Talking innovation: Interview with Mathijs Eefting, CEO of Moteefe
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BDO talks to Mathijs Eefting, CEO of innovative e-commerce platform Moteefe, enabling entrepreneurs, influencers and small retailers to design and sell their own branded products on demand.
Where did the name Moteefe come from?
Well, first of all, it was very practical. You're looking for domains that are available, which nowadays is not an easy task to begin with. And second, given the fact that our company is extremely global, you're looking for a name that resonates across the world in different languages.
As an e-commerce platform, we were looking for a name that would resonate and have meaning. We also wanted to do something with the word "tee" from t-shirt, and "motif," which refers to a design pattern.
I was at INSEAD (Institut Européen d'Administration des Affaires/The Business School for the World) doing my MBA at the time, and we came up with a long list of about 20 names, over Chinese food and a couple of beers. To narrow it down, we pushed it out to our classmates, who were a very global base of students, and selected the top three. After that, it just came down to domain availability. Moteefe was available, so we said, "Let's go."
HQ: London, England
Ownership: Privately Held
Size: 51-200 employees
Subsector: eCommerce & platform business
How did Moteefe come into being?
I met my two co-founders, Olivier Stapylton-Smith and Lev Kundin, at INSEAD in 2014. It was a very dynamic year living in a big bubble with all of these people all over the world, all from different backgrounds and different industries. Alongside that, there was a very strong entrepreneurial community, so everybody's kicking around new ideas, and there’s weekly events and workshops. A lot of companies get formed during the academic year, though of course not all of them survive after a couple of years beyond graduating.
I remember I was at a dinner with the entrepreneurship group and shared my idea – the founding blocks of Moteefe. And everybody said, "What? You want to sell t-shirts?" Nobody really understood it, and I probably didn't really fully understand it at the time, either.
But Olivier was partaking in the dinner. I hadn't met him before, but we connected around the idea, and we took our time during the MBA to start working on it. By the end of 2014 we’d quit our jobs to go all in.
What gave you confidence Moteefe was a business worth pursuing?
Well, obviously what we're doing is not about t-shirts or a product. It's about how you change the supply chain element from where it's traditionally very bulk volume driven, to something that entails less risk for the retailer?
Traditionally, any retailer, small or large, would have to order stock up front, and sell from it. Which obviously, first, reduces your time to market because you've got to get stuff made. And second, it's just very expensive. You're always going to be stuck with inventory that you can't sell, and have to discount excess inventory and drive value margins to keep things sustainable. There's a lot of wastage in the supply chain.
"How do we create a system where you first get your order from a customer, and then you produce the product, still within a time frame where you can ship it out in a couple of days."
So the idea was not about the t-shirt like my university friends thought. It was about how do we pull the supply chain upside down? How do we create a system where you first get your order from a customer, and then you produce the product, still within a time frame where you can ship it out in a couple of days.
That way, all of a sudden, you can put 10,000 products out there, and whatever sells, you produce. And whatever doesn’t, well. You have no waste. That creates a whole new dynamic within eCommerce. That power of disruption was what got us excited.
How did the business progress?
After quitting our full-time jobs, we moved to London. I lived on one of my co-founders’ sofas for the first year and we worked every day at the kitchen table. We put together a website, and starting testing – finding that product market fit in the first year to 18 months is really important. It was trial and error, but once we had it, we obviously had a decision to make. How are we going to scale this up?
We put in our first round of investments in early 2016 and started pitching. At first, we had no idea what we were doing. But as you start learning how to network, eventually you get in front of the right people. Then it’s just about showing the numbers, the metrics and selling that storyline. Showing people where your company is going and praying that your timing is right. Luckily, it seems ours was.
What was your experience with fundraising?
We did four rounds of fundraising in the end, closing just earlier this year. Usually, we raise money every 12 months. The main reason being that because the business was growing quickly, we wanted to raise enough, but not too much. If you raise too much, you're going to get too comfortable. I don't think that's a good idea.
Secondly, we didn’t want to give away too much equity. It just doesn't make sense, especially for a new business. We were fortunate enough to have extremely supportive investors early on, who had the ability and the willingness to support us throughout the journey.
What has been the biggest challenge in terms of scaling up?
