Cool Woman: CMO, Founder, Advisor Wendy Tan White of Moonfruit talks Business
Wendy Tan White is a cool woman, a pioneering entrepreneur, a dotcom starter, a fundraiser, a CMO, a wife/co-founder with her husband and a mother of 2 kids. We met for the first time, when Tan White just returned from motherhood to her business, at her very first networking night out, the very first Kitchen Dinner of The NextWomen, back in April 2009. I like her drive and openness, and how she gets it: building a high-growth business.
Time for an interview.
We talk about the dotcom years and the funding rounds, whether she lies awake at night, her pet-entrepreneur projects, her advisory role at Astia Europe and the Silicon Valley influence in Europe.
How do you describe the years after you returned from 'motherhood' to the company?
After raising investment during the dotcom boom and bootstrapping Moonfruit to profitability post the crash in 2001, I took a break in 2004 to have my children now 6 and 3. My husband, Joe White whom I had made redundant along with my mother-in-law during the crash returned from his indenture at McKinsey, tagged in and took over the reins from me.
During my break, I helped set up the peer to peer lending site Zopa.com and I did a design MA in Future Textiles at Central St Martins. I wanted to explore a more creative path after 15 years of tech and finance, something very different from my first degree in Computer Science. The experience was inspiring, liberating and very challenging! It was a psychizophrenic period, one minute I was a typical west london Mother bemoaning breast-feeding and sleepless nights at playgroup and the next I was hanging out with 'supercool' twentysomething design students in East London.
In 2005, Joe, Eirik Pettersen, and their French business partner raised €14m to buy Gandi.net, France's largest domain registrar and together with Moonfruit created Gandi Group. The group tripled revenue over the next 5 years.
In 2008, my daughter was nearly one and I joined Gandi Group as Marketing Director. I came back to support Joe and reciprocate the support he provided during my degree while we had young children. I wasn't sure at that point how long I would stay in the business.
Coming back and not being CEO was sometimes difficult, I'd been used to calling the shots and taking responsibility for the good or bad, however I found it was the right balance for the family.
I'm sure as many working mother's find when they first return to work, they feel torn between their commitments, neither excelling as a mother nor at their job. It don't take me long to get my feet under the table and find myself hooked again by the fast paced change of a technology business. Whilst at Gandi I drove the re-vamping of their brand and website, including the rather tongue-in-cheek but appropriate strap-line of 'No Bullshit' the antithesis of traditional domain registrars like Go-Daddy.
What did the company miss when you were not there?
Back at Gandi Group, it was difficult to ignore my first 'baby' Moonfruit. It had grown to 16 people, still profitable, but Joe and Eirik were focusing their attention on Gandi.net in Paris, it was the larger company in the group and required more input. I think it was fair to say Moonfruit was ticking along nicely but without ‘va voom’.
In short, I've brought energy, focus, innovation and vision back to Moonfruit tempered with structure, patience and understanding the necessity of team.
My desire to create and supercharge a project or business is both my strength and weakness.
Those that have worked or lived with me would say that when they are the focus of my attention they feel either loved or inspired but on a bad day compelled against their will, worst case ignored! I love the creation process whether it's for a new brand, product, company, vision, deal or relationship.
Over the years I've learnt how to work more patiently with a team while we build the processes and structures necessary to balance the urgency to create and push for growth. The design MA helped me see that creativity can be a structured process that surprisingly does not stifle the freedom to explore, challenge and innovate. My children teach me daily about patience, humour and that being a control freak doesn't help!
A new funding round? Why? Cash flow alone is not enough? What do you use the cash for?
2 years on our team has doubled in size, our annual turnover has doubled, our new subscriptions increased by 60% again end of 2010. In Sept 2010, re-inspired about Moonfruit and boosted by high growth Joe, Eirik and I spun Moonfruit out of Gandi Group as a separate company and we raised $2.25m in funding for international expansion from Stephens Inc. We're a profitable business but to really accelerate growth in a global market in the time frames we're interested in, we've chosen to take funding.
Tell us how you start and end a new funding round?
For this particular round we already knew our investors and had worked with them in the past so there was already a lot of trust on both sides. However, as per any funding round we had to prepare a robust business model showing our cash-flow projections over 3 years, showing clearly what we would do with the funding and how that would create a return for shareholders over a time frame which was attractive to their fund.
Do you lie awake sometimes thing about the company?
Frequently. It’s particularly bad if one of my children wakes during the night, I find my mind spins over issues and I can't get back to sleep. I always want to do more, quicker!
Husband and wife company, why is this good for an investor?
I often get asked how on earth can I work with my husband without one of us strangling the other? We met creating and running a business. Much of the energy, passion and frisson in our relationship comes from working together. It means we are focused in the same direction in our lives both at work and home, this is ultimately better for the business and our children.
Our skills are complimentary, I focus on growth and vision, Joe on maximizing profitability but there is also an overlap which means we can cover for each other when it comes to making key decisions or being spokespeople.
Interestingly, Eirik as CTO has partnered with me and Joe separately over the years and is one of the few people that has an insight into managing both of us! The three of us understand each other at a fundamental level and are definitely an example of the sum of the parts being greater than the whole.
Since we've taken funding we've been beavering away quietly on both our product development and marketing pipelines. This will start to come to fruition later this year. Our customers can look forward to a re-launch of Moonfruit.com, new blog and shop features and improved mobile and tablet support. We have several exciting new partners we’re working with and plans for the US. We very much believe in ‘Web Design for Everyone’, if you can use a computer you can build your website with us, our target market is SMB's and artisans, particularly people that want to promote, sell and talk but care about personalising their design and branding.
Do you have any pet-projects as an entrepreneur?
I’d like to do more to support the tech entrepreneurial eco-system but my time is limited as Moonfruit and the family get priority. The UK is making headway with initiatives like Mike Butcher’s startup programme at Silicon Roundabout’s co-working space Tech Hub, WhiteBear Yard and Astia Europe. We’re learning from programmes like Y-combinator, Techstars and 500startups in Silicon Valley. I’m currently a 500startups mentor and Astia Europe advisor.
Who do you want to meet? Want secretly as your advisor?
I'd love to meet Fred Wilson, partner at Union ventures in New York. His blog posts are always insightful and thought provoking and he invested in Etsy, Twitter, Foursquare and Tumblr among others.
Wendy Tan White is founder and CMO of Moonfruit, which provides design-led DIY web site publishing tools for small businesses and artisans. Wendy is a 500startups mentor, Astia Europe advisor and Mobius Lifescience Fund advisor. She lives in West London with her two children and husband.
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