Guardian Interview

The forecast for 2009: Richard Moross of Moo’s hot tips

Interview by Jemima Kiss.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/pda/2008/dec/25/digitalmedia-downturn

We’ve invited some bright brains and sparkling executives to add their own touch of Christmas cheer to PDA with insights on the outlook for 2009.

First off – Richard Moross, chief executive of Moo.com – the ‘small business card people’.

Richard Moross, chief executive of Moo.com

“2009 is going to be rough for lots of businesses.

“But, for a fast-moving, focussed startup, who can run their operation as a real business and get to revenues quickly then the situation is actually pretty good.

There’s less noise: with fewer competitors around jostling for position, customers choices are narrowed in your favour. It’s also a great time to build an awesome team: with redundancies and recruitment freezes elsewhere, there’s so much more great talent to choose from. Furthermore, despite what you might think there’s still cash available to finance good teams with a solid plan: investors do need to keep investing – that’s what they do.

“So, if you’re currently running a small technology business based on the pre-downturn model (ie grow fast, then sell to Google) or thinking of starting a new business there are a few things you might want to think about.

“1 Be honest with yourself. Is this really a business? Is it really different? If the elevator pitch includes the words ”Twitter“, “social network” or “it’s web app X meets geek meme Y” you probably need to rethink things – those days are gone. Today your idea needs to be super-relevant: do people actually need this, or are you just a solution looking for a problem?

“2 Sell (something). The best way to prove your idea is a real business is get some money coming in, quickly. It doesn’t matter what your business is, but find someone to buy something, anything – ads, sponsorship, a product, a service. The first sale can be the hardest, but once you get your first customer and a little trickle of cash coming in it can be transformative. Your confidence will be sky high and investors will look at you very differently. Prove you can make money first, and then do a ‘private alpha’.

“3 Really cut costs. You’d be amazed what you can get for free, or for next to nothing. With other businesses shutting down there’s a glut of office furniture and PCs on the market. Property is going cheap too, with long rent-free periods and short-tem leases. You can even get software for free nowadays; with Microsoft’s BizSpark programme you can get MS Office Suite free for three years. Yes – Microsoft giving stuff for free. Start small, bring your lunch to work, and see how easy that was.

“Once you’re confident that you’ve got an idea that’s relevant, is an actual, real business that’s making money, has a rockstar team and runs on fumes then you’re there: this is the new downturn start-up paradigm. Go get ’em tiger!”

MOO in Printing News

MOO Makes Print Fun Again

By Toni McQuilken
December 17, 2008
http://www.printingnews.com/print/Printing-News/MOO-Makes-Print-Fun-Again/3$8152

We love to print.” That’s the sentiment emblazoned on MOO’s Web site, on its packaging, and it is a tangible element in every one of the products it produces.

MOO is the brainchild of Richard Moross, CEO and founder. It is based in London, but the firm hopes to open a branch in the United States in the coming year, as half of its current customers are in North America, although MOO serves as many as 180 different countries, with localized versions of their Web site in five languages.

What makes MOO stand out from the crowd of printers is the business model it has adopted. It revolves completely around variable data, and is a poster child for how the concept, when taken outside of the traditional box, can be a huge success.

A Little Background

MOO started out as an idea in 2003, when Moross wanted to launch what he calls a “business card for your social life.” The idea was to sell a printed product with free access to an online service. However, in 2004 when the company was ready to go to market, there was a boom of services like MySpace and Facebook in the online social life space. So Moross changed it up, and decided it was better to partner with these services than try to be a competitor.

At that point, the company, “really focused on building a fantastic, high-quality printed product,” said Moross. And that’s exactly what they’ve done.

Paper stock is the first place where MOO sets itself apart. The company positions itself as an “affordable premium product,” so it seeks out the best stocks for both look and feel. “[We are] very particular and anal about this,” noted Moross. “The entire company gets involved in the paper selection.” Right now, MOO offers two main stock choices, a luxurious bright white, 140/150-pound stock, and a 100-percent recycled option that is seeing a huge response. Almost all of the firm’s products are laminated using a thick matte substrate.

“It’s not enough to be a Web company that’s just about price,” Moross noted. “It has to be very high quality, and very easy to use at the same time. This is a key part of our vision.”

The company outsources all of the actual print work to a company running HP Indigo machines. However, MOO gets the uncut sheets delivered back to them, where it handles the finishing and packing in-house, by hand.

According to Moross, they’ve thought about bringing the print in-house, and have even done some research on it. But in the end, for now, they decided to focus their efforts and resources on customer service and quality, as well as their software, instead. And that investment is paying off, since a large percentage of MOO’s sales are from repeat customers.

“We just want to be a great provider of print to our customers,” said Moross. “We want to give them options, package tracking, good shipping rates, etc. And we want to be closer to them for shorter turnarounds, etc.”

