A flower start-up in bloom
09 June 2016
Natalie Langley meets co-founder and CEO Aron Gelbard from Bloom & Wild – Flower Delivery a start-up taking Britain by storm, one letterbox at a time.
Where did the original inspiration for Bloom & Wild come from?
Since I was a young child one of my character traits has been a desire for pleasing people. I get a lot of validation out of that, and that’s always been with me. I started my career as a consultant working with retail, consumer products and tech companies. I found those types of business very interesting, and got a good understanding how businesses like that work, but I also wanted to have a go at something that felt right for me, and I felt the time was right before I had too many other responsibilities. I knew that I wanted to do something in the business of pleasing people - delivering that feeling that is an emotional motivator for me - but I didn’t know what.
At that point I was introduced to my business partner, Ben Stanway, who had looked at the flower industry a few times as an investor and observed that it had a really inefficient supply chain. This meant that people were getting flowers that were really expensive and didn’t last very long. Ben realised e-commerce flowers was a natural fit, because it was a retail, consumer product which was tech enabled. We took inspiration from other companies that had started before in similar spaces, such as Graze, and took it from there.
During our consumer research, the more people we spoke to, the more we realised that buying flowers online wasn’t a great experience for people - it was difficult to know when the flowers were going to arrive, whether they were going to arrive in good condition and what they would look like.
Did you know much about flowers beforehand?
Our knowledge was limited, so that was an early challenge! We went into New Covent Garden Market a few times to get started and learned as much as we could about flower varieties and how to pack them correctly to defend against mould and other issues. Its an incredibly complex sector in terms of variety and care to ensure you can deliver a quality product. There were all sorts of things that we don’t know, but I’ve learnt a lot about the business over the last few years and we brought on expertise when we needed it.
The supply chain is really difficult. We do what I would describe as “centrally fulfilled ecommerce”. We pack all of our flowers at a single location, and then distribute them around the country, offering next-day flower delivery through your letterbox. Other flower businesses offer locally fulfilled e-commerce and also local, physical gifting. The trouble with local methods of gifting flowers is that florists may not have the scale to form a relationship with a grower, so you end up with a highly fragmented supply chain. You have flowers that are grown in Kenya, put on a plane to Amsterdam, put on auction the next day, bought by an exporter who will put it on a van that night, drive it to a market where it will be it will be bought by a florist, and maybe 2 or 3 days after that it will be finally be bought by an end customer. This creates issues around inventory management, so the incentive is always to get the oldest stock sold first. When the customer orders they don’t know what quality of flowers they are getting.
In essence, the more steps there are, the more expensive and worse the product gets, so a big part of what we’ve tried to do is partner direct with growers so that we can source flowers that are as fresh as possible. Another conscious decision was to keep our range is narrow. From a consumer perspective, we’re very focused on mobile shopping and we find that not having too many options makes it much easier to make decisions on a mobile. The supply reason is that as we only have to forecast what volume of flowers we need across seven or eight bouquets, rather than across fifty, our forecast can be more accurate. Because of that, we’ll waste less, and we’ll have less old stock to get rid of and keep prices down.
Have you spent a lot of time developing software or your mobile enabled site?
People’s favourite flower brand by a huge margin is Google! By far the most common behaviour is to go to Google and type in ‘anniversary flowers, delivery, Kent’. I have a favourite brand of dental floss or kitchen surface cleaner, but if I want to tell my mum I love her, then I just roll the dice with Google! That doesn’t make sense, especially on mobile where typing is a real pain.
We’ve really focussed on our mobile app and making it as easy to use as possible. We allow customers to import birthdays and addresses from their address book into the app so you remember when to buy flowers for loved ones, we use drop down menus, you can log in with Facebook and then you can pay with Apple Pay. At every step of our app experience we’re trying to remove typing and then when you’ve done it the first time which is perhaps two minutes of set up, it takes seconds on subsequent occasions.
It’s seems like you’ve really personalised the experience for your customers?
Yes, exactly, by creating different things to go to different people. Most people make decisions on flowers based on price or colour, but don’t have much knowledge about flowers so we try and make this experience as easy as possible. Some people like roses, or don’t like lilies, or hate carnations etc, so you also need to cater for those tastes.
