Tell us about your background before Moonpig.
I read Russian at university – it was a very unpopular degree when I got onto it, and very popular by the time I finished because I graduated when the Soviet Union was beginning to collapse.
The revolution happened before my very eyes – I’d been a sugar trader in Russia after graduating but, for numerous reasons, decided to come back and do my own thing.
Where did the idea of Moonpig come from?
It wasn't a Eureka moment of, ‘I've had an idea – I'm going to turn it into a business’. It was, ‘I want to set up a business, and I've got to have a Eureka moment’.
While I was thinking of an idea, I did an MBA. The MBA gave me a bit of structure to come up with a business plan.
I decided I wanted to have a physical product that I could use to improve upon what’s on the high street – and the way I could do that was through personalisation.
I realised that with greeting cards, the more personal you make them, the better – you can create real magic if you pick the right card for the right person.
From the beginning, we knew our product was a winner. It was just a question of getting the word out there.
Talk about the strategy at the beginning of Moonpig.
Well, the strategy of any ecommerce business is, first of all, to get your product right. Make sure that you've got a very smooth path of people looking at it, thinking about it, then converting that into customers.
Once you smooth that out, you want to work out how much your customers are going to spend over time, and therefore how much gross margin they're going to generate over time. That tells you how much you can afford to spend on acquiring a customer. We tried all sorts between 2000 and 2005. The one thing that definitely worked was our customers telling other customers – we had a lot of referrals.
What was the main challenge of scaling Moonpig?
So, the one thing that alluded us, although the business was growing and growing is the fact that we hadn't found a scalable form of acquisition that we could throw money at.
That was the point at which we saw a competitor advertising on TV. We hadn't thought about TV before because of the high entry price. We never really had enough money in the bank at any one time to contemplate doing a TV campaign without knowing that it was going to work.
You always have to take a risk. With every channel and that's really what set us off
Obviously you sold Moonpig – was that always the plan?
Moonpig started making money in 2006 and then became very successful around 2010 to 2011. That level of growth is quite difficult to sustain, so things were going to level out at some point.
I felt as though I’d done as much as I could do with the business. There are people who are good at particular stages of businesses – I'm very good at the growth stage.
I left a perfectly reasonable job in Russia to come back to England and do my own thing, and I had no idea what I was going to do when I got here. And similarly when I sold Moonpig, I had no idea what I was going to do next – but every few years in life, you need to shake things up and do something new.