Kristine Moody founded Team Magnus in 2010, and today she is still running the company as managing director. The company produces and sells “outdoors gear for families,” including “stumpy skis, neoprene balls for the beach, giant slip and slides and other equipment.” They sell these products online, and they have reached markets across the world, including Canada and Australia.
At Team Magnus, Kristine Moody has led the company to become one of the world’s “leading junior’s sports brand,” which offers “endless ways for kids and tweens to have fun anytime, anywhere.” The company is based in the United Kingdom, and their products allow customers in the country to enjoy outdoors activities together, as a family, thanks to its product offerings of “apparel and high quality sports equipment.” Also, the company has expanded their market base to the United States and Europe.
Kristine Moody and Team Magnus have also begun a collaboration with USA Nordic to “become the leading kids’ snowsports brand in China ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics 2022.” Team Magnus has supplied mini skis to USA Nordic and its national team, and continues to provide its line of “travel-friendly Tundra wolf mini skis for training, warm-ups and specific skill work.”
In 2015, Kristine Moody was also given the opportunity to pitch to entrepreneurs Jo Malone and Richard Branson in London, for the TV competition “Pitch to Rich.”
Check out more interviews with forward-thinking executives here.
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Kristine Moody: Our business bank manager says, “Anyone has the right background to start a company.” He’s right — it’s your character, not your CV. At university, I majored in medieval history — that’s pretty atypical! Later as a financial journalist with the Financial Times and CNBC, I loved the storytelling of business.
For 8 years, I ran Team Magnus out of my house while I raised 3 kids as a single mother. Every last dollar I could borrow was poured into product development and inventory. I always saw a place for a junior sports brand, where you take away the performance element and you hone in on the sheer pleasure of kids using their bodies, developing gross motor skills, and simply bonding with their siblings and friends in the simplest sense.
Surrounded by cardboard in my own makeshift basement office, I never once doubted that I had a better concept and that Team Magnus offered a better range for backyard play for families than the big corporations do.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Kristine Moody: Nothing prepares you for a cashflow crisis, which contains impossible dilemmas about balancing tomorrow’s sales initiatives with today’s cost control. I don’t think I can really convey to you those stress levels.
For me, the coping mechanism for those really hard cashflow challenges was slow, detail-oriented management of suppliers and creditors. Call your bank manager. Call your suppliers. Explain your problem. Win them over for a new payment plan.
I know some start-ups take off thanks to their compelling equity sales pitches and generous funding. Team Magnus took off through laborious management of debt and supply chains. It’s given Team Magnus really strong partnerships. Trust is a fantastic financial tool, and we enjoy credit terms which help massively today. I think that’s healthier than being at the mercy of a key investor.
In sport, in personal relationships and definitely in business I am a big fan of commitment strategy. It takes out doubt. And doubt is very time-consuming! I am really happy trading the occasional rushed mistake for a laser focus on goals.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Kristine Moody: The recruitment has been maverick! Team Magnus recruited a fantastic graduate who had stayed with my family as a couch-surfer. The first investor in Team Magnus was a commodities trader I met on Tinder. We’re now investing in the CFA qualifications of our future Finance director — I know her from a string of quite rowdy rugby festivals. All these instinctive decisions have worked out brilliantly.
Counter-intuitively I made recruiting mistakes by hiring people through the conventional channels, with conventional finance and business degrees, or with strong design school credentials.
The conventional hires weren’t self-reliant, which is a trait I love. They have one or two obvious strengths, and they are used to showcasing that. Small companies can’t afford to build support structures around experts. I attended a talk by MIT’s Bill Aulet, and he said, “My biggest mistakes were hiring to a job title and a salary.” He said he found his best people playing basketball!
Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Risk first! Your products need to be instantly compelling. If your only differentiating factor is faster service or lower prices or higher visibility, you’ll always be running to stand still. Spend that capital differently, spend it on research and prototyping. Sink your cash into product design, and you’ll find the marketing is so much easier. It’s a huge mental switch, because a higher share of your budget is spent upfront, maybe months and years upfront, without guarantees. Right now, Team Magnus is working on a racing pool, a much cooler backyard staple than your conventional paddling pool, and we are on our second manufacturing partner and third prototype. There are far easier and more immediate ways for us to generate higher sales, but we have faith in our concept. Team Magnus wants kids to hone their swimming skills at home, and we want to gamify pools so that they’re not just about cooling down in hot weather.
