- Cecilia Vincent - 13 Nov 2014

Where it all began – Moonpig

Jo started as an Art Editor at Moonpig about 14 years ago at a time when there wasn’t really a Moonpig; there was a Nick, a computer and an idea. Involved from the company’s early days, and beyond letting her creativity flow, Jo was in charge of setting up the first office, answering the phones, managing the books and launching the cards on the first iteration of the website. Today, Jo is the Creative Director at Moonpig who – as she says it herself – involves looking (only) after the fun bits.

It’s been almost 15 years since Moonpig was born… How did the idea come up? What was the driver?

Nick Jenkins came up with the idea whilst doing an MBA at Cranfield. The question to answer was ‘how would you use the internet to set up a company’… and from that, the idea for Moonpig was born. Nick was unusual in that he actually sent cards, he would tip-ex out the names and write them in. By doing this, he figured out a way to use the internet for personalisation and digital print to produce one-off cards. It was such a clever, almost obvious idea, that wasn’t available then, no one did it at the time, the internet was still in its infancy (this was 1999).

The very first version of the Moonpig website

The very first version of the Moonpig homepage

Jo, you joined in the early days; what made you choose Moonpig, while you could have joined an established company with a probably more “certain” future at the time?

I can’t say I deliberately sought out Moonpig, I was fresh out of uni, had been temping for quite some time in London and had my 23 year-old head in the clouds as far as jobs were concerned. I knew I wanted something entrepreneurial, different, creative and not remotely financial/corporate. I was ex-Art school and missed the creative world. Nick explained the Moonpig concept, offered me a position as Art Editor and I thought that sounded rather cool, so accepted. I’d worked in some very grey, faceless Belgian banks, Financial PR and even HR Owen Ferrari car sales, so this was something exciting, brand new and not a huge company where you’d disappear into a vast black hole!

How were the early days? Tough? Exciting? Scary?

Fun, interesting, exciting, challenging but definitely scary. I felt like a fraud, not knowing anything! It was about learning on the job, making it up as I went along. There wasn’t a manual or a ‘this is how to set up an online card company’ etc, so it was all new to pretty much all of us. It was fascinating listening to Nick getting Moonpig off the ground, the highs and lows, the conversations with investors and trying to get marketing and PR to work. The early days for me was a mix of roles. It was all hands on deck, getting used to new programs, computers, laptops and all things techy (I still break computers just by sitting close to them). We were a small team, freelancers coming and going, the office being built around us (quite literally!) but it was all good fun.

Upstairs in the Moonpig office

Our first Moonpig office (upstairs)

Downstairs in the first Moonpig office

Downstairs in the first Moonpig office

Who came up with the name, and why? What does it mean?

Moonpig was Nick’s nickname at school. A brilliant choice of brand name and logo design, it set the tone of what Moonpig was about from the start – I think this was Nick’s great masterstroke when you think of how difficult it is to get a good company name and url these days. It fitted the theory at the time to have a double syllable name, anything greeting card related was frankly dull and boring or already taken. I remember I was in charge of booking the domain names with Network Solutions back in the early days, which is hilarious now I think of it, a crash course in IP addresses, WHOis look ups etc…

The first Moonpig logo

The first Moonpig logo!

The first card selection filter

The first wonderful card selection filter

Why did you hold onto the idea that it would work?

Every time I told people and friends what I was doing, everyone had a positive reaction, they got it, understood it and thought it was clever and something they’d try. No one said, ‘that’s not going to work’ or ‘I’d never use that’. I think deep down I always knew it would work, Nick was tireless and determined there were various knocks along the way, but we all kept going. From the beginning, with an average 10 or so people working there, we were all part of spreading the idea by word of mouth and it was amazing when orders started coming in (that weren’t family or friends!)

Screenshot of customised message screen

By then, you could even add a customised message!

Moonpig has now become a leading brand. A lot must have happened in (almost) 15 years; to you, what have been the key moments in Moonpig’s history?

  • Jay Jetley and then Dan Bachmann arriving to form our own in-house IT team, they basically built everything from scratch, the website, the databases and tools, they made everyone’s jobs easier and it was all amazing to watch! (2000)
  • Creating our own in house card ranges, starting with the Spoof Magazine cards
  • Listening to requests from customers and launching Photo upload cards (2004)
  • Iain Martin launching us on TV, the ad, the jingle, the rest is history (2006)
  • Moving to Southwark, we really started to feel like a proper company (2009)

What are your most memorable moments?

