Windfall for founder as Yell buys Moonfruit


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The Independent Online

A London entrepreneur who was forced to sack staff at her website-making business in a bid to save money today sold it for up to £23 million.

Wendy Tan-White sketched out the idea for Moonfruit, a company helping people and small businesses create their own websites, at her kitchen table in 1999. With a team including her (now) husband, Joe White, and best friend Eirik Pettersen, raised more than £5 million in the first tech boom, from investors including Bernard Arnault, the LVMH tycoon.

But when the tech bubble burst they were forced to fire their 60 staff - including Tan-White's mother-in-law.

White left to join McKinsey, only returning in 2004 as CEO when Tan-White went on maternity leave.

The company survived, and today, after more than five million sites and 230,000 shops have been built in the UK and US using Moonfruit technology, it was snapped up by Yell, the directory group in a deal worth £23 million.

"It was a long night, we only finished signing the contracts at 4 am," Ms Tan-White told the Evening Standard. The Shepherds Bush resident owns a "considerable" stake in the business, with around 50% shared between the mother of two and her husband, plus Mr Pettersen and Moonfruit employees. "I feels quite extraordinary," she said. "In the run up to the deal there was so much legal stuff and work managing our team and investors that it was all overwhelming but this morning the sun is shining, we all feel happy.

"We started off in the dotcom boom, took money that we didn't know what to do with, but came through the period, made something that customers like and over the middle years we learnt to build a real business."

Moonfruit today has a team of 40 working in an office above HMV on Oxford Street. "We chose Yell because it's a British-founded company, and we've been big supporters of UK entrepreneurial talent," Ms Tan-White said. The entrepreneur was one of the poster stars of the Government's Business In You campaign, launched this year to encourage UK businesses to grow.

"Financially we'll be comfortable," Ms. Tan-White said of her windfall. The deal sees her stay on at Yell for at least two years. "We've got two young kids who are seven and four and have been travelling a lot without them recently, so I'd love to spend some of the money taking them away, perhaps to Morocco. I'm looking forward to enjoying the space to think about what to do next."