- Building a strong team is very uncomfortable work. You need to play a long game to cement a great culture. This can be a daunting task when you’re overworked, but it will pay off in spades. Focus on the culture you want in two years, not on having peace and quiet this week, even if that means restructuring a team if people aren’t adjusting. I let people go, even people with great skills, if they don’t like the speed we work at or the self-reliance we nurture. I’ve let close friends go, too. That’s been tough, but culture comes first. Different corporate cultures are right in different industries: some work well with a high turnover of staff and huge incentives and some are successful with a flatter, friendlier organization. Whatever culture works in your sector, there will be individuals pushing back, individuals wanting exemptions just for themselves. I always resist the quick fix of accepting separate standards.
- Maintain leanness. I’ve found it very hard to extract an entrepreneurial mindset from financially comfortable colleagues. When we identify a challenge, they switch straight away to searching for who else can solve it for them. Whether they have a blue chip background or are used to easy fund-raising, some people’s solution to challenges is to bring on more consultants or more hires. I have to be comfortable with an aspect of Team Magnus’ operations before I hand it over to externals. Maintaining leanness is about way more than cost control, it’s about maintaining curiosity and self-reliance. By grappling with a problem yourself, that’s when you tap into innovation.
- Don’t work for self-preservation. Whenever someone in-house pitches a new business process, relate it to customer gains. How does the customer benefit? That is an essential box that needs to be checked off as you decide to roll out a new initiative. Bigger companies can become their own self-serving institutions if they let customers out of sight.
- Ignore status. I’m astonished at overall lack of genuine business drive from people who hold financial or business degrees. Rather than hiring highly credentialed finance directors without that entrepreneurial spirit, we prefer onboarding a creative, diligent, numerate young professional and investing in their financial qualifications. I’ve gotten better at thinking long-term and investing early in great candidates — even if Team Magnus has to fund key accreditations and further education.
Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Kristine Moody: A mother who bought a Team Magnus slip and slide wrote a review saying, “Finally something which got my daughter off her iPad!” That’s what we want to do, and we aim to do it on a large scale. 10 years ago, I used to sell balance bikes at fairs and events. I’ve helped a lot of kids learn how to ride a bike, and that’s so energizing! I just took up Crossfit a short while ago, and I did my first handstand in 30 years during a class. Gaining a new physical skill creates waves and waves of happy feelings at any age!
Team Magnus just entered into a sponsorship deal with USA Nordic in Park City, Utah, and it’s big for us to sponsor a federation which is sending Olympic athletes to Beijing in 2022. Snow sports, like ski jumping, are exclusive, so we decided that even if this agreement doesn’t generate strong returns, we’ll be happy and proud to help enable USA Nordic organize more junior events with Team Magnus entry-level mini skis.
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Kristine Moody: It’s important to us that Team Magnus’ unique selling points come across from the get go in the product images. We sink so much upfront into product development. That can be a long tunnel of failed prototypes, tweaks and changes, adjusting machinery and tools, product testing and finally launching. I’ve always been astonished at how little design effort other brands put into kids’ backyard equipment. When you consider how much money some families have spent on outdoors seating or their outdoors kitchen, there is obviously a market for upgrading the random water guns lying around to something more stylish like Team Magnus’ sleek grey Incogs.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Kristine Moody: If your brand name is in the search term you’re obviously saving a lot of advertising spend and SEO work! Not all strong, profitable brands are driven by the same thing. It could be clever trend-spotting, or just well-managed processes and a lot of attention to detail. I can only imagine that the brand strengths reflect the founder team. There are more avenues to brand strength than the frequently quoted “passion” though. Big shout out to diligence and reliability — a lot of customers appreciate just being heard and for their ask to be processed effectively. You need to value their time by making efficient use of your staff’s time.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Kristine Moody: You can check us out at team-magnus.com. We’re also on Facebook (@TeamMagnusAdventures), on Twitter (@TM_adventures), on Instagram (@teammagnus), and on Pinterest (@teammagnus).
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!