Richard Moross is the founder of Moo.com, a company which produces bespoke business cards, stickers and other stationery with personality. The company helps customers and businesses to merge online and offline worlds using eye-catching designs.
Here, he tells Huff Post UK what inspired him to create the cards, how choosing the wrong name for your company can lead to all sorts of misunderstandings, and where the name Moo came from (clue: it's not as obvious as you think)
Talk us through life before Moo.com...
In 2000 I was working at the BBC for a short stint in programme finance management, and my brother started his own internet business at the same time. His business sounded really exciting, so I jacked in the BBC and joined his company – sorted.com.
The premise was it was a collection of local independent businesses near where you lived. It was a lively little business, full of smart people and run on a shoe string, but it eventually run out of money and shut in 2001.
I did some project work after that as a consultant for a while, but I wanted to go into more of a design job.
In 2002 I joined Imagination doing everything from helping with business pitches to doing research for design products.
I had the idea for what became Moo.com there – there was a night where I couldn’t sleep and the idea just came to me; I was really excited about it and just thought, the best thing to do was to leave and pursue my idea.
That was in 2004. I showed my business idea to the Imagination chief executive, I wanted them to help support the idea, but it's not their focus so it would’ve been difficult for me to have stayed there.
Printing was the mechanism that delivered the product – the idea was I'd create a consumer product that was a bit like a business card – everyone in the world knows how a business card works, but they're still regarded as a formal thing. I wanted the card to act more as a key to unlock information about a person online.
Initially we called them Pleasure Cards – but that was clearly a bad idea. I'm surprised we didn’t get more business from less than salubrious types.
There was a perception issue – people thought I was starting up a new club and handing out tokens to be a member.
Then in August 2004 we secured investment through an angel investor – he's still involved in the business. I was 26 years old at the time and needed the cash, as I had no idea where else to look.
Didn't you go to traditional lenders like a bank?
We lived in a different world then – we were still suffering the hangover of the dot.com crash and the internet hadn't really arrived, mobile hadn't become what it is now, and there wasn't really a prevalence for seed investments - there was no road map for how to fund your new business.
I suppose a bank wouldn’t have been the right place anyway. My family recommended a few friends of friends to approach, which was how I found the angel investor – he donated £150,000 which last for 18 months. I was the only full time employee and the £150,000 paid for photography, the website, patents and contracts.
We launched in February 2005 and as part of the launch plan I sent products to people – 2,000 business cards with their names and contact details on. I targeted people in the media, interesting businesses and anyone who was my idol or my hero.
We hoped it would be viral – that people would like them and tell other people about them – the reality is nobody really loved it, in fact some found them a bit odd.
People didn’t like the brand Pleasure cards or the website, but they did like the concept of putting images and photographs on their business cards.
I realised there was a huge opportunity and thought, if I change the brand, there's potential there.
I slowly made progress with an avatar business in the UK, but it was only after I got in touch with Flickr that we started to reimagine the brand – we suddenly had a lot of interest from investors who were excited by the Flickr tie up and had people in the US interested.
The promise of real revenue was enough to secure another £3 million in investment and that was when Moo as it is now was born. That £3m allowed me to pay me and the two other people I'd hired a proper wage, as well as hire more people. We launched as Moo.com in September 2006.
Why did you call the brand Moo?
There really is no reason, other than it's short and memorable, not offensive and an available, friendly and funny sort of name. People always ask me where the name comes from, hoping it's from some amusing cow type story, but I'm afraid there isn't. It wasn't even my name originally – we bought it from a man in Seattle.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
Hiring good people. And there’s been loads of operational challenges too – dealing with orders can feel like giving birth – you’ve got this terribly long labour and then it’s all very painful, but you end up with something delightful.
We outsource a lot of our business - we have the technical design and printing skills in house, but this way we don’t have to invest in a warehouse, head count and machines.
It was hard to redesign some of our codes to configure for overseas fonts, such as Japanese. We now ship to nearly 200 countries. Of course, occasionally we get complaints, but we just deal with it by being charming.
We started out as a consumer business, but now we're really selling to businesses…It sounds obvious, but I didn't see that consumers don't hand out business cards as often a business people do, and of course, each time a card's handed out it acts like an advert for us too.
In 2008 we had a new office open in the US, 50% of our customers are there today, which was causing us issues with shipping, so we bought a base out there.
Last year we brought all the production in house – that's all the consumer servicing design, the photography and so on.
What does the future hold for you?
The vision remains the same – making design accessible for people. I suppose we're a bit like Ikea in that respect, helping small businesses to look good instead of small homes.
In late September we bought Flavours.me, which is a digital identity website, and we're looking to build that out into a mobile product. I see the future as being a hybrid between digital and physical products.
On a personal note, I love what I do and every day is exciting and rewarding, and part of the challenge of being an early day founder is growing and learning with the business.
There's a group called the Young President's Organisation I’ve joined, I've found them hugely helpful and full of knowledgeable and experienced people. We meet once a month, it's like a network of chief executives.
I've also just joined Ladbrokes as a non executive board member to learn how a corporate of that size works – and I'm hoping I can bring my experience to them too.
Any advice for wannabe entrepreneurs?
It's hard to offer advice because so much of it will be tailored depending on the person and their individual situation.
I always think it's gutting there aren’t more people starting up companies. You hear about people talking about the lack of bank finance, and people have so many opinions about what small businesses should do, but very few of them are actually doing it.
So it's not really advice, just a plea for more people to take the plunge – we need more heroes showing the rest of us the way.