Interview with the Financial Times

FT Interview

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Cult figure plays his cards right

By Tim Bradshaw – Link to article on FT.com

On his 31st birthday recently, Richard Moross arrived at the offices of Moo Print, the company he found-ed, to find all 34 staff dressed in his signature uniform of black jacket and shirt, blue jeans and white shoes.

It was a fitting tribute to a man who has become a bit of a cult fig–ure in London’s technology start-up circles. Moo makes customised business cards, often using photographs pulled in from community sites such as Facebook and Flickr. After a rocky start, they have become the calling card of the web 2.0 generation, and Moo has done its best to encourage their ex-change with a notorious summer party. But Mr Moross has also act-ed as a mentor to many of the young companies that pass around his cards, which cost £10 for 100.

“I get hundreds of e-mails from people who want help or advice,” he says. “I certainly enjoy, and think my colleagues enjoy, being a citizen of the London tech and start-up community. We have tried to be a good friend of any business, whether that’s making a product that suits them, or being a re-source they can call up.”

Not for nothing has Moo’s Old Street location been dubbed “Silicon Roundabout”; it is also a hub for web companies such as Dopplr, a travel community, and Last.fm, the music service.

Yet Moo’s multimillion-pound business, while relying on technology, is more traditional than many other local dotcoms. As Mr Moross points out, the Old Street area was once the heart of London’s printing trade. “The business card is 300 years old,” he says. “It has not been displaced by mobiles, the internet or Bluetooth – it’s here bec–ause it really works. It’s the most successful networking tool ever.”

Moo’s first product was its eyecatching MiniCard – the width of a standard business card, but half as high. “The one word at the heart of our [marketing] strategy was ‘re-markable’,” he says. “It basically means ‘make stuff that is worth talking about, make sure it is noteworthy’. We are making a product that you buy to hand out, so the business is very viral.”

But that must be coupled with a focus on customer need to avoid becoming a mere novelty, he says. Design and attention to detail are crucial to Moo’s appeal.

The unique shape of the MiniCard is also smart from a business perspective. While Moo uses standard HP printers, its innovation is in creating new printing processes and workflow. “When I [first] took them to have them printed, I realised there was an optimum size as far as gross margin was concerned to the area on which we print,” Mr Moross says. “Sticking to this size and knowing that competitors . . . would have to vary their size in order to not infringe copyright and design registrations, it would be very difficult for them to replicate the economics of our business.”

Since then, Moo has diversified into greetings cards and stickers. Last year, it released a business card of more conventional dimensions, but that too had to be “remarkable”, he says. “When we decided to launch business cards, we were aware that it is a commodity product – we had to inject as much fun and design [as possible] to make it less commoditised.”

Mr Moross set out to emulate the design-led ethos of Apple, he says. And when it comes to ambitions and taking on the industry leader, Vistaprint, he hopes Moo could be “Apple to their PC”.

“We are hoping to consolidate our position as number two in the next couple of years,” he says. “It is a very fragmented market.”

Moo declines to give detailed financials, saying only that it has printed more than 10m miniCards, tripling its revenues every year since launch in 2006. It plans to do so again this year.

“I fully believe they will be profitable without raising more money,” says Neil Rimer, a board member and partner at Moo investor Index Ventures. “They don’t have real estate on Bond Street and tonnes of inventory sitting around that they may not sell. They make stuff on demand [and] squeeze as much sellable product out of every square metre of paper that they buy. ”

Indeed, while many of its fans in dotcom land have had to retrench as advertising and funding dwindles, Moo is growing. As well as continuing to hire staff in London, it is opening its first overseas office, in Rhode Island, to lower delivery times and costs in the US.

The future did not look so bright at the outset. “This company nearly died in late 2005,” says Mr Moross. Before it became Moo, the company tried to combine business cards with a standalone social networking site. “People loved the cards, they just hated the software part,” he says. “They wanted to stay in their own communities.”

The site for Pleasurecards – “A little part of me dies every time I say that word” – was designed by Mr Moross but coded by contractors, which he says limited his ability to change the business.

By December 2005, the business had less than £25,000 left, having made around £5,000. “I stopped drawing a salary,” says Mr Moross, who had also persuaded Stefan Magdalinski, chief technical of-ficer, to join and work for free.

Encouraged by existing backers Index Ventures and The Accelerator Group, the pair went to the Etech conference in San Diego the next March, financed by “my Visa and my family”. There they met Flickr and shortly afterwards secured the backing of Atlas Ventures, a London-based VC. Moo has now raised a total of £5.5m.

“Every company should go through that at some point,” says Mr Moross. “It’s an incredibly valuable experience. All the intellectual property in the business that was created then – the patents, trademarks, the same box mould and packaging design – we are still using now.”

