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StartUp of the Week 1: Whamoosh – Personalised just got better

This week, I caught up with John Bickley to hear about the recent launch of Whamoosh! A new player in the personalisation business. Applying new technology to revolutionise an established market………

Manoj: What made you launch your company? Briefly, tell us about the company history and the management team

John: FaceTec (owned by me) has a patented facial recognition personalisation platform which enables a face in an uploaded image to be recognised & automatically (i) extracted and placed in another image (i.e. replacing the face of the character in the recipient image) & (ii) to add assets e.g. face paint, make-up, glasses etc to the donor image. FaceTec was approached by Moonpig 18 months ago and the two companies were close to signing a licensing deal for the platform, however my co-founder of Whamoosh! (Alan Oliver, who used to own his own greeting cards publishing company, Kamrok) and I decided a year last October that the market opportunity was good enough to launch our own web based online ‘print to demand’ personalised greeting card company. The business was launched 2 weeks ago.

The UK market is the largest in the world per capita (£1.5billion). Online personalised cards account for less than 1% of the market; Moonpig has c.90% of this market. The market does little consumer marketing, relying mainly on the vast no of distribution channels to drive sales. The market is mature, staid and ripe for innovation (especially in respect of the internet). Moonpig have validated the market opportunity and evangelised the personalising of greeting cards; they recently posted £20m t/o & £6.7m profit. Our own forecasts project this level of profitability.

My background started in the ‘80’s as managing director of CIC Video (a Paramount Pictures & Universal Studios JV) which I grew from £5>65m in 3 years. In the ‘90’s I came back North and joined the founders of Psygnosis a Liverpool based video games company which Sony bought for c£30m in 1993, the year after I joined. I went onto run the Worldwide publishing business with offices in eight countries and after backing the business into Sony PlayStation in the late ‘90’s became publishing exec for Sony PlayStation Europe. Since 2001 I have been involved in two University spin-outs, (i) Celoxica (Oxford University) where the management team raised £33million before it became an AIM listed company and (ii) in 2003 Genemation (The University of Manchester) where I raised £1.5 million. FaceTec acquired the IP and assets of Genemation in early 2008

Manoj: What problem(s) do your company solve? Why do you think your company solve the problem better than others?

John: It’s not so much a problem as an enabling solution. Like Moonpig we are giving customers the opportunity to personalise physical merchandise and deliver a service that supports and enhances that process. We have set out to make the Whamoosh! platform a superior customer experience than our competitors not only in terms of our USP but the way we deliver it and the service allied to it. Our USP is the Face-it! personalisation platform which we have licensed from FaceTec. It takes what Moonpig started to the next level i.e. the user who’s face is uploaded becomes the character in the greeting card. Moonpig are trying to emulate what we can do but frankly it’s very poor and I don’t think customers will be very impressed when they see what they can do with Face-it! cards. There are three patents behind the personalisation platform which in terms of the core algorithms and the platform itself have taken twelve years of University research and commercial development to evolve into what supports the Face-it! range. It means that there’s a very high barrier to entry.

Manoj: Who are your key competitors? How do you differentiate from them?

John: Moonpig; there are three others but they tend to be Moonpig-lite. Our main USP is the Face-it! platform, which we believe takes personalisation to the next level. We create our own designs; Moonpig relies heavily on licensing 3rd party designs. We have put a lot of effort in making user functionality and the user journey more intuitive and rewarding than our competitors e.g. users can access from within the site their images stored on Facebook & Flickr. Users can also store their favourite images on Whamoosh! and we have given the majority of our cards editable verses

Manoj: What stage are you in, in terms of execution of your plans? What are your plans for the next 12 to 18 months? What are the key challenges you are facing right now? What help do you need if any?

John:The web platform and print/fulfilment pipeline is live, so we already match what Moonpig and our other competitors can do as an end to end solution. We are focused on marketing; creating awareness and driving traffic to the site. We’re working with Weber Shandwick on PR and WebComms (a fellow Daresbury Science Park tenant) on SEO optimisation and PPC

As previously stated the focus is now on marketing the offer and driving traffic to the website; this will remain our major activity for the foreseeable future. As cash flow increases we’ll expand the art team and launch new greeting card ranges and product lines e.g. mugs, posters and calendars We may bring in investors in two stages, (i) early next year to pump prime the initial marketing push & (ii) in 18>24mths time to raise the investment in marketing & bring the printing/fulfilment pipeline in-house (probably based out of Guernsey) ready for a likely trade sale in 3>4 years. We believe Moonpig will be in play as an acquisition target within the next 18>24mths and that will trigger interest from any acquirer’s competitors in the sector and will then put Whamoosh! in play

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