Moo.com, strippers and 70% margins

How moo.com built a Web 2.0 business by reinventing one of the oldest professions and turning a profit fast.

By
25th June 2008 at 1:07 pm

moo.com richard morrossAt a recent London dinner for geeks there was a sharp intake of breath and a flurry of questioning hands raised when Richard Moross, ceo of web 2.0 darlings MOO.com, revealed his company made a 70% margin on its mini-cards.

But as Moross was rightly keen to point out, MOO has had a fully functioning business model from the off, turning over hard cash since the moment it took its first order.  So it makes sense that despite being a poster child for web 2.0 chic and a culture where free is the new expensive, it’s also a company that is proud to be associated with one of the world’s oldest professions – printing.

For those that haven’t yet discovered MOO, it’s best known for printing cards for work or personal use with designs or imagery you upload to its site in a format that is about a third the height of a traditional business card.

They were originally conceived as ‘pleasure cards’ – a name that sounds extraordinarily louche or worse like something strippers or members of a profession even older than printing might dish out.

Fortunately they settled on MOO as a name and a brand took shape.   The design ethic, the tone of voice, the hidden Easter-egg like messages on packaging, the adoption of blogs and social networks, and the sense of a family of customers all resemble the Innocent Drinks ethos. In many ways the two companies are very similar. Both possess a knowing subversion of the traditional ‘business voice’.

At the recent Fuel conference, when asked about branding, Moross said:

You don’t need to get someone in to manage your brand, if your brand is what you are.

And MOO and its customers are very much part of the second web revolution. A revolution where the personal brand is more important than branding and a human voice deafens corporate slogans.

Despite all this and despite the shrewd partnerships with Flickr and other social networks to get access to a ready-made audience, my abiding impression is that the guys at MOO are not Web 2.0 geeks, they’re print geeks.

Get Moross onto the subject of choice of paper, the printing technologies they’ve perfected and the inks they choose and you see real passion shining through.  Then look at the cards themselves. Even though printed digitally, there’s none of the cracking often associated with the medium.

And I say this, not because I’ve any reason to plug MOO – I don’t use their cards and don’t plan to – but because put simply their product looks great and stands out.  And that’s what matters most – a simple lesson.

That and the fact that web 2.0 allows businesses to go back to the future, to a time when business was more intimate and products had pride.

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Alex is the founder and editor of SmallBizPod, the UK's first podcast dedicated to small business, start-ups and entrepreneurship. Alex writes about topical small business issues, entrepreneurs and anything else that catches his eye here on the small business blog. http://www.smallbizpod.co.uk

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  1. Nice post, being your own brand is right.

    Just out of curiousity, giving your praise for Moo why don’t you use their cards, or plan to?

  2. Personally, I just don’t use business cards that much. I still have hundreds from an order I placed for some Hugh McLeod business cards a few years back.

  3. Rowley says:

    I’ve only really just started to promote myself and my music shows at gigs and events, previously I have never needed to have a business card. I started just making my own to different results.
    I gave up, moving to minicards with MOO. I have never looked back.
    Whenever I give people a minicard it sparks interest. The minicards aspect is not just advertising for myself, but for MOO too, I see parallels with Apple branding and marketing, pushing word of mouth to another level.

  4. Great point Rowley. I think within certain circles MOO cards seem very familiar, but in the ‘real world’ they still have a massive impact. A social object, if ever I saw one!

  5. David says:

    And there is something great but really hard to put your finger on about the whole process of ordering from Moo. It feels smooth and well connected.

    The margin was a surprise to me because I think the products are great value … just goes to show that value has little to do with cost. And I am always a sucker for neat packaging – I still have the box and the air-way style luggage tag my box of mini cards came with.

    I agree that they work great as business cards because they stand out, they start a conversation.

  6. jefe says:

    I can see why a small business card will stand out in a stack of other business cards. It is clever, but I don’t think the market will be accommodating to change business card holders and books anytime in the near future.

    I like the different packaging that you can order them in, but it is sometimes hard enough to fit all of the information that you need in a regular size business card.

    I have been using a company that does double sided printing in full color for under $20 and they do small runs too, PromoPrinto.com.

    Thanks for the article…!

  7. Can’t remember how I discovered moo, but now I’m a regular. Having mini-cards in a see of realtor blah sameness is a real conversation starter. Everytime. I love that I can have cards with different designs. I also have moo do standard sized cards, for people who just wouldn’t get it – or who have dodgy eyesight… There’s definitely an implication there – if he has stand-out cards maybe he is a stand-out realtor – that would go away if everyone had moo cards. But that hasn’t happened in Santa Fe yet….
    I agree with Tebbo that they use technology to stand out, and that they have a real attitude towards their work output that’s infectious. – Frank

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