Moo’s priority in 2009 is to move out of the geek niche and into the mainstream. Its cards are becoming popular with designers and architects. “Our next market is easily 10 times as big” as the dotcom crowd, says Mr Moross. Ap-pealing to them means taking many of the hallmarks of web 2.0 – such as drag and drop interfaces and Flickr integration – and making them easy for non-techies too.

The downturn is bringing new customers too, and not just in the number of cards containing the optimistic job title “consultant”.

“We are seeing an extraordinary number of customers coming to us who have lost their jobs, turning their hobbies into businesses,” says Mr Moross. “For people trying to manage their costs and stand out in this market, they need to be remembered and make an impact.”

A working day: new ideas, tweets and cake from the Moo Crew

6am: Check sales figures and stats – half our customers are in the US, so plenty of activity overnight. Go for a run. 8am: Americano (two shots) and cereal at Moo Studios. Dip into RSS feeds: tech and business blogs, and news. Then inbox triage and critical quick tasks. 9.30am: Second coffee. Catch up with folks as they arrive. Once a week I send a CEO MoosLetterto the whole company. Noon: Check what customers are saying about Moo on Twitter, Technorati, Friend Feed and our customer services e-mails. 12.30pm: Once a week, all 35 of us have a meeting and team lunch catered by a local restaurant. 2pm: Discuss design of new packaging idea with colleagues. 3pm: iChat video conference call with US office to discuss progress. 3.30pm: Meet our chairman, Robin [Klein, of The Accelerator Group] to discuss upcoming board meeting, strategy, progress. 4.30pm: Eat some cake one of the Moo Crew has baked (this happens every week). Check RSS, Twitter. Then twitter what I’m listening to on Spotify; no replies. 5pm: CEO-led project work, then try to clear e-mail inbox. Check sales figures and stats before heading off – I’m out almost every evening at something work-related. 10pm: Taxi home, calls to friends and family. Check stats on iPhone. 10.30pm: Watch news with laptop open, and go to bed at 11.30pm.

MOO (and Silicon Roundabout) on FT.com

Move over Silicon Valley. New York’s Silicon Alley is a Web 1.0 relic. And Cambridge’s Silicon Fen is just SO pre-crunch. Now Silicon Roundabout is staking its claim as the new tech start-up hub of the moment.

Previously known as the busy junction where London’s Old Street meets City Road, Silicon Roundabout is not the most salubrious of locations for budding entrepreneurs. But a coalescence of young web and tech companies in EC1 dates back to dotcom days. Alongside cheaper rents and a surfeit of bars, tapping into that experience is part of the area’s appeal for many of its newer residents.

Many will be hoping to follow the example of local hero Last.fm. The online music community was bought by CBS for $280m (£140m) last year, one of the largest UK web company buyouts of recent years.

“Old Street was a seemingly unlikely place to build a web company when we came here six years ago, but there’s no doubt it’s now becoming a hive of tech activity,” says Martin Stiksel, Last.fm’s co-founder. “The noise, vibrancy, and underground attitude of East London certainly rubs off on you, and inspires fresh perspectives – something I think all these start-ups share. It’s a million miles from sterile, air-conditioned Silicon Valley, literally and metaphorically.”

Right on Silicon Roundabout is Moo.com, which prints business cards based on photos from sites such as Flickr or Facebook, and other real-world products based on virtual content. One dotcom survivor is Moo’s chief technology officer, Stefan Magdalinski, who previously founded UpMyStreet, a local information site, and TheyWorkForYou.com, which helps UK voters find out more about their MPs.

Moo’s founder and chief executive Richard Moross also has a keen eye for a bargain – netting offices for a fraction of local rates because they’re due to be demolished in coming years – and “knows how to throw a party”, according to Matt Biddulph, a neighbour and CTO of Dopplr, a travel site. Indeed, Moo’s summer party last Thursday was abuzz with chatter about the newly anointed Silicon Roundabout, coined last week by Biddulph on micro-blogging service Twitter to describe the “ever-growing community of fun start-ups in London’s Old Street area”.

“For me it’s all about the community here,” Biddulph told the FT. “We moved in because our friends did too.”

He says Old Street appeals because it is away from the throngs of shoppers in Soho, where (for instance) Bebo is based, but near enough to the City and the West End for meetings with financiers or media types – as well as the cheaper areas of east London where shoestring-budgeted entrepreneurs may live. Plenty of hip cafés with free WiFi such as Shoreditch Old Station and Coffee@Whitecross Street are on hand to caffeinate developers.

“Critical mass comes from network of people,” says Biddulph. “There were some really interesting companies here in first dotcom boom, and a lot of the companies here are having their second time around. I’m at my first start-up, so it really matters to me to have people around who know how put a business together – and how to find cheap office space.”

The Dopplr CTO has plotted his fellow Roundabouters on (what else?) Google Maps to lend credence to the idea (see http://bit.ly/siliconroundabout). But Silicon Roundabout’s claim to be the heart of the London tech scene is already being challenged by Huddle, a provider of online collaboration software who is building a similar concentration of talent in Bermondsey Street, South London. Huddle, Moo and Dopplr are all involved in mentoring at Seedcamp, a London event which aims to foster the next generation of European entrepreneurs.

