Moonfruit history – chapter I – 1999/2000

What the hell is a Moonfruit anyway? Good question. Apparently it is a kind of Jurassic fauna (you know a flower from around the same time as the dinosaurs), but we didn’t find that out until sometime in late 2000 when we were at the BBC 2 Internet awards, sitting next to the guys from ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ and picking up our award for ‘Best online design’.

In fact, when Moonfruit was founded in August 1999 by Wendy Tan, it wasn’t even Moonfruit at all. It was Passionfruit. What the hell is a…wait a sec, it’s a passionfruit. Yes that’s right. The original vision behind Passionfruit was to allow people to ‘share their passions online’ and bring website building to the masses. In sharing their passions, we hoped to achieve a vibrant online community of site builders who would support each other and grow like a community. Online passions, vibrant organic growth = Passionfruit.

Makes a bit more sense now.

However, it wasn’t going to be that easy. Not only was not available (it was owned by a women’s rights newspaper in mid-West USA), but people thought it sounded a bit ‘porny’, which wasn’t really what we were hoping for. After a few botched attempts to buy (would you have sold it for $25,000? Apparently they wouldn’t have), it was clear we’d have to find something else.,, Hmm, not really. It was only then, inspired by a Moon shaped Ikea lamp, that Eirik Pettersen (CTO) came up with the Moonfruit name, and Moonfruit was born. Not without a few arguments among the founding team, but it survived. (A survey of people on the streets of London thought it sounded cool, even though they didn’t know what it was, ‘was it a bar?).

So there we were, we had our beloved, though nothing to put on it. So armed with cash from the founders (a team that included David Stephens, Tim Parlett and Judith Clegg), Wendy and Eirik set to work looking for funding, and getting the prototype for the online toolkit built. Enter Sixzeds, a boutique web development company based in Soho specialising in Flash development, and its founders Tony Short and Joe White (me).

Sixzeds set about firming up the ideas for the online toolkit, and getting going on the build of the prototype itself, while the Moonfruiters (as they were known) went after the all important seed capital to get us to launch.

This was late 1999 and people in the UK were awash with .com business plans. Everyone had one or two ideas, some were hopelessly bad, others more promising, but if you could put together a decent presentation and a smart (but trendy) suit, people would listen. A bit behind the US, the investors in UK and Europe were also keen not to miss out, so deals were there to be done.

Moonfruit was first offered cash by an established businessman, who’d made his millions in industrial tech applications, but wanted 50% of the company for his £500k stake. This was encouraging, but not what we thought was possible in those heady days. After some more shopping around, we were offered the same £500k for 15% of the equity by a international strategy consultancy, who would also support us raising further funds and building our business case. This was good, and we were ready to go.

The £500k would take us to launch, and allow us to start building the team that would support it. In a few short months, Moonfruit grew to 25 people and January saw the launch of the first and the online website building toolkit.

Andy Siddons
Content Writer

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