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A Successful Husband-Wife Team: Moonfruit Cofounders Wendy Tan White and Joe White (Part 7)

Posted on Wednesday, Mar 21st 2012

Sramana: How has your latest product, ShopBuilder, impacted your business strategy and operations?

Joe White: It has brought us from a consumer website builder to an SMB website builder very quickly. The types of customers using our tool now are people whom we never suspected would be our principal users. They are people who want a more personalized experience. These are people who have either gone to marketplaces or big e-commerce systems. Kings College Orchestra uses it to sell tickets. Others use it to sell bundles of yoga classes or graphic design packages. It has made e-commerce accessible to people who would not have been in e-commerce any other way.

Wendy Tan White: It has definitely increased our LTV. The reason retention is high is that our customers enjoy playing with it. When TechCrunch covered it, they said it covered consumer sellers. It is the C2C business. A lot of Facebook shops sell to their friends and family.

Joe White: If you build a new site, a lot of your traffic will ultimately come from search. It might take a while to get listed. If you dump the shop into Facebook and push it to family and friends in a viral environment that can spread quickly. That multichannel approach to selling is what our customers like.

Wendy Tan White: Some of them will go to trade fairs with their products. When they get a customer who asks if they have a particular product in a particular color, and the vendor does not have it on them at the moment, that vendor can just pull up their mobile shop. They also use us as a payment gateway at those events. It has been interesting to see how they use it.

Now we are looking at ways to integrate with marketplaces. To date, our customers have been able to design and publish their own sites. Now we are trying to help them distribute their products as well. We are going to try and help them get involved in eBay, Amazon Marketplace, and Etsy. There is a big crossover when people produce visual products.

Sramana: You did this business as a couple. What are the challenges of managing a relationship in the context of a business?

Wendy Tan White: It is amazing. When it works, it is extra amazing. When it doesn’t, it is extra difficult. We have gone through so many phases, and we have tagged in and out. We have a lot of respect for each other because we have played the same roles at different times.

Joe White: We met doing this. To some extent, this is a part of us. We worked together before we were married. We saw how each other worked and acted. Given that we are running a venture capital–backed business, it was a serious decision to get together. We had to explain ourselves to both the staff and the investors.

One of the hardest parts we had was when Wendy came back into the business. She came back into something that we started together and we shuffled roles [in] together. As a woman and a mother and having our children, there was an added dimension.

Wendy Tan White: I felt I had something to prove when I came back. I had been out for a period. I came back to support the French business, which I did. However, since I still had love for Moonfruit, I could not help but get reattached to the business. I could also see the opportunity and we all had to reintegrate again. Joe and Eirik had to see the same opportunity that I did, and that was the most uncomfortable period.

Joe White: When Wendy got a sniff of what was possible with Moonfruit in social environments, she really pushed that growth. Eirik and I had spent a long time creating a stable structure to allow us to scale the business, [and we] saw it suddenly get ramped up and pushed. I was sitting there as the CEO with Wendy shoving from behind. We had to go through a realization to decide what roles we were the best suited to be in at the time. The way we provide the most support and energy is for her to be the CEO, me to be the CFO, and Eirik remaining as the CTO. That configuration allows everything to be in the right place. Wendy’s energy forges ahead, and Eirik and I shore it up.

Wendy Tan White: That was a challenge for us personally as much as it was for the business. You have to manage that relationship at home. We had some really tough moments. The worst part was in March 2011, which is when we had to talk to our investors about it as well. We have an extremely good business coach who is a life coach as well. She is also an entrepreneur and a mother. She had an understanding of the dynamic and helped us clarify our roles. She helped us avoid collapsing as husband and wife as well as business partners. She also helped us get separation because it is too easy to bring work life into home life.

Sramana: How do you separate the two?

Joe White: We do a few things. We will both work outside the office one day on different days. We have better habits about not checking email and Twitter when we get home. We had been at the point of talking about business until our heads hit the pillows. Then we would wake up in the morning and check the business stats for the previous day on our iPhones. There was no break, and it was all-consuming. We had to create a bit of separation from work.

Wendy Tan White: Now I always leave my phone downstairs. We have a date night once a week. There are demands with the kids as well. We are lucky that both our parents live close by. We come out to the Valley once a week, and the only way we can do that is because of our parents. That creates the stability to allow us to do this. Our parents have been very supportive of us. They make sure we have enough time to go and do something that is creative for our relationship and our business. At some point as an entrepreneur, you have to realize that your real life is still happening.

Sramana: This has been a very nice story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

This segment is part 7 in the series : A Successful Husband-Wife Team: Moonfruit Cofounders Wendy Tan White and Joe White
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