Wendy Tan White, Moonfruit, Woman Entrepreneur
Image via CrunchBase
I am on a listserv that is composed of the many women in the tech industry around the country who are all worth listening to. Wendy Tan White has been involved in a few conversations and I was impressed with what she had to say. I checked out Moonfruit and became more interested. We finally connected and Wendy's perseverance on Moonfruit truly defines entrepreneur.
Wendy started out in Manchester, England where her father was a computer scientist and her mom was a mid-wife. They moved to Scotland where her father continued to work and her mother went back to school to get a computer science degree. Her parents were part of the original tech scene in England where it was all about main frames and computers. They began to move yearly as they followed the software scene and needless to say the tech world Wendy grew up in made an impact.
Wendy went to Imperial College in London and majored in computer science. After graduating she went directly into financial services because she herself had a huge debt to pay off from school. It was 1992. She didn't love the work as she found it very corporate and regimented but the training was great and her debt began to disappear. She left the financial services business and moved into software services company. Most of her clients were in the financial services business and she ended up being head hunted by the guy who started Egg, the first online financial bank in the UK. She became the head of software services and customer relations. It was there that she moved into marketing and in that role she did a lot of research. The next move would be to start her own business.
In 1999 she partnered with an old friend from college, Erik Pettersen to create the first iteration of Moonfruit. They were able to raise money from Micromedia and LVMH which is a story alone considering it was mid-2000. The company started out as a way for fashion companies to share their products online with the thought that they could eventually use this information to market to individual groups. The only money they were really making was from ads but because broadband had really not taken off in England there really wasn't enough advertising happening on line to make the company work. They were running out of money. LVMH and Micromedia had already made their money back in their VC arm so they closed that shop but because of the relationship with Moonfruit, LVMH and Micromedia sold the company back to them at a fraction of what the original investment was.
It was a tough time because although they owned their company they had run out of cash. They cut the company of 60 back to 2. Erik and Wendy went back to square one. At this point Wendy's husband, Joe was working at McKinsey and helping from the sidelines. Although both Wendy and Erik felt as if they had failed, it was their customers that kept them moving ahead. They had over 10,000 people using their service so they went to their customers and asked them how they should pivot. They created a DIY website for companies, a turn key solution for small businesses. In essence, it was their online community that kept them going which nobody really thought about then. Over the next three years they put every penny they made back into the business and grew to 9 employees.
In 2004, Wendy became pregnant and decided to take a back seat in the company. Joe stepped up to the plate and joined Erik at Moonfruit. Of course Wendy knew what was happening at Moonfruit but wasn't there on a day to day basis. The tag team with her husband has truly been one of the keys to their success. When the first kid came, Joe became the CEO of Moonfruit and together with Erik they raised $14m to put into the company. Wendy went back to school while she was pregnant getting a MA from Central St. Martins that combined her computer science knowledge with her marketing work which really allowed her to be more exploratory about those crossroads. After her child was born she continued with her education and also took a part-time job with the person who had started Egg and now had created Zopa which is an online bank where you can apply for loans from people who are interested in loaning you money. In essence, a new way to get rid of the banks. That job gave her balance. She is the first time admit between the job, the kids and college it took a lot of husband support.
After graduating from Central St. Martins she had a completely different look at smart technology. Moonfruit needed a marketing head so she jumped back in the game. She felt it was her turn now to support the family. Wendy began to play with the brand and put a contest up on Twitter. In three days they were trending on Twitter and were quickly able to grow a customer base in the US. That campaign put 25% of their customers in the US. Prior to this campaign they had merged with a domain registration group in France.. The investors realized that social media was changing everything so they spun out Moonfruit as a separate company once again and put $2m into it. That was this past September.
Wendy believes that women are good at lateral risks and Erik and Joe let her take those risks. That leap into social media has changed the way they run their business. It isn't that they pivoted again but they hit upon the need for turn key solutions for small companies. As everything begins to diversify (social media, marketing, etc) for all companies Moonfruit is beginning to offer more solutions for their customers. Their model is subscription based and their revenues and core brand has grown over 60% last year.
Over more than a decade three people have continued to believe in their company. The key is that they really like each other and support each other which is why they have stuck together. A dynamic team makes all the difference. They were committed to their friendships first and the company second. They are now about to raise another round of financing as their company is at that inflection point where they are growing rapidly.
What I loved about Wendy is how much she has accomplished over the past ten years. The story of Moonfruit going through so many different iterations and actually succeeding on the other end is rare. The only other company that I know of that has been on the same type of track is Return Path. Perhaps slow and steady wins the race. She has proven that you can pretty much do it all.
Currently at Moonfruit, Wendy is the CEO, Joe is the CFO and Erik is the CTO. There are 36 people in the London office. THey are focused on giving small businesses the tools to design their sites, sell their products and distribute online using the web, mobile and social media. Each individual has their own set of skills where Joe has clarity and Erik has tech and execution expertise it is the perfect match to Wendys creativity and single mindness for success.