If you ever wanted a sign that culture is a powerful driver of growth, you need look no further than MOO

In 2016, surrounded by a global technology explosion that is consuming flailing print industries like digital quicksand, MOO has built a many-million dollar business selling people small - but beautiful - pieces of paper.

 As bookshops and newspapers cling to ever-shinking solid ground, and LinkedIn nears half a billion users, MOO is somehow making a success of selling business cards. Little rectangles of card - often with your postal address on them. IRL. You’d be forgiven for expecting to see a fax number inked onto the surface.

But that’s missing the point. I know, I’ve got some of those cards myself.

MOO has built a many-million dollar business selling people small - but beautiful - pieces of paper.

On an expansive whiteboard wall in Farringdon, Richard Moross, MOO’s founder, draws a simple picture to explain how MOO came to exist. 

It’s a Venn diagram. On one side of the interlocking loops is ‘professional design’ - a creative force, he explains, with the power to unlock clarity, emotion, connection. And with a price tag to match - just ask Pentagram or Imagination to design your stationery. On the other side he writes ‘technology’ - a tool that has blown the doors off exclusivity, democratizing the previously inaccessible, from distribution (Amazon) to hotels (AirBnb) to furniture (Ikea).

In the intersection between the two he writes “great design for everyone”. This is MOO’s purpose. It exists to make the power of great design accessible to anyone who wants it. 

And it so happens that business cards are one of the things MOO has pointed it’s purpose at so far.

MOO knows that it owes a significant part of its success not to what it makes, but to what it stands for.

The audience in front of the whiteboard wall is a handful of MOO’s people. A mash up from the creative, tech and HR teams.

The subject of this work is exploring what makes MOO, MOO. And we’re talking about that because MOO knows that it owes a significant part of its success not to what it makes, but to what it stands for. 

We’re talking about culture. And we’re starting with purpose - because that’s where culture begins. From the simple seed of great design for everyone, MOO’s culture has bloomed.

And so has business. MOO is hiring around 100 people each year, and serving hundreds of thousands of customers in over 200 countries. When we first met Richard, it was to explore how MOO avoids creeping ‘corporatization’ as it grows. How it holds on to what makes it special by making sure those 100 new people know what that is, and how to do it. 

Which is why this gathering is one of many. Within's been helping MOO articulate the ingredients of it's culture, and share those with everyone who works there (in person).

It’s not about conserving your culture so that it survives change, as if it were the last breeding panda. It’s about using your culture to shape the way you grow.

One of the most common questions asked by the people in our sessions has been ‘how will MOO keep hold of its culture as it grows?’ 

It’s not a question they are alone in asking - how many entrepreneurs have watched their nimble, humble family grow and ossify into a relatively impersonal hierarchy? There’s a widely held belief that as businesses get bigger, process inevitably trumps personality. 

But at Within, we see that question as fundamentally flawed. It’s not about conserving your culture so that it survives change, as if it were the last breeding panda. It’s about using your culture to shape the way you grow.

At its simplest, people working in companies that give what they do meaning and work to make them happier, do better. The Parnassus Endeavour Fund, which invests only in companies that score highly on workplace happiness, outperformed the S&P index by 4% between 2005-13. 

Like every business, MOO has a choice. To let its culture play second fiddle to its growth strategy, or to use it as the fiddle’s bow. Done right, culture should accelerate and shape growth, not impede it. 

At its simplest, people working in companies that give what they do meaning and work to make them happier, do better.

Strategies exist to get us from A to B. Culture exists to guide us along the journey (and often to help locate where B actually is). 

Bear in mind, that every company has a culture. As a leader, you don’t get to chose whether to have a culture or not, only what kind of culture you want. Those who invest in nurturing their culture create a foundation of alignment and shared meaning in the organisation that can guide growth. Those who neglect culture often watch it slide into a place of uncertainty and fear, which has a caustic effect on the most iron-clad growth strategies. 

In a world where change is coming thicker and faster than ever before, the companies who invest in their culture will weather the storm. (Those Parnassus Endeavour Fund companies outperformed the S&P Index by 6.84% during the recession of 2008-13.)

So yes, MOO has the ping pong tables, the free lunches and even gives employees a hand-knitted replica doll of themselves as a thank you for three years of service. But critically, it has also geared its business strategy around building, nurturing and sharing its culture with its global community. 

As a leader, you don’t get to chose whether to have a culture or not, only what kind of culture you want. 

Within works with companies like MOO on three key areas to nurture this kind of culture: clarity, belief and confidence. Bringing clarity and alignment to what they stand for, and what makes them authentically them. Building meaning and belief into how those ideas connect to individuals, teams, customers. Empowering people to confidently lead and grow the company they love. 

How’s your culture? Here are three simple questions all companies should be asking themselves:

  1. How clear are you on what you stand for, and what makes your culture great?
  2. How do people experience your culture everyday?
  3. How are you using your culture to grow?

Written by Laurie Bennett on Jan 15, 2017