If you’re a parent living almost anywhere in the world, it’s likely your child has pestered you for playtime with a Mind Candy product. Its online virtual world, Moshi Monsters, is now accessed regularly by over 80 million children and has launched a host of spin-off games and toys available globally.
Mind Candy was founded in 2003 by entrepreneur Michael Acton Smith and has had spectacular success. In just ten years, this London start-up has grown to employ 170 people and become the number one licensed property in the UK. In 2013 the company’s turnover reached £47 million, up from £28 million in 2012.
While the creative success of the business can be attributed to Acton Smith, the financial success is down to his CFO and COO, Divinia Knowles.
Knowles joined Mind Candy in the early days of the business, having developed a keen interest in internet entrepreneurship. “I had become interested in digital and could see some amazing things happening.”
Building a financial infrastructure
Mind Candy's independent spirit allowed Knowles to flourish and she moved very quickly into a financial role. As she explains, “I’m an organiser. When I joined, there was no finance infrastructure and no finance person. Now we have a tight month-end process and I make sure staff are well-trained, know what they are doing and have the freedom to make their own decisions.”
Over the years, Knowles has also taken on more of a strategic role in the business but concentrates on finance, while Acton Smith looks after the creative strategy. Knowles maintains that this Yin and Yang approach is one reason for the business' success. “I read a book recently that described the relationships in successful multi-billion dollar companies as having external-facing CEOs and internal COOs, which also applies to us. I look after the strategic direction and make sure everyone is on board.”
Learning from setbacks
Although the business is successful now, that wasn’t always the case. The first three years were difficult, until in 2007, Acton Smith came up with idea of the Moshi Monsters online virtual world and things started to change. However, even after that there were setbacks, as the company was seeking funding when the financial crisis struck. “Everything dissolved in a day,” says Knowles. “It was hideous. There was a real risk to the business.”
What this crisis taught Knowles was to improve processes and cash management, become more disciplined with long-term cashflow planning and use financial tools to identify problems ahead. As Knowles explains, this financial structure is her biggest gift to the business. “Being part of the team that launched Moshi is important but my biggest achievement has been putting in the financial infrastructure, a system of financial control and making sure we had a good ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system along with proper rules and processes for what we were doing.”
Knowles' future plans for Mind Candy are to get the brand into more mainstream media and to further its global reach. “We are trying to find a way to make Moshi an evergreen brand as well as to develop new brands. Being able to capture kids and families around the world is really important, as well as having a portfolio of brands aimed at different demographics.”
Five key business lessons
- Embed finance into the business – finance should be threaded through the business so you can use data to inform decisions
- Don't be afraid to seek advice– business is so complex that you can't know everything. Have knowledgeable people on hand to advise you
- Act on trends in good times
- Have clear goals before entering new markets and avoid false starts
- Keep learning.
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