Setting Themselves Apart

If MOO was just printing high-end business cards, it probably wouldn’t be as successful as it has been. Instead, the firm offers customers the option to make every single card, sticker, or note card in a pack different. Customers can choose from templates MOO’s designers have created, or they can upload and use their own images. There’s no price difference if someone chooses to print all of the same cards from a template, or 100 different images they’ve uploaded themselves.

In addition to the standard business cards, MOO offers minicards, sticker books, notecards, postcards, and greeting cards. The minicards are by far, according to Moross, the firm’s most popular product. In fact, the firm has designed and now sells holders specifically for the minicards, as well as a customized frame designed to hold 20 different minicards.

How do people use the minicards? Social networks, which were the original target market, are still a major player for MOO. “At the macro level, people are living virtual lives, socially networking online, and that has resulted in this great desire to be tactile again,” noted Moross. “But people still have events, still get together. They have become more alienated in some ways, and print helps them connect and get together.”

And the concept expanded from there. Professional photographers are using the cards as a way to carry their portfolio around in a manageable way. Architects are putting images of their designs on the cards for the same purpose. Designers are creating stunning little works of art they can leave behind and get remembered. Consumers are creating everything from personalized Christmas cards to gift tags, to wedding announcements and everything in between.

And the firm isn’t stopping there. MOO has plans to offer more products and accessories in the future, in addition to expanding its reach. In fact, if the U.S. expansion proves successful, the company is considering opening offices in additional locations as well.

This is most definitely a company to keep a close eye on as it continues to expand and grow. It is proving that variable data isn’t just a fad, and that the Internet and online media don’t have to mean the death of print. Putting those two ideas together has resulted in a business model seeing outstanding growth and success, in an industry struggling to find its footing in the new century.

MOO in the FT

FT Article

By Jonathan Moules in the Financial Times

Published: December 12 2008 22:22 | Last updated: December 12 2008 22:22

The opportunity for UK companies to export their goods and services – the one piece of good news from the current weakening of sterling – is being stifled by a lack of government support, according to businesses and employers’ groups.

The decline in the pound to a record low against the euro this week is another blow to many small and medium-sized companies that sell locally but rely on imported raw materials.

It has been welcomed, however, by those selling abroad.

Aircraft Materials UK, a supplier of metal alloys to the aerospace, medical and electronics sector, gains about half of its revenues outside the UK. But Udo Paul, who founded the business in 2001 after being made redundant at the age of 54, claims that his growth is undermined by bureau-cracy and delays by the taxman.

His main gripe is about VAT, which he must pay on raw materials entering the country from the US, but can then claim back when the final manufactured goods are sold.

While Aircraft Materials’ customers usually pay within 10 days, Paul claims that he has to wait weeks for the VAT to be returned, which eats into his cash reserves.

“We are subsidising the government while we get our VAT,” Paul said, adding that the tax owed amounts to about half his margins. He is also angered by the amount of form filling involved.

When the value of goods traded within the EU passes £260,000, the business must complete Intrastat supplementary declarations to help the government compile European trade statistics.

This is difficult for a business with just seven employees, according to Paul. “It all costs time and time costs money,” he said.

A spokesman for HMRC defended the tax office’s procedures. “HMRC has an internal operational target to process all VAT returns within 10 days, which it is meeting fully,” he said.

“Where a VAT repayment claim needs to be verified further, but is not finalised within 30 days without valid reasons, a repayment supplement will normally be paid to the business.”

However, companies selling abroad are enjoying an uplift from the current weakness of sterling.

Moo.com, an online printing business, gets half its revenue from selling personalised business and greeting cards to customers in the US. A 25 per cent decline in the pound’s value against the dollar raises Moo’s revenues by 12.5 per cent, according to Richard Moross, the company’s founder and chief executive. “It has been fantastic for us,” he said.

But too few British companies are taking advantage of the opportunity to export, and a lack of government support abroad is partly to blame, according to Stephen Alambritis of the Federation of Small Businesses.

“Exporting still has a fear factor for a lot of small businesses,” he said. “It is pitiful that we have on average six commercial staff in each of our overseas embassies and the diplomatic side is into the 60s and 70s.”

Company Culture.

In interviews candidates always ask me, “what’s the culture like here at MOO?”. I never really know how to answer the question – “great”, I say, which is a terrible answer. In future I’m just going to show them this photo.  For my 31st birthday last week the entire office came in dressed as me: back jacket and shirt, blue jeans and white shoes (my ‘uniform’, but that’s a different story). It was an amazing, remarkable effort and speaks volumes about the type of people we employ here, their collective creativity and ingenuity and how that manifests as culture: made possible by our sense of community, humour and collective ambition.

International 'Dress Like Richard Moross' Day