Member Spotlight #5: Mariana Duarte Silva, Co-founder & Director at Village Underground Lisboa

Interview by Tara Gardner

I’m often in awe when I meet an entrepreneur. “How do they do it?!” If only it was as simple as dreaming something up and then putting it into action (although some of us don’t even get that far!)… I think my favorite thing about entrepreneurs is just that; they actually go for it.

For Mariana and Village Underground Lisboa, it was as simple as coming across a ‘curious sight,’ immersing herself into the community and dreaming up a way to help it grow.

I’m excited to share with you words of entrepreneurial wisdom from Mariana as our first Member Spotlight of the year. Something that will hopefully get you going and give you the bravery to put your words into action.

Now get to work. — Tara Gardner


Co-founder & Director at Village Underground Lisboa How did you land your first career position?
Mariana Duarte Silva: I always knew I wanted to work in marketing/communications/media so I took a degree in Business Management and afterwards, I started to apply to jobs in the media sector.

It was 2001 and there was a deep economic crisis in Portugal that led to a lot of unemployment. I remember spending hours in front of the computer searching for vacancies and trying to come up with a proper CV, which is difficult when you just get out of university, particularly because I didn’t have any experience other than organising some friends’ parties. One day a friend of mine told me that TVI (a Portuguese television channel) had a 3-month internship programme that I should apply to. I did, and I got the job. It was basically doing PR for the channel… basic stuff, not paid and not hugely interesting, but I knew it could be a good way to enter the media world. And it was. After the internship, I stayed to cover some maternity leave in the marketing department, and then a man who I had worked on a project with at another company (in the same media group) invited me to become product manager of 3 magazines. That was my first serious paid job.

ssso: Tell us about Village Underground Lisboa. How did it come about? Anything exciting on the horizon?
MDS: In 2007 and I was living in London, working for marketing company C Squared as well as managing artists, parties and events through my own company, Madame Management. I was based in Shoreditch and every day I’d pass by a building which had two tube trains on top of it. It was a curious sight, so I was really happy when a friend invited me for lunch there one day. And so I was introduced to Village Underground London, and quickly took a desk there to focus on Madame Management. I loved the concept and the team so much that I suggested exporting it to Lisbon. Luckily, Tom Foxcroft, the founder, was really keen and so we got to work. We agreed on a low-cost rental arrangement with Carris [the public transportation company that owns the trams and buses in Lisboa] and were given the buses for free. We then bought 14 containers and started building it up in 2013.

We’ve recently renovated a warehouse space at Village Underground Lisboa, meaning that we can have more indoor events. In 2017 we’ll begin hosting a full time programme of parties and artistic events.

ssso: As the founder of the management/marketing/PR company, Madame Management, and co-founder of Village Underground Lisboa, what advice would you give to someone who has an entrepreneurial idea and doesn’t know where to start?
MDS: I’d advise people with ideas to get people with experience around them. Experienced people are the most valuable asset you can have and a lot of the time they will offer their advice for free. I used a lot of these people when I started and even now after 2 years of running Village Underground, I still look for mentoring in different areas… like recently, for human resources.

ssso: With experience in print, publicity, artist management and more — is there one specific skill or trait that you carried with you throughout each of your various positions?
MDS: I am stubborn and I don’t give up easily. I understood that if you have the idea, you have to make it happen. People will help you with their experience and knowledge but it comes to YOU to make it happen and go through all the dramatic bits of the process. You cry, you laugh, you think, you panic, all by yourself and you need to learn how to stay focused.

ssso: Where do you get your fuel/drive/inspiration from?
MDS: It’s weird, I guess it’s some kind of energy inside me that I don’t know how to explain… I always want a bit more and that’s my fuel.

I also have the best ideas when I drive my car, alone. That can be during traffic or long road trips.

My business partner, Tom Foxcroft, is a big inspiration for me. He always sees the bright side of life, no matter what dark moments we’ve passed through while building Village. He always has a positive view and always ends any kind of difficult conversation with a big smile. I need that, as sometimes I get too deep into the daily problems. He lives in London, but we speak on the phone every week to support each other. We were parents at the same time and our partners get along really well… that means we’ve ended up being not only business partners, but great friends — sharing the same principles of life and family.

ssso: What’s the most important quality you look for in a co-worker/co-founder?
MDS: Sense of humour. Always.

ssso: Is there an aspect of the music business you would like to see change? What would you push for or do differently?
MDS: I speak for Portugal. I’d like to see more underground journalism about music and other cultural areas being taken seriously. Mainstream media and journalists ruin the business.

ssso: Share a piece of advice you were given that really resonated with you.
MDS: Be honest. First with yourself, then with everyone around you.
Don’t count on others to make your dream come true.

ssso: 3 things you can’t live without?
MDS: My husband, my kids and Serra da Arrábida.

ssso: What’s the next big thing?
MDS: Lisbon understanding the errors of big cities dealing with heavy tourism- learning how to deal with gentrification, with great laws that would prevent older people as well as all Lisboners of all generations to keep their homes in Lisbon, keeping it authentic, and protecting traditional shopping in the city.

ssso: What should we know about you or what you’re currently working on?
MDS: We recently launched a new indoor venue in Village and we want it to be the centre point of all experimentation in terms of cultural performances. We are currently seeking funding to bring international artists and also to showcase and support national talent. [If you have any insights, suggestions or input please write to Mariana at].

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