Wendy Tan White is the CEO of Moonfruit, a company she cofounded with Eirik Pettersen and Joe White. Moonfruit is an on-demand website development platform that allows anyone to develop a website for any purpose in a matter of minutes. Prior to Moonfruit, Wendy worked at Arthur Andersen as an IT consultant and helped establish Egg.com. Joe worked as a website developer while finishing college and completed projects for clients such as Disney and Egg.
Sramana: Let’s start by reviewing your personal backgrounds.
Wendy Tan White: I studied computer science at Imperial College in London. It was a great experience and a great college. I used to program really old assembly line systems, which is a far cry from where we are today. Both of my parents worked in IT, which was unusual in those days, especially for my mother. She worked for DEK in Reading, England.
After college I ended up working for Arthur Andersen. It was good commercial experience although it was not my passion. I ended up in a financial services IT consultancy. One of my first big career step came when one of my clients headhunted me to help set up the Internet bank Egg.com. It was the first UK Internet bank which came around in 1997. That is where I got the bug that led me to try and understand how communities work on the Internet. Initially I approached that from the perspective of banks, but I quickly started looking at how people shared their passions online. That is when I founded Moonfruit in 1999.
I was quite lucky that my boss at Egg told me that if I stayed around a bit longer, he would help seed the business, which he did. He also let me work part-time at Egg to give me the opportunity to get the business started while being able to maintain some income. He was a tremendous mentor.
Sramana: When you started Moonfruit, what was in your head?
Wendy Tan White: It has always been about democratization. As a developer, I realized that if someone wanted to publish something online, they could not do it themselves if they were not a developer. I wanted to give them a simple user interface to share their passion online. It did not matter to me if it was a hobby, business, or passion. These were the days before blogging and social media.
We ended up building something that was like a PowerPoint editor. It really was a SaaS product, which was not a common concept in those days. The idea was that it was a very literal editor. It was a visual editor to create a website.
Joe White: My story dovetails into this. I was at Cambridge getting an economics degree. In the summer I started working at a software company, which is where Wendy was in the graduate program. When she left that company to go to Egg, I was going back to my finals at Cambridge. One of the guys I met at that company was interested in setting up a web design agency in 1997. I told him that I was going back to school and that I could look for some clients with the intention of sharing the work with him if I were able to find some clients. The first client we got was The Big Issue, then we got the London School of Economics, Disney and a few others. By the time I graduated, we had a group of clients that included Egg.
I was traveling between London and Cambridge, balancing school and work. I got to know Wendy when I went to work on commissioned projects at Egg. Wendy was the one commissioning work to us. When Wendy decided she wanted to leave Egg to start Moonfruit she got me involved, along with Eirik, who is our other co-founder. This all occurred before we were married.
Wendy Tan White: Eirik Pettersen was my best friend from university. He was a physicist but would do programming on the side. We always talked about starting a business together in college but we ended up going our different ways after school. When we set up Moonfruit, I wanted him to come in as CTO, and Joe’s agency built the prototype that we went out and raised money with.