Easy Money: Brits Get Webby at First Tuesday

These Nethead gatherings on the Thames have blossomed into a meat market for British VCs and their suppliants.
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In London, not to be on the A-list would just be ghastly. And the A-list of the moment is the Internet crowd, who have elbowed ahead of foul-tempered pop musicians and out-of-work actors.

"Web is very hot right now," says Pete Flint, the 25-year-old business developer at

Lastminute.com

, a scorching e-commerce travel site that provides last-minute travel and hotel deals. "Everyone involved on the Web knows one another and the moment there is gossip or news, we all pass it along."

Where they pass it along, at the moment, is the monthly First Tuesday meetings. These meet-and-greet gatherings, held on the first Tuesday of every month, are where the members of the newest see-and-be-seen scene come to toss back drinks and talk shop. The idea is that such networking meetings will create the conditions for Net entrepreneurs to blossom, a sort of Silicon Valley on the Thames.

Started about a year ago by four friends who wanted to ape the networking scene in Silicon Valley, the group has gone from 50 members to about 35,000. Now the must-attend events have branched out, with sister networking groups coalescing in Paris, Amsterdam and other European cities. Here in the U.K., while the idea might be American, the style is pure clubby London. It's cliques, not clicks, that count.

Of course, the problem with clubs is that once you have one that everybody wants to join, everybody wants to join. "There are too many people," says silver-haired Vic Morris of

Atlas Ventures

, the only venture capitalist in jeans and a casual shirt at the soiree in September. "I wonder if it's getting too big," he says, as a long line of suppliants hover, wanting two minutes of his time. The October meeting, at which organizers were expecting 500, lured double the crowd.

The 1,000 or so people who crammed into October's meeting on Tuesday evening all looked to be playing for the same team. The schmooze-fest, held at one of the pavilions at Lord's cricket ground in very luxe North London, resembled the Christmas party of a large investment bank: all chi-chi little black dresses and

Hugo Boss

suits.

Unlike their chino'ed Silicon Valley counterparts, a lot of these people are either still clinging to their day jobs or their sense of British formality. Engineers? Not here, mate. This is a crowd of marketers, consultants and accountants. The only difference between the money men and the people with the ideas was that the former sported red nametags and the latter green ones so they could identify one another at a glance.

There was enough free wine to float a battleship, and if you needed something stronger to make your Web idea sound fabulous, the organizers kindly set up a separate bar selling spirits.

Unsurprisingly, there were decidedly more people with green nametags than red nametags. The people with the ideas largely fell into three categories. There were those like John Li, the smiling, charismatic owner of the unified messaging service called

post2me.com

. Much of his charisma is no doubt intrinsic to Mr. Li, but his wide smile was in part due to the fact that, unlike many of the people surrounding him, he has all the funding he needs and his business is set to launch in the next six to eight weeks.

Then there was Isaac Shlomo, owner of the Dutch auction company

myownprice.com

. Unfortunately for Mr. Shlomo, his company has a great name but little money, and he's getting a bit desperate that someone else with deeper pockets will nip in and become the first such company in Europe. On his nametag, his company has been abbreviated to MOP.com, which is perhaps not very alluring to potential investors. "Sounds like we're some kind of virtual cleaning company," he says. Now there's an idea, a company that cleans up all those sites for sore eyes in cyberspace.

Finally, there were people like Lascelles Lawrence, who not only has no money but also no business plan. "I haven't given up my day job yet, I'm still involved in computer recruitment services," he says. His idea? "Can't tell you too much, but it's to do with recruitment services only on the Internet," he whispers.

The clamor, the effect of the alcohol and the two sides circling each other like vultures -- it all conspired to lend the air of one giant meat market, as several attendees remarked. Certainly, some here are popular and others are not. The big difference of course, as one entrepreneur wryly noted, is that nobody actually

wants

to get screwed.