Lucy Marcus's Diary
“Lucy Marcus is the MD of Marcus Venture Consulting and a rising star of the British e-business scene, despite her US origins. With a career including software marketing, consulting and a spell in the US Treasury Department. Section e’s summer diarist provides advice and guidance to early-stage start-ups and would-be investors alike.”
LUCY MARCUS’S DIARY
“Doing good and doing well” … an essential part of the way we try to do business at Marcus Venture Consulting, and the way we encourage the companies with which we work to do business as well.
At Marcus Venture Consulting we receive over 300 new business plans each month. Everyone wants to know how do we choose the companies we work with and what are some of the key factors that we hope to contribute. My answer is that we are in the construction business, helping companies build strong foundations. This is all about building businesses that will last, and help everyone they touch benefit. Though we use several criteria when selecting the companies with which we work, the overarching theme that runs through the decision is that of intent and execution… does the business contribute in some way to improving the way people approach their users/clients/customers. Is the management team ultimately able to deliver on the intent (will they be able to carry out the business plan)? Most importantly, judged by old economy standards, new economy standards – or in whatever new fangled way people will judge companies in the coming years – will these companies not simply survive: will they thrive?
I’ve just returned from a trip to the US and was really pleased to see that there is a rising recognition of what they call Social Venture Capital. It has an element of the doing good and doing well theme to it — I just call it good business. Recent surveys have shown that ethical investing in public markets can bring a better return than investing willy-nilly. To me that demonstrates that companies can protect the interests of their investors and shareholders and spare a thought and action or two on the social consequences of their business.
I’m on the road, away from my home in Somerset, about 75% of the time. But it remains an adventure rather than a grind and I feel as if I make new friends wherever I go. And I can keep in via email and meet them as I pass through town again. To me the world is feeling smaller and very friendly these days. However, I do wish that I could find better hotels for women travelling alone. A chain of hotels developed specifically for women in this situation would definitely get an extra buck out of us. Recently when I was advising a start-up I was in San Francisco, staying, as befitted, in a fairly modest place. I checked in and was given the information – audible to the whole lobby – “Welcome, Madam. You should note that we advise our women guests not to walk in this neighbourhood unaccompanied.” And I hate that feeling that I have no choice but to eat dinner in my hotel room if I want to eat alone.
On a human level, it sounds odd but the object of Marcus Venture Consulting from the outset was to help people. I’m always conscious how people have been kind to me in my career and that I wouldn’t be where I am today without help. So, we don’t take people for a ride and we value the trust people put in us when they decide to work with us. So we’ve managed to build a reputation as the nice guys in the industry. By the same token we only work with people that we like which is a luxury but a luxury that makes work a pleasure. Nice guys don’t finish last. They can come out first.
I’ve been delighted how enthusiastically people have responded to HighTech Women (www.hightech-women.com), a forum I founded earlier this year. If ever there was a testament to the power of the internet and to the ability of people to share a good idea when they find it, HighTech Women is it. I sent out an email to some friends and colleagues on a Sunday night, and by the following Wednesday we had hundreds of hits on the homemade web site I’d put together. (And which thankfully now has had the professional touch.) Almost 100 people registered for our first event!
There have been recent statistics that show the percentage of women in IT declining. Judging from the women in the room of any HighTech Women event and the kinds of jobs they are doing in technology and technology related businesses, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The group has been terrific, and people have really warmed to the idea of meeting and mentoring. Already people are reaching out to one another with humour and good will, business is being done, jobs are being found, and people feel a real sense of ownership over the group. We are even planning a Christmas pantomime. Also, we have recently decided to do some work with the Prince’s Trust, which fits seamlessly with the general reaching-out and sharing-good-fortune-and-skills approach of the group.
Recently, I’ve been working on a presentation for a workshop I’ll be giving at the Finance Directors Forum at the end of June entitled “Competing in the New Capital Markets”. It is designed around a discussion of the paradigm that has been set in the technology sector that is now influencing all other sectors — the change in the manner in which companies do business, the speed and flexibility that must be built into any organisation that is paramount in ensuring its success. The workshop is supposed to discuss the lessons that can be learned from technology, and technology companies, and how traditional businesses can compete in the capital markets. As you can imagine, every time I think I’ve written the final version, something happens and I have to add or subtract another lesson… I’ve finally decided to set it aside and do it much closer to the time!
I look forward to my day with one of our clients, an early stage start-up called the Fat Group, a youth media and knowledge company. I love the name, I love the team, and I love what it does. Designed for and by the users and encouraging people to connect online and offline, to determine their own experience, and to use their voice to let the world know what they are thinking, rather than having dictated to them what their experience should be. The founder is an ex-round the world sailor who dreamt up the idea while walking through the Jotunheimen Mountains in Norway. It’s respectful of its audience and built-to-last rather than a quick flip, so it was exactly the kind of idea we like to find.
A final thought…I’ve written this on the train into London from Somerset on my little laptop and emailed it to the magazine via my mobile phone. As I was working away, the man across from me said to his small daughter, “Look honey, the lady can surf the web and go to the Disney channel on the train!” I’m lucky I made it off the train without a £1000 phone bill, but it was amazing, and promising, to see a 4-year old girl so keen. A HighTech Woman in the making.
Lucy Marcus is managing director of Marcus Venture Consulting and the founder of the HighTech Women networking group.