“There are two or three competing camps starting,” says Alastair Mitchell, Huddle co-founder and chief executive. “But competition is good. We’re all trying to grow this community.”

MOO Business Cards

They’ve been a long time coming, but today I’m excited to announce the arrival of MOO’s newest addition to the family – Business Cards.

Business Cards 2.0

Background

MOO Business Cards Packaging

Since their introduction, 300 years ago, business cards have been used by billions of professionals to share their contact information and corporate identity. Despite being the single most successful networking tool of all time, they have remained more or less unchanged since their invention.

Even today, facing the might of the internet, mobile and other emerging digital media they’re still the most compatible, user friendly and universal networking technology that money can buy, making them more or less irreplaceable offline.

However, what was once intended to help businesses stand out has become commoditised and generic, a throwaway item, to be filed away out of sight.  MOO wants to change this.

Today there are two basic ways to get business cards:

Designer : Get noticed, but pay for it

• High quality materials
• Very expensive
• Good design
• Very large order quantity (1,000+)
• Not easy to order more, change designs etc.
• Long turnaround time: weeks

Or, more commonly chosen…

On Demand : Cheap and nasty

• Low quality materials
• Cheap
• Poor design
• Large order quantity (250+)
• Easy to re-order
• Short turnaround time: days

In June MOO is launching a business card that seeks to combine the best of both worlds. Building on our success in personal calling cards – 10m+ personal ‘MiniCards’ shipped to 180+ countries in 2007, we’re releasing the most hotly anticipated and most requested product yet: (anything but) ordinary Business Cards.

MOO Business Cards

MOO Business Cards will be beautifully designed, using the highest quality materials, but produced in 48hrs and shipped globally at prices from just $21.99

Concept & Innovation

2.0: What have we done differently?

PrintFinity™: Each Card Different

Unlike any business card you’ve had before, MOO’s PrintFinity™ technology means you can use a different image on each card. So, instead of just handing out the same old card every time, now you can use them as a design portfolio, a product catalogue or an ice-breaker: showcasing different photos or designs to each and every new person you give one to.

Super-Short Runs

Whilst you can order as many cards as you like from MOO, our Business Cards come in quantities as small as 50. So, not only will they cost you less, but you can also change them more frequently, keeping them and your small business more up to date. New product launches, recent achievements or even open job positions can easily be advertised to relevant contacts in a timely fashion.

Classic & Green Options

Thick, with a smooth matte finish: our Business Cards are printed on MOO’s coveted 350 gram Classic paper stock, which is sourced from sustainable forests.  We think this is the best quality on-demand business card you can buy.  But we’re not just launching one business card in June: we’re launching two.  MOO is the first consumer digital print business to offer a mass-market ‘Green’ business card, along with our ‘Classic’ range. MOO’s Green Business Cards are 100% recycled, 100% recyclable and 100% biodegradable – and all this at no extra cost.

Highest Quality, Guaranteed

There are lots of companies selling business cards on the web.  At MOO, we’re obsessive about quality and we pride ourselves on designing the best digital print products around. If you can find a better equivalent business card out there we’ll give you a full refund, no questions asked.

Good Company

Building on successful relationships with Facebook, Flickr, Bebo and LiveJournal, MOO is launching Business Cards with a new partner: LinkedIn, the leading online network of professionals with more than 23m members worldwide.

MOO Business Cards in Box

Physical Descriptions

Green

• 100% Recycled
• 100% Recyclable
• 100% Biodegradable
• Totally chlorine free
• Thick 320 gsm stock
• FREE, MOO carry case

Classic

• Sustainably Sourced
• Smooth, luxury matte laminate
• Very thick 350 gsm stock
• FREE, MOO carry case

The Daylife Developer’s Challenge

The Daylife team have set up a competition for developers to build an application on top of the Daylife API and have asked me to be one of the judges. Daylife is awesome and you can win $2,000 – so, what are you waiting for?

Here are the details:

The Daylife Developer Challenge is on!

From now until June 25, Daylife is challenging each member of our developer community to build an application on top of the DayPI.

We’re awarding $2000 to the best entry, and $500 to each of 2 runners up.

We have a stellar panel of judges:

  • Brian Behlendorf
  • Jonathan Harris
  • Marc Hedlund
  • Scott Heiferman
  • Jeff Jarvis
  • Richard Moross
  • Clay Shirky

Entering is simple:

  • Build an app using the DayPI.
  • Write a recipe on the Daylife Cookbook describing what you’ve done.
  • You can do a mashup, a widget, a website, a facebook app, whatever you like. The only requirements are that you use the DayPI, that your app be world viewable, and that you post about it on our Daylife Cookbook.

For details, head over to http://cookbook.daylife.com/