Interview with the Financial Times

FT Interview


Cult figure plays his cards right

By Tim Bradshaw – Link to article on

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, 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.

Saul Klein and I in Director Magazine

From Director Magazine, text by Amy Duff

Saul Klein of investment firm Index Ventures and Richard Moross, the founder of printing company Moo, talk to Amy Duff about fundraising, building a start-up and great ideas

Richard Moross I had the idea when I was 25, in the summer of 2003. I had 50 different ways of getting hold of people in my personal life, and all these virtual identities, but I didn’t have a design to communicate my personal email addresses and telephone numbers in the way that I did with my business card. The idea was specifically to create personal business cards.

Saul Klein I originally met Richard in 2004 through the Accelerator Group, the seed investment vehicle my dad [Robin Klein] and I run. The first institutional investor we introduced Richard to was Index Ventures. We ended up doing a lot of deals with Index Ventures; I worked with them as an entrepreneur (at LoveFilm), as an executive (at Skype) and then joined as a partner last year.

RM I worked for a design firm, Imagination. I took my business plan to them and they liked it, but it wasn’t the sort of thing they wanted to do, so I plucked up the courage to leave. I spent three months fundraising. I closed a seed round of investment in August 2004.

SK Richard had this concept where he was going to revolutionise business cards with this new format that he called mini-cards. There was a business card for work but not for pleasure. We liked the idea and we liked Richard. It wasn’t a business at the time, just Richard and his idea. We worked with him for a year or so developing the idea, getting the website built, doing deals with the printer and getting the business off the ground. About six months after Index came on board, [VC firm] Atlas also invested in Moo.

RM I didn’t know how much I was looking for. I wasn’t sure what things would cost. According to the business plan, I needed £1m. The reality was that I needed a few hundred thousand. The first round of investment in April 2006 was £2.75m.

SK The thing that impressed us most about Richard, which is true of a lot of great entrepreneurs, is that he has a complete passion for the product. I think of him like Steve Jobs. He has a rigorous attention to detail and amazing flair. Companies like Apple have shown us all that by paying serious attention to design, and the way consumers are going to use a product, you can really make a difference in a category.

RM The biggest challenge for me was finding out what did and didn’t work, what would resonate with the customer, and how you’re going to make money. The original idea was for a social network, connected to a printed card. But people hated the social network side of it, because they already had Facebook and Flickr. But they loved the cards. That was the big step for us. We connected the cards to people’s online communities and retailed it through them.

SK Richard’s created a passionate following in terms of the Moo customer base. The personality of the Moo brand is indicative of some of his core skills. It’s not just a printing company. It’s like customers don’t ever think of Innocent as just a drinks business.

RM The best reason to do a deal with a venture capital firm is for the relationship, the things other than finance that they bring to the business. Otherwise you might as well go to a bank, if you can convince them to take the risk. Both Index and Atlas sit on the board, we meet every month, and whether it’s fundraising, or management, growth or recruitment, they’ve been instrumental in helping structure the roadmap for the business. It’s a good, close, relationship that’s been going for quite a while.

SK For us, the hallmark of early stage investing, and where Index has been successful in Europe is following the high-engagement model pioneered in Silicon Valley in the US. Since we met Richard we’ve helped with hiring, fundraising, product development and introductions. We really like to get involved.

RM Saul has been to pretty much every board meeting since we began, first as an angel investor and now as a member of the Index team. Knowing the journey is as important as understanding the destination. Saul knows what’s worked and what hasn’t, and what my skills are, and my team’s. That’s hugely beneficial in terms of input to the company and to me personally.

SK The first thing you look for is the person you’re investing in. Richard wanted to change an industry. A lot of people have great ideas but they just want to build what you would think of as a lifestyle business. That’s fine, but really you want someone who’s passionate and who wants to build a really big business.