Hiring and, more importantly, getting the right people has been the biggest challenge, I think. The business is evolving very quickly, which means we always differentiate types of capabilities among our staff at different points in time to help us to continue to deliver growth moving into the future.
Hiring and getting the right talent is very important, not only in terms of building our capabilities and in terms of the organisation, but also in terms of demonstrating a return on the hire and making sure the people who work for us are productive and happy as they land on their feet within the company.
What sets Moteefe apart from its competitors?
If you think of our competitors being companies like Etsy or eBay, then I think our unique selling point is very strong. People come to Moteefe because they are like us. They are creators and entrepreneurs who want to build their own business and make their business a success, but simply need a platform in order to do so.
Moteefe gives you your own individual storefront, but we don’t pull the shopfronts together into a single marketplace. We want to make your brand a success. Not Moteefe.. It's about your customers, not ours.
How does your business model work for the customer?
The site is completely free to use. You never pay anything. But the moment you start making orders, you start generating profits, of course. Moteefe takes a small part of that profit, but this is only very small compared to your production costs.
If you sell the t-shirt for 30 pounds, you'll get 15-18 pounds, pure profit, and the other 12 pounds are used to produce. Moteefe does the customer care for your brand. Moteefe takes care of the refunds. Moteefe takes care of the reprints. Moteefe takes care of the cancellations. Moteefe takes care of the payment fees. Moteefe takes care of all of that. All you have to do is create and promote.
How long does it take to create a self-branded product with Moteefe?
From having the idea, to concepting it, to turning it into a physical product, we’re talking 30 seconds. And that’s the real beauty of the idea. Whether you have an idea you want to capitalise on off the back of a trend or an event. Or whether you’re out to test in your market.
Imagine, for example, you’re selling products in the UK. You're doing really well, but now you want to test the German market, or go overseas into the US or into Brazil. You don't want to commit money to the idea, so instead you use Moteefe to test the interest, tease the demand and perhaps even help you unlock new product integrations or submarkets within customers that you can attract. This model gives you the power and flexibility to do that. To be truly responsive to your consumer and scale up with confidence.
Does the Moteefe model operate sustainably?
We produce around the world. We've got production setups across Europe, US, Brazil, Australia, Canada, and make an effort to produce as close to the end customer as possible.
"Using a global model with a low supply chain dynamic, we can have a real focus on sustainability, reducing the carbon footprint of each individual product even while sticking to delivery timelines."
So if you sell your product in the UK, we produce in the UK, you sell in Brazil, we produce in Brazil – and that's another really unique benefit to our business model. Because we produce the order after you generated it, we have complete control over the distance the product has to travel.
Using a global model with a low supply chain dynamic, we can have a real focus on sustainability, reducing the carbon footprint of each individual product even while sticking to delivery timelines.
How do you think businesses will need to adapt in the aftermath of COVID-19?
There's two parts to the answer. One, internally, obviously it's about making sure your colleagues are safe and healthy, all around the world. We quickly moved into a working from home situation at the spread of COVID within Europe. Enabling that successfully has to be a key focus.
Second, if you look at the wider eCommerce landscape, there's a clear need to rapidly evolve the eCommerce models. That's been our sweet spot through all of this. We can help retailers get online tonight. Tomorrow. With completely new business models, low cost, free, actually, and really ramp up their eCommerce capability quickly.
So, that's a positive for us, from a market perspective cost. We're lucky that we can be here to provide a solution to any business looking for digital and ecommerce solutions, from storage to production and fulfilment.
What advice would you give to others thinking of founding a business from their kitchen table?
I think the key thing is just hire slowly. Make sure you get the right people around you from the start. That's really important.
I feel many people want to work in a start-up or a scale-up, but it’s more demanding than you might think. You’ve got very high energy with big visions and it can be all too tempting to try to go quickly. But you have to remember that this is your journey and there's no process, there's no guideline, there's no nothing.
You need to be comfortable with a little bit of ambiguity – be proactive, but not push yourself so hard and fast that you burn yourself out and miss important learning experiences along the way.
With hindsight, you always realise that you could have done something better, smarter, or different. I suppose, perhaps my key piece of advice should really be, raise more money than you think you'll need.
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