Almost every week we try and bring something new in, or take something out of the range. We try and keep it interesting, and create content, and get people buying more often, and it means that people find it interesting to see what we come up with. We did Christmas trees through the letterbox, mini ones! We’re working on our next star product and have been looking at a mini succulent product, to open up the gifting to men a bit more as the vast majority of flower purchases tend to focus on women. People can add things in the box and make more of a gift around it.
How many people work here?
There’s 23 of us in London and we also have a member of staff who is based up in Lincolnshire, which is where our fulfilment happens. We don’t own that fulfilment, our growers do, so the packing happens at their premises, but we have somebody who’s there and basically working with the flowers, and handling our quality assurance, making lots of decisions around flower procurement, procurement of our other parts, managing our stock of boxes, nets, printed collateral, and all of the other little bits like the ribbons that you don’t notice!
Have you found it difficult to recruit people?
It’s been difficult. We’re really careful about bringing people in that fit into our culture and people who get on with each other. Finding people that are great at what they do, passionate about our mission, and will add to the culture and the team is really difficult. I’ve probably spent more time on that than on anything else.
We have five values for the business which are - care, pride, delight, customer-centricity, and innovation. And we explore those values in every interview. For me, I look at care a lot as a really good overarching value. Care to me is not working till midnight every night, but it means having really high standards for what’s good and really wanting to make our customers’ lives better.
What’s your vision for Bloom & Wild and what else have you got planned?
My primary ambition is to build the UK’s favourite flower brand. It’s my view that sending and receiving flowers can be a real joy, and I don’t think that’s necessarily the case at the moment. My mission is to change that. We’ve grown quickly so far, but we’re still tiny compared to many others. We’re growing faster than anybody else, but there’s a huge amount of work to do to cater to the tastes of our nation.
There is also an opportunity to take Bloom & Wild international, which we’re increasingly starting to think about. We are looking at places like the UK - places that have also got geographically dense populations and habits of buying flowers and some countries jump out more than others. Sending flower gifts is universal, they’ve been sent out for thousands of years. It’s not just a British thing, or a fad - it’s here to stay.
How have you funded the growth?
We’ve raised funding three times. Once we had started and had a website and a product we raised a little bit of money through the SEIS regime and that enabled us to hire two employees and get through our first Christmas, Valentine’s and Mother’s Day. We then raised a further round of angel EIS and finally £2.5 million venture capital funding last summer lead by MMC and that’s really enabled us to, accelerate the business. We grew our revenue by six and a half times in 2015 over 2014 and run rate revenue for 2016 is already at about two and a half that of 2015.
We are thinking about our customer experience. We know we do the core well - we know how to build a website and an app, we know how to design, we know how to run a logistics and operation process and we know how to acquire and retain customers. We’ve by no means finished our learning, but we’ve reached a basic level of understanding. I guess our number one job is to get better at those core functions in order to bring the Bloom & Wild experience to new customers, including corporates.
What piece of advice would you give to someone who’s starting a business now?
Spend as little as possible to test the hypotheses. I read two really good books on this when we started. One was The Lean Start Up, another one is The Mom Test. You need to find a way of gathering the feedback that’s authentic and real and create something people want. We overcomplicated to start with and we thought we had a MVP but had built in stuff that people didn’t need and missed stuff people did need. Make your MVP even simpler.
The other thing is it’s a good idea to prioritise keeping absolute cost down over keeping unit cost down. When we started, we used to order test delivery boxes one at a time which cost us £30 a box and so when we thought we had the design right we ordered 1,000 boxes at £2.70, compared to £30. But we did it too soon and the box wasn’t right so we ended up throwing away 970 boxes! We thought we’d made more progress than we had, and so we prioritised unit cost over absolute cost. Now we pay much less and £2.70 a box was neither here nor there, but it ended up being a big mistake for the amount of money that we had at that time.
What are you most proud of since launching your business?
I’m proud of what we’ve been able to deliver for our customers. It’s amazing what we’re able to do for people and how grateful they are. That’s what I’m most proud of. In reviews we’ve been the top rated flower company in the UK and people are really happy with the experience. That’s why we’re doing this, that’s what I’m proudest of.