Richard Moross of Moo.Com

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Think Shoreditch, think internet start-up, think Moo.com. Based on Scrutton Street and literally next door to the home of The Estate Office Shoreditch, this unique business card printing company is a founding member of the area’s creative entrepreneurial community. From a tiny start-up, Moo has grown exponentially and now caters for an ever-expanding global market of creative businesses from offices in London and the US.

But what challenges did they face? How have they adapted to the growth of the business and why is their printing lab based in their Shoreditch HQ?  We sat down with Moo’s CEO and founder, Richard Moross, to find out….

You grew up in London, were you always conscious of Shoreditch being a creative part of London?

No, it’s not always been like this. I remember the first time I came to Shoreditch, I was 17. I came in a taxi not knowing where I was as there were no tube stops for Shoreditch or Hoxton, only Old Street. There was this kind of nebulous boundary around Shoreditch that you were never too sure about. There were no cash machines and it was the middle of the night. I think I went to Cargo? Somewhere like that. And I remember thinking, “This is very different, this isn’t like London.” And now, it’s become an area in its own right: for working, for playing, for living.

Are you excited about the regeneration of Old street roundabout?

I am, it’s such an eyesore. You could pretty much put anything there and it would be an improvement. You could have squatters on it and it would look better than it does now!

How do you think it could affect the area?

This area is a bit of an eyesore in places, it looks a bit gritty and grimy and I think things that make it look better will help the area. Also, having a landmark that represents what we call Silicon Roundabout, and the government calls Tech City, will be good. People can then identify it and say, “That’s it. That’s the apex of this community, of this neighbourhood.” I think that will be helpful. Every article written about this area up to now has had a photograph of an entrepreneur standing in-front of that horrible arch – it will be far nicer to have something interesting to photograph. And the architect’s plan for the building sounds beautiful.

What about this building? Have you always been based here?

No, we’ve moved about seven times. We moved here in early 2011 and we’re going to run out of space pretty quickly! We’re getting extremely tight because we do all the production in-house. Before the end of the year we’re going to move production elsewhere to make some more room for expansion.

Why did you decide to do the production in-house? It’s pretty unusual to find a big printing lab in the same building as the offices.

Actually, it’s pretty usual for a business of our type. I think internet businesses, start-ups and venture-backed businesses don’t do things the way you think it would be done because they’re always trying to disrupt the market. And to do that, you have to do things differently. So we’re always going to be surprising our customers. For instance, we’ve opened a retail shop in the area – we’re in boxpark.

You have a US office, how did this come about?

We’re a big exporter: about 75% of Moo’s revenue is non-UK. And about 60% of that is from North America, so we set up a US office in 2009, where we do production in-house and have a marketing team. We got to a point when, to ensure the continued growth of our business, we needed to be closer to the US customers and produce at a local cost.

Do your US offices look the same as these? You have a great design aesthetic here.

No they’re completely different, but we always try to make it interesting, but on a shoestring budget. We don’t have the big budget of a corporate company.

This building was a good canvas to work from, though – lots of light, high ceilings and large windows. And we’ve tried to populate it with some nice furniture, but it’s not perfect by any means. If I had more money it would look very different, but I think we’ve done some interesting things.

Take our networking cables for example. We got a quote to do the networking and they were going to charge us about £40,000 to put the points in. But for the same cost, we could have hired a fantastic developer for a whole year and churn out a whole lot of product. So we got the cable that goes in the back of washing machines, put very thin network cables through it, and ran it all round the office. It looks industrial, and we saved £35,000 as a result!

What would you tell a budding creative entrepreneur wanting to start-up in the Shoreditch area?

Shoreditch has become really expensive but there are still bargains out there. The way we did it was to go for very short-term leases, where landlords were looking to demolish the building or renovate it later, or there were tenancies that had come to an end and they had sub-lease opportunities available. Those are fantastic ways to minimise the cost of your business and get a nice space in this area.

The other option, which I think is becoming more and more popular, is sub-letting space from bigger companies. We sub-let some of our office space when we were renting at Transworld House. There, we had about 40 tenants, and when we moved here we had about 60 desks. We had our own start-up community, it was great! Two of the businesses actually sold to other companies while they were sharing with us – Tweetdeck was one of them. They were sharing space with us when they sold to Twitter, which was exciting.

In a talk you gave at the Go Global Conference in 2011, you said: “Our product is a canvas for the creativity of the people who buy from us.” Can you describe a bit more about how Moo taps into the creative market?

Yes, we help our customers to stand out through providing them not just with a canvas, but an interesting way they can display their talents and expertise. With business cards, you have limitations like the size and the fact it’s two dimensional, so we have to be innovative to help them shine. I guess it’s a synergy between our customer’s objectives and how we can best serve that – together we’re creating a shop front for their business. 

When businesses are predominantly online, it can be easy to work from home. How important is it to have a physical office space, and be part of a community like Shoreditch?

It’s really important, isolation is a bad thing. We had a nice little network here, I’d love to do it more but we don’t have the space. It’s great to use co-working spaces – small businesses can cross-pollenate ideas, sell to each other, work together on things and hire from other companies they know. The whole point of being in this area is to be part of this community, and I think co-working spaces are one of the best ways to network and see people. 

Moo.com, renowned digital innovators in print have been tenants of The Estate Office Shoreditch since 2011.