It was during the early 2000s when Richard Moross received his first business card as an employee. “It was an incredibly validating and interesting moment,” he says. “It’s not quite your name up in lights, but I saw it as being part of the tribe.”
Today, Moross is founder and CEO of Moo, launched in 2006 and now one of the world’s fastest-growing print and branded merchandise businesses. From its Camden headquarters, Moross oversees around 450 staff, while success in the US has seen the firm post record earnings, with sales rising to $93m (£72m).
In 2022, Moo crossed $1bn of lifetime revenue. It follows 14 years of consecutive growth with the exception of the pandemic-riddled year of 2020, just as that January and February yielded record figures.
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Twenty years previously, tech veteran Moross was starting his dotcom ventures, citing Moo as the product of two early work experiences: two years working for sorted.com and the same at design company Imagination.
“Sorted was a fun thing, the world was our oyster but we failed to deliver that. Imagination was a much more grown up business, an entrepreneurial company, with 100s working for the company.
“Moo is a mix [of the two]. It is built of the modern rails of technology, but it’s about design and brightness.”
While working at Imagination, he was handed a card from an employee working at Apple. “I thought these were interesting tokens of our modern lives that have no personal application tool, only used by professionals,” adds Moross, who received an MBE for Entrepreneurship in 2015. “I found it weird that these tactile, useful, functional, aesthetic things were just for businesses. It was something to explore.”
The first iteration of Moo was called Pleasure Cards, the idea being to create a personal business card that consumers would buy and use in social as well as business settings. “It made total sense to me,” adds Moross.
He left Imagination in mid 2004 with just a couple of investor meetings under his belt. After four months he secured his first £150,000 cheque, turning a powerpoint presentation into a formal business.
“The fundamentals of the business model were very sound,” he says. “Printing is a high margin industry and has been around for 500 years. It was a novel space as no one was making personal business cards and no one realised they needed them, although there are good and bad things about that.
“It’s much more about giving somebody something, the tokenism of it. The fact that it has design, the paper use, the materials, it’s like a little flyer for you. The little brand in your pocket is part of your narrative.”
Given that business cards need replenishing, Moross saw that consumers would repeat buy, rather like the modern day subscription fad. Yet Pleasure Cards was launched in 2005 to “almost zero fanfare”, akin to a “golf clap moment”.
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He adds: “It was very hard to have your dreams smashed in front of you but it was a very good learning experience.
“When you are going to create something entirely new, you need to have a lot more money and a stunningly clever way to market it. You are essentially changing behaviours and trying to create demand for nothing.”
Salvation came with the internet as a marketplace for e-commerce as well as spending time. Moross held conversations with social networks on how to take a printed product ordered online and connect around hype. Revenue share partnerships were then forged — along with a name change to Moo — to help their customers make personalised cards.
An early win came with photo sharing site Flickr, while products were expanded to greeting cards and stickers. By 2007, Moo started selling directly and building direct relationships with customers, enabling businesses to come to it to design business materials.
While others focus on price, volume or breath of product, Moo focuses in-house on design, manufacturing and e-commerce. “It’s the trinity of those three things that make us quite different but also enables us to make high quality products,” says Moross.
When Moo then launched shipping to the US they found instant success with demand. “As a UK headquartered and founded business we got lucky with demand and doubled down,” admits Moross.
Adding to its Dagenham factory, Moo recently opened a new facility in New England, Boston. Today, 60% of the company’s employees and 80% of customers are US based. Moross says that the entrepreneurial society and business friendly outlook in the US has aided success.
“There are elements of print in structural decline, but in an $800bn industry, within the sectors we operate our target market is $100bn,” the Briton says.
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Despite starting out in tech in the dotcom boom, Moross is clearly a self-confessed print and design lover. He reads the Weekend FT and still loves physical books. “I like owning and feeling these products,” he says. “The more digital our lives become, the more powerful the analogue tends to be. Moo doesn’t need to be 100% of the market. We make premium quality products that cut through in a very digital world and there are tons of opportunities in the next decade.”
Moo CEO’s business tips
On using list-making Trello
Richard Moross explains how he uses the day-to-day application, starting with a ‘parked’ column.
“It is for things I know I need to do but don’t need to be actioned now. It breaks down with Moo work, non exec board activity and personal things.
I have tasks for ‘this week’, for ‘today’ and ‘done’ and moving stuff from left to right, while I also have a column for my newsletter and goldmine sharing with the team.
Some columns are colour coded and everything has an amount of time associated with doing the work. A square bracket indicates the number of minutes to do the job and the date that it’s due.
It’s like air traffic control or a hospital’s triage list. It’s really my assistant’s job to punish me and push things into the ‘done’ list!”
On businesses and brands
“It’s really important that they create engagement with their employees. Particularly now that many are working from home more, it’s important that these [products such as diaries or water bottles] are the kinds of things we can take home with us and feel close to the businesses we work for. In the modern world of work I like to think we have a role to play. We like the tactile nature of the products we make at work — increasingly so given how virtual our lives are.”
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