appalling performance against a team who were good but were beatable. As I left the court at half time, I avoided the eyes of my coach, Salty, who just stared at me, and said, ‘When are you going to decide to win, Jules?’
He said it so matter of factly as if it all just came down to whether I had decided to win or lose, that I decided right there that I would win. If he believed in me, I guess I should to.
We came out the opening jump with a basket in 5 seconds, and played a flawless game, basket after basket, pulling up next to the other side at 72 to 72. It was as if we had refound a groove or a well-worn road, like muscle memory – it was all execution against a design that had been agreed to. With 20 seconds to go, we made the last basket, and then sat on the ball as the clock went to zero. The crowd went nuts, and I stood there frankly stunned. And slowly I realised that my team and I had won the game against all odds. We hadn’t beat the other team. We had changed the software in our brain. The win in our heads was much more important than what had happened on the court.
That game stayed with me for a long time as I realised I was the same person the first and the second half of the game; I had merely decided to win at halftime.
And so earlier this year, as I thought about entering our 15th year at Ariadne Capital on the 8th of December, I thought about what winning would mean to me in the next 15 years. It would mean something about being Strong Jules more consistently. Jules has always been the term of endearment – the Julie that people hugged, laughed with and at, were friends with, coached and who engaged the world. The baby of the family; the one who left with $1,000 for Paris. The one whose German efficiency drove her, her French adventure framed her, her American psyche propels her, and her British residency softens her up. In the next 15 years, I wouldn’t let the bastards get me down. I would consistently and systematically play the game of the second half. I would build not only my business, but help those other entrepreneurs who I cared about to build theirs, and I would never ever get hit, always be able to help people get through to the breakthrough moment from the near death experience, and do it in heels.
In short, Strong Jules is my better self. Because my dirty little secret is that like most entrepreneurs, I am not her everyday. I am schizophrenic and slightly dysfunctional. Travel, deals, pressure, sleep. Being an entrepreneur is not working for yourself; it’s working for everyone else in fact. You can easily become what’s left over. And there may not be much sometimes for stretches of a time. It rips through your personal life, but you don’t control that either.
Being in our 15th year, I needed to go back into training for the trek to the summit. I needed to be in the best physical shape of my life – a feat fairly audacious to achieve at age 48 as I used to be incredibly fit. Physical strength combined with financial and mental strength and training are the components to being able to play the second half of the game.
My personal trainer, Kamila, who is a walking advertisement for working out, is rebuilding my body 4 hours a week. She says I’m ahead of plan. Mentally, I eliminated all negativity from my life as I tell entrepreneurs to do. I decided not to spend time with people who are resolutely living in scarcity not abundance, drink cheap white wine at industry events or watch bad TV ever again. And financially, I’ve done again what I’ve always done all my life: backed myself and asked people to align with me.
But the most important thing is that I’ve found my team, not just my mojo. I’ve always gotten oxygen from my team. And when I win, it’s always been a team effort. In watching the incredible achievement and intrepid journey of entrepreneurs as talented as they come: Candace Johnson, Christina Domecq, Emma Sinclair, Dagny Taggart, Sara Murray, Anna Hejke, Alison Cork and so many more, I straighten up my shoulders, and shake off the doubt, and double down on the summit. In believing in them, I always find it easier to believe in me.
What’s great about being 48, and phenomenal about starting your 15th year in business, is that you can have a license to be Strong Jules even as you know you’re not always her. You don’t beat yourself up, but you also make no apologies (anymore) for being her and for being strong.
N O A P O L O G I E S …..
It seems to me that there are a generation of men and women out there who will get in touch with their version of Strong Jules over the next decade as the world becomes feminine as I believe that it is becoming. Like most things in my life, I had to externalise her, to play a game with myself, and to write about her to make it real. It’s the hack in me. She is the better me. By putting myself in the market and in the arena, I can learn from others, and make a contribution to building that muscle memory, that mental software, that neural network of playing the second half of the game.
Strong Jules will tell stories of the best examples of strength I know: physical, financial and mental. In the face of insurmountable odds and in the daily routines, the women that win when everyone counted them out. It will showcase physical, financial and mental strength – how to get it, and how to provoke it in others. And it will be all about belief. In ourselves and in others, for strong people need to send the lift down, and around and all over. We all have our broken heel moments, that dizziness from looking down not up, and that feeling of total aloneness as we press on. If we want to build a strong world, then we have to recognise that we are not always her. Even if we aspire to be. Sometimes we are her only because our fathers and coaches believe that we are or could be.
When my previous business, First Tuesday, was sold on the 20th of July 2000 for $50 million, I remember signing the paperwork, standing there frankly stunned, and thinking what do I do now that I have a lot more money than I ever thought I would. Where do I go – like – right now? And I remembered Tom Teichman, my first boss in the UK, who took a bet on me in the summer of 1998 and said, ‘Follow me everywhere, and I’ll teach you how to be an investor.’ And he did, and I did. So as the ink was drying on the paperwork of the First Tuesday sale to Yazam, I texted him and told him, I probably need to talk. I certainly need a drink. I may need a shoulder…. If you ever sell a business, the person you call first is probably someone you feel you owe (or love). Tom took a bet on me 2 years earlier and I instinctively reached out to him when I could exhale. He was having the Summer Party of Spark Ventures, that warm summer evening in July 2000. He said, ‘well done – the first one is the hardest’. I said it wasn’t everything I had wanted it to be. I couldn’t control everything. I couldn’t take care of the team across Europe who had built the network with me. It should have been, it could have been. And he said, ‘No apologies Jules’.
Consider this your invitation to make no apologies about who you are and whether you are her all of the time. If you bet on people and yourself, and find it easier to believe in yourself by believing in others, and count yourself lucky that others have sent the lift down or believed in you, then tell us your story at http://strongjules.com