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Moo.com logoMoo.com, the online printing company, has recently opened offices in the US, and is now printing and delivering from Rhode Island.

I've been talking to CEO and founder Richard Moross, as well as VP Engineering Simon Lambert and Head of Product Kate Leto, about the US move, and the reasons behind the sucess of Moo.com.

Why did you decide to open up in the US?

When we launched in 2006, and it was one site, one product and one partner. We didn’t know whether anyone would buy from the site, let alone where they would be. However, we found that in the first weeks we had orders from 80 different countries, which was unusual for a printing business.

It came as a surprise to use that people would be ordering in different languages and character sets as well, and we were unprepared for this. We couldn’t handle the Japanese alphabet for instance.

From these sorts of issues, we learned our lesson; that people would want to order from us from many different countries, and that we needed to think about implications for customers around the world, and since then we have had an international outlook.

The US was the obvious move, as around 45% of our orders and revenue comes from there.

As we built the business we have been focused on operational and product development more than fulfillment, but we are now addressing this for US customers. We could always get orders over to the US in a reasonable time period, but now we can deliver much faster, as well as being able to provide more options like order tracking and express delivery.

It has always been a thought, we just needed to get it right, and now we can produce things quicker using local suppliers in the US, as well as reducing costs to customers.

As well as being able to provide a better service for US customers, it also means less risk from currency fluctuations for us, as well as lowering our cost base.

You have also split the website so you have a US only version – what challenges did this present?

There were strong operational reasons behind this decision. At the beginning of the discussion, we decided that the destination of the order would govern the distribution.

Though both sites still sell the same products, they allow us room for differentiation between the two in the future. It is built on a platform that allows for this. In future, if we find that some products are appealing more to the US market then we can differentiate and offer those on one version of the site.

All markets are not equal, especially in the case of a design-led business like ours, so we will be finely tuning each site for the relevant market. Also, we made a decision that - since the US products would be manufactured locally - there would be different interests and relationships with the suppliers.

Another thing is that, since we are now manufacturing in the US with different materials and suppliers, we have had to redesign some products. For example, the paper we found most suitable is slightly thicker so we had to redesign boxes and packaging to reflect this.

As for the software element, 85% of the work we had to do went into parts of the site that the customer will never see, such as integrating with local suppliers, shipping, etc.

How will you handle customer service?

Currently, most is still being done from the UK, but we will be rolling out a local US team. You need to deal with customers as locally as possible and it helps if customer service teams can get in touch with local suppliers to sort out any issues customers may be having.

What are the main reasons behind the success of Moo.com?

We’ve worked hard, and hired really good people. We try and inject everything we do with as much passion as possible, even though we are working in a very boring space, we try to do things in a cool and interesting way and put a unique slant on it.

We’ve also chosen good partners that have helped us to grow the business. Flickr has been a great example of this.

Someone once said that there is no arguing with an idea whose time has come, and this was the case with Moo.com: the combination of the right product and the market has made Moo.com what it is. It's a unique model, it’s on demand, and so we have no inventory, its high margin, and had a revenue model from day one. On top of this, it’s truly global product without any boundaries.

The website is notable for good usability – was this a focus from the start?

We have spent a lot of time thinking about customer’s experience with the product, focusing on everything from when customers arrive at the homepage all the way through the card design and checkout process to when the completed product is delivered to the customer.

All of this should work together to make the customer happy when they open their package. How customers feel as a result of shopping with us is very important.

What percentage of your sales are from repeat customers?

We are very aggressive on new customer acquisition as this is how you grow a business, so this may skew the figures, but roughly 60-65% are returning customers. For instance, 10% shop again within a month of purchasing. This is excellent for lifetime value and building long relationships with customers.

What advice would you offer for other e-commerce startups?

This is a new challenge every week, but the key is focusing in the right things, and finding out the most important thing in your business and concentrating on getting it right.

People will have plenty of ideas and you sometimes want to please everyone, especially in a creative business like Moo.com, but at some point you have to put your foot down and say no.

I always refer to Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale here, who said that 'The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing…'. Our focus has been on business cards and how to have the best card site on the web, having that vision and focus helps. Once you figure out what your star product or channels is, you need to really focus on that.

Graham Charlton

Published 28 May, 2009 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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