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If “mumpreneurs” is now an accepted way to describe female-led start-ups inspired by the birth of their children, then the co-founders of upmarket baby clothes business Mori are part of a new breed of “unclepreneurs”.
MBA graduates Cameron Miller and Akin Onal, from London Business School and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, respectively, met as interns at JPMorgan. Neither of them, nor their future business partner John Charles Gasser, who at the time was working as a publishing industry executive, have children of their own but all three had siblings who did, and it was in trying to buy presents for their nieces and nephews that they noticed how difficult it was for people like them to find appropriate gifts for new parents.
“What initially seemed like a disadvantage, however, has proved an advantage by allowing us to bring a naively intelligent and totally different perspective to the space,” says Mr Miller.
The eureka moment that there might be a business venture in trying to solve this problem came after Mr Onal found himself browsing baby clothes for his family in a spare moment on a business trip to New York. He spotted a designer babygrow on sale for $100 but saw nothing else of quality being sold at a more reasonable price.
He shared this with his friends and they agreed that there was an opportunity to come out with their own upmarket line in baby basics, consisting of soft, durable, high quality “essentials” at an affordable price.
Their business, Mori, which borrows the Japanese word for forest to reflect the soft bamboo fibre used in the company’s garment ranges, was born in 2014. A source of inspiration was Baby Box, an initiative by Finland’s government which, since 1938, has provided baby products for parents during the early years of their child’s development.
The founders decided their products should also grow with the customer’s baby via a subscription service. In this way, gradually increasing sizes and styles of garments could be delivered to the family’s home every six weeks, in packaging designed to fit through a standard letter box.
Another stimulus for the founders was LBS. Last year, they were among the first start-ups to be accepted into the incubator space at the school’s Regents Park campus. This gave them room to develop their operations alongside other alumni entrepreneurs and gain easy access to faculty staff with entrepreneurial expertise.
In March, the Mori team launched their service, collecting 1,500 emails from people who expressed an interest via the company’s website. “We have leveraged a lean start-up philosophy to this point — with the assistance of the London Business School incubator — to bring our offering to market on a tight budget,” says Mr Miller.
The team also completed a £160,000 seed funding round, backed by a UK government scheme that gives a tax break for angel investors.
The seed money enabled Mori to develop the initial products and pay for the first manufacturing run, although Mr Miller claims a lot of it is unspent. The plan now is to conduct another, larger fundraising round and refine the business model.
“It is about being smart around the data we build, particularly around our subscription service, and acting on it quickly. Having full oversight on manufacturing allows us to be very agile here and we believe this is a key competitive advantage for us,” says Mr Miller, who would also like to start hiring to expand the business beyond the UK.
Like their customer’s offspring, Mori’s founders are eager to see their [business] baby grow fast.