Pioneer of the e-gold rush

Eva Pascoe acquired fame and fortune as a founder of the Cyberia chain of Internet cafés. Now she's spearheading fashion group...

Eva Pascoe acquired fame and fortune as a founder of the Cyberia chain of Internet cafés. Now she's spearheading fashion group Arcadia's assault on the Web, writes Helen Beckett

What motivates you? "I'm interested in creating products for people who are not interested in technology per se and who do not want to spend three nights swapping disks to do something."

What preparation did you have for e-commerce? "Well I have a degree in cognitive psychology at London University and a PhD in developing interfaces for online information systems. This is a good set of skills for Internet design. My first study group was some nurses who were terribly unkeen on computers. We had to create a friendly environment for learning with computers - and found a U-shaped space worked well [subsequently used in the early Cyberia caf‚s.] I thought, 'If you can hack nurses, you can hack anyone'."

Entrepreneurs - born or made? "My father and grandfather were German merchants who used to trade all sorts of strange things. My father couldn't trade in communist Poland so he became a diplomat instead - but he went back into business. You can't keep a good entrepreneur down."

What's the most important success factor in launching a dotcom? "The most important thing is to focus on customers. If you can get a feel for what the customer wants, then you can design a product and process that will satisfy that. Everything else is a sub-function of that. The companies who have got control of their Internet presence from the marketing department have got it right, because the Internet is a communication function."

How do you bring cross-discipline teams together? "I wouldn't say [at Arcadia] it was a seamless process. The Internet has moved everything away from the systems people. The IT people feel very threatened that their traditional power base has been eroded."

Who are the best people to run projects? "For IT and technical support you need people who are good at lateral thinking and communications - that kind of talent tends to be scarce in IT departments. Mostly you have twenty-somethings running Internet projects rather than the forty-somethings in charge of the traditional IT project. And it's going to get younger and younger. People are coming out of college with experience of running networks since the age of 15 - they are very competent."

What can the b2b e-commerce sector learn from b2c? "I'm very suspicious about business-to-business e-commerce. We've seen how slow intranets have been to take off and I'd be very surprised if business-to-business happens soon. Ninety-nine percent of corporate procurement is done by accounts departments, which are slow and have to think a lot. When put a sales lot online at 2.00pm one Sunday afternoon, the whole lot was gone by 6.00pm. That would never happen in business-to-business - they would want to consider it. In business-to-consumer prices are volatile. That's why the Internet works as a channel - but in business-to-business they're not."

And your last word of advice? "If you want to be successful on the Internet you need to focus on a niche segment - and then deliver quickly."

Eva Pascoe - CV

Marketing Director for online at Arcadia Group - which includes Topshop, Dorothy Perkins, Principles and Burton Group

Managing Director of Arcadia's fashion portal,

Co-founder of the Cyberia Group, the first Cybercafé chain.

Degree in cognitive psychology, London University.

Visiting Lecturer, Hypermedia MA, Westminster University.

Honorary research fellow in consumer psychology, Madrid University.

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