Welcome to MOO Meets, a series of interviews probing the minds of some of the most successful business entrepreneurs and start-up founders in the world. We want to find out what makes them tick, and how you can apply some of their knowledge to your own fledgling businesses. And where better to start than with our very own CEO?
Hi Richard. Do you remember the exact moment, often referred to as a "eureka" moment, that you had the idea for MOO?
I was in bed, and I couldn't sleep. At the time I was working as a strategic planner for a big design company which was great, but I often felt like my ideas got lost and I had no voice, and clearly that kept me awake at night – I couldn't even get through the corporate red tape enough to get the office a new coffee machine! Anyway I let my mind wander to product ideas that I could successfully bring to the market – my version of counting sheep! At that point, I wasn't even considering the idea of profit or business – it was all about the product. And then I came up with the idea to reinvent the business card.
I think that the drive to start a new business is based on a strong emotion, whether that emotion is anger, revenge, frustration, love for a product. Its all about push and pull. If you believe in a product or service, you're pulled towards it. For me, my frustration at my position pushed me towards creating my own company. I wanted to do my own thing, and I was excited by the idea of being my own boss.
In an increasingly digital world, why choose print?
Over the years, I have grown to love, defend and respect print, but at first, I admit that this business was not born through a love of the product but more that that I knew I had a good idea. But the UK is actually world renown for its stationery, and I have come to feel very affectionate towards print. Lots of technology today aims to kill the print industry – not maliciously, but because they see it as progressive. I stand up for the print industry, but with a forward thinking approach to its growth. Other people go for "faster" and "cheaper" as positives, but I'm more interested in "better" and "different".
Technology is not the enemy though; it enables everything we do, as all our products are created and transferred digitally. Design is totally key is the process, with a view to making the finished products impactful – and print is the right medium to do so. It's the holy trinity of technology, design and paper.
From the idea to the execution, how easy was it to get MOO started?
It wasn't easy at all because I had to get financial backing and I was 25 years old with no contacts in the business world. I asked my dad to help me find investors and he asked his friends, who asked their friends, which led eventually to my first meeting, with my father’s business partner's next door neighbour’s friend, a man called Robin Klein, who invited me to a 7.30am and patiently sat through a 200-slide presentation (I worked out later 5 slides to explain one single concept would have sufficed!) on Business Cards.
But investors actually look for two things – the kernel of a great idea, and the right person to carry it forward, and I think he saw those things in me. I had the idea in August 2003, I left my job in May 2004, and by August 2004 I had £150,000 invested from Klein and his son Saul (founder of LoveFilm) and my own company, Pleasure Cards.
What do you wish you'd known when you started in that first year?
I'm surprised I didn't realize that the company name "Pleasure Cards" sounded as dodgy as it did! But truthfully, I don’t regret it because the second incarnation of my business, MOO, is a total rejection of everything Pleasure Cards was, and that wouldn't have been made clear to me had I not created the first company and made so many mistakes. The Americans have a saying "Fail fast" or more accurately, fail early – so you can see where improvements are needed with relatively little financial impact on your business. It's a good way to learn from your mistakes.
I wouldn't change anything because if you look at your company like a comic book superhero, then you’re going to need a super villain to push it to greater heights, and Pleasure Cards was definitely the villain of the story.
At one point we were clearing about 3K a month – that's a hobby, not a business, and I refused to see it. If I'd listened to my investors sooner, I could have moved on and started making money quicker. Eventually though, I snapped out of it, swallowed my pride and took advice from people who'd invested in many successful companies and knew better than me. So a big lesson at that point was, not necessarily "listen to people", but listen to the right people.
Were there any teething problems that stand out in your mind?
The first batch of MiniCard boxes I ordered, from a plastics company called SB Weston, was a disaster. I had a specific design in mind but the first 1000 came out looking like mini bowties – the manufacturer hadn't cooled the plastic quickly enough. But that was ok – we got it right, and ordered about 15,000 of them. We shipped off about 1000 as promos, and just assumed that we'd get through the rest of them in no time, as they were taking up a lot of room in our office. I even remember saying to the plastics manufacturer "Just you wait. We'll be back, and we'll be ordering triple!". And he just looked at me with this knowing smile. He wasn't wrong – we had so few orders in the first months, we were tripping over piles of MiniCard boxes for months, a constant reminder that a business is nothing without customers!
What advice would you give anyone starting a new business?
We're a venture backed high growth technology business, so let's just assume anyone taking advice from me is involved in a similar business or it might not apply!- Watch your cash carefully and always know how much you have. So many businesses fail in the first year because they overspend and don't take care of their cash flow. - Get the right advisors, especially if you’re a rookie. You can’t know everything, but you can know whom you’re getting advice from - check out their references and make sure you trust them - Get a great team around you early on with whom you share a kind of mental shorthand, so that you can translate an image or idea in your head into something real using their expertise. It's like a telepathy, a private language – if you don't have that with your team, it simply won't work. - Know that you can't – and shouldn’t – do everything. Learn when to delegate, when to let go of the reigns and let someone more qualified take over. If you hold on too tight, it'll break. I remember the day I took Illustrator off my computer and finally allowed our new art director to do her job.
And finally, what is your definition of success?
Simply put, it's having goals and achieving them, and being able to turn what's in your head fluently and perfectly into reality.
But in reality, success is defined by what you consider important and money was never a motivator for me. So if profit is traditionally the defacto measurement for success, then I define success in business as a company that functions in a genius, innovative method, turning nothing into something with only a germ of an idea to start with. Businesses that make their mark on the world are something to aspire to.
Richard Moross is the founder and CEO of MOO