  • Having the absolute pleasure of working with extraordinary characters like the wonderful Finance Director, Paul Lantsbury and adding to the team after quite testing recruitment processes – Natalie Edwards, Leanne Wild, Sam Wallington, Loretta Avanzi… to name a few!
  • Too many fabulous nights out, we’ve always been regular pub/bar dwellers, quite a few I don’t remember at all!
  • The 9 Day long, epic, TV shoot in Cardiff with Wordley in 2009/10
  • Our 10th Birthday party at the OXO tower (and the bar bill!)
  • The Voiceover recording session with Dawn French
  • The 1st Moonpig Charity Bike ride, about 12 of us cycling from Newquay to London on 3 broken bicycles

Any anecdotes you want to share with us? I’m sure there must be plenty…

It’s a tough life working on Moonpig TV Ads, but in 2011 we developed a script that required the services of a gorgeous male model. After extensive casting sessions (we saw at least 20-30 amazingly good looking guys!), we cast Freddie Lund to play the main role of ‘Joey’ in the ad. After a long day’s shoot down in Cardiff, with at least an hour or more of Joey taking his t-shirt off (swoon), the day wrapped and both me and Joey had to head back to Cardiff train station. Being with a male model that looks like a genetically superhuman god, was quite an experience for me and for everyone in the train station that day. My, how people stared, open mouthed at Mr. Gorgeous! Then we shared a can of cider on the platform and went our separate ways, my ego has never quite recovered.

Any favourite customer stories?

  • The romantic, who went away for about two weeks, and every day, one of our customers had a card sent to his wife with a photo of somewhere in their house, and there she would find a surprise present.
  • A customer in Canada who has wall to wall Moonpig cards in his downstairs loo.
  • The fact we send about 40 cards a month celebrating 100 year old birthdays (we’re in competition with the Queen!)

What are the top 3 things that mattered right at the beginning and that are still part of today’s business?

  • Working with brilliant people
  • We’re in the business of making people smile, so there’s always been laughter, fun and smiles along the way.
  • Being relentless and committed in getting things right, regardless of how many times you might get it a bit wrong. No one is perfect. And, going for drinks after work – nights out together are essential.

One word to describe Moonpig.
The people

How does Moonpig differ from other companies?

Moonpig is all I really know, so I can only compare to the variety of offices/companies I temped in for 2 years before joining and the impression you get from the various suppliers or companies you visit while working here. It’s relaxed, friendly, supportive and still full of surprises. We have a fantastic group of people, that’s what makes us, us… We bond over every learning experience and I feel that everyone at Moonpig has been so committed, caring and interested in making it work – there’s never been someone dragging their heels and not giving a stuff. At the beginning none of us were experts or knew exactly what they were doing so we were all learning and making it up as we went along. Now we hire people with lots of digital experience in marketing, analytics, commercial or tech which is a big difference. People have been very much allowed to be themselves, there’s never been a forced way to behave and that’s meant we’ve had some great characters in this company. Good office banter is essential and having a welcoming, creative and open workspace to turn up to everyday.

How has it changed since the early days? Are the drivers still the same?

Yes, pretty much – great quality cards, brilliant choice, do everything as well as you can, chasing growth and experimenting with what works best, whatever area you work on. It’s dramatically changed in the size and number of people but there is still a similar feel to it. At the beginning and for nearly 6-7 years we were about 15 people max, so everyone did everything, now there’s one person for every role, which is great but still strange to think back to old days. Our Customer Service is still a friendly voice at the end of the phone, they listen, understandand do their very best to fix whatever problem customers have. We don’t deliver the cards personally anymore, phew!

If Moonpig was a person, who would it be?
Probably Dawn French

What’s it like now to work at Moonpig compared to day 1?

Compared to day one, there’s an office! I have a desk! There’s even a website :-). I don’t answer every phone call or order the office stationery and we even have a dishwasher! On a more serious note, I feel like I know what I’m doing now and it still feels good to come in to work every day. My role has changed hugely from what it was all those years ago, I probably wouldn’t recognise myself.

Finally…

Amount of the first transaction
£1.99, for one card.

Number of designs available / Number of product references?
500 cards at launch, about 8,000 live now, and probably 24,000 in the backoffice!

When did you take on your first employee?
I was employee number two, but me hiring alone was probably Meg? And in the design team, definitely Katie Heester.

When did you know that you’d “made it”?
I don’t feel like we’ve ever properly made it for we’re always chasing something higher!

What are you most proud of?
The success of the in-house card designs, hiring some of the best people I’ve met to come and work with us at Moonpig and that friends and family actually use Moonpig!

Would you do it all again?
Yes, with less alcohol involved.