Richard Moross and Stefan Magdalinski are the creators of moo.com, the web app that uses Flickr to help you print cool stuff. This interview was recorded at the Future of Web Apps conference in London, February 2007.
Moo has of course recently launched its fantastic stickers – hinted at here. Richard and Stef also discuss the origins of Moo, working with investors and why they chose London as their base.
Find out more information about the next Future of Web Apps.
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Vitamin: How do we refer to you guys?
Richard Moross: We’re a printing business – an old school printing business. We’re very print 1.0.
V: Unlike a lot of companies who talk at web events, you actually produce a physical product. How did that come about, and why are you still a tech firm?
RM: I think we have to be. We may be making a 300 year old product with a 500 year old business model, but we have to make it for an audience that’s interested in it today. And to be able to do that in a large way, we need to be online. So I have a design background so it’s my interest in making it look good, but then we need experts like Stef to translate how you turn that into a store, turn that into an experience online so that anyone can buy it from any country in the world. So we have to be a tech company, to be global, to be interesting, to be accessible to people.
Stef Magdalinski: I think the main thing is using the community, using our own community and other people’s communities. The fact that the final bit is print is incidental, we’re more building a way that people can express their creativity.
V: Does that mean we’ll see other products and new areas coming from MOO?
SM: Very, very much so.
RM: I think so. We’re only ever going to do anything if there’s a demand for it, and right at the very, very beginning when we launched minicards, Flickr users were saying from day one ‘Are you going to do a business card shape? Are you going to do posters? Are you going to stickers?’. I think we said ‘Yes! Yes! All of those, definitely’. I think it’s a question of what are we going to do first. We want to put as much love into the next product as we put into minicards. It’s a question of how quickly can we do that, how we prioritize which things we’re going to do – but you’re certainly going to be seeing a lot more products in the near, near future.
V: A lot of your customers probably don’t realize where you’re based, they don’t realise you’re a UK company, you’re some guys on the internet. Was that a specific decision?
SF: It was quite a conscious decision. Most companies like us are based in Silicon Valley and we wanted to be based in London, but we wanted to ship globally. We’re on the internet, and it doesn’t really matter where we’re physically based. We happen to be in London. It’s actually turned out that there’s been some good operational reasons for us to be based in London, with the Royal Mail and so forth, but we could be anywhere.
RM: We’re in Clerkenwell, which is the literal and spiritual home of print. It’s home to the oldest printing business on the planet, it’s fantastic. We wanted to be somewhere with some significance; Silicon Valley’s not known for its printing.
SF: I still have a plan for Rio at some point!
V: What came first? Did you start off looking at Flickr and how you could use it for your business?
RM: The business started off completely differently. It started with the idea that business cards are a huge phenomenon; they’re 300 years old in idea, they’re the single most successful networking tool of all time -bar none. They’re still around today. You don’t need batteries, you don’t need wi-fi to make them work, you don’t need Bluetooth and they’re still around. They’re here because they work and they’re simple, but there’s never really been a consumer proposition for them. I looked at this and thought this is completely ridiculous; people today have more ways of communicating with each other. I’ve got 10 different instant messenger accounts, email accounts, websites and things I communicate with. And yet most kids don’t have business cards, most young people don’t, even people who are employed lots of people don’t. So we wanted a personal version of the business card and it seemed like there was demand there.
The Flickr part came about 18 months in, I think we launched our business around the same time as Flickr was getting going – we started around 2004.
V: You’re still a young business, but what are the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
SM: In terms of technical challenges, supporting all the languages and character sets that people wanted to print on the cards.
RM: We underestimated the global thing a little bit.
SM: And how complex that can be. When we launched we could support western European character sets and we’d never tried a Chinese character set.
RM: He doesn’t mean on the web, he means in print as well. We were optimised for web languages, for UTF-8 Unicode, but when it came to printing it – printing Hebrew, or Chinese or Japanese or Georgian
SM: Gave our printer a heart attack.
RM: The thing we were worried about was scalability, initially not necessarily technical scalability, but operational scalability. But again, the machines that produce the cards can go incredibly fast. We can print around 3 million cards a day, we don’t get 3 million orders a day, yet, I think next week we’re planning on that kind of volume. But that was the thing we were initially worried about, but it wasn’t really a problem. It was unprecedented how many countries would be interested. I think we’ve shipped in about 107 countries so far and I don’t know how many languages we’ve printed in, but it’s certainly more than five or six.
V: You’ve been entrepreneurs in the past too. Are there any tips you can pass on?
SM: This is my third startup, my third funded startup. I would say the difference this time round is actually having really good investors who are interested. It’s true, I’ve done this before and last time we weren’t well looked after, there were conflicts and difficulties. This time round when you get good support, I think it makes all the difference to a starting business.
RM: My piece of advice is don’t work with animals or kids and you’ll been fine. And that is a metaphor, I think.