Ah, the modern date night. Let's Postmates some sushi and Instacart the champagne. Crank the Spotify on the Sonos, and then, later on, fire up the Netflix.
In this day of everything-and-the-kitchen-sink "on demand," even industries already specializing in delivery are getting challenged, and the dozen long-stemmed roses you send once a year on Valentine's Day shall also be startupified: An array of young fresh-flower companies are taking on the well-known incumbents--Teleflora, 1-800-Flowers, and the 100-year-old FTD--in this $60 billion global industry.
Some aim to eliminate the cumbersome (and typical) international supply chain that transports fresh blooms to consumers in cool climes, by instead offering ethically sourced flowers that don't spend weeks in suspended animation in a cold-storage warehouse. Some promise one-hour bicycle delivery of fresh bouquets. It's not just a little phenomenon: We counted dozens of functional flower-delivery startups in the United States and abroad. Funding social network AngelList has data on 88 of them. One is called BloomThis. Another, of course, is BloomThat. There's also an H. Bloom. There's one named as if it might be the French-speaking Ke$ha of this crew: it's called Fl3ur.
In this grand upheaval, you will find a lot--I repeat, a lot--of burlap. And there are Mason jars. A multitude of Mason jars. Many, many Mason jars.
Although each has a slightly different business model and specialty, all of their products are perfectly Pinterest-ready and all companies are Instagram-savvy. Each seeks to shorten the time from farm-to-vase, so flowers last longer in the home. And they are each making arrangements even more beautiful--as well as more local and seasonal--than before. All flowers are decorative, of course, but these companies are going for a younger, more natural vibe. (More this than this.) And most boast a very charming, kinda-rustic-and-kinda-twee, bow-tied-burlap-or-brown-craft-paper aesthetic.
Farm to table--but for flowers.
Down on Venice Beach, in one of greater Los Angeles's most chilled-out precincts, John Tabis works out of an office that's, well, all the things you'd assume a startup on Venice Beach would be: dog-friendly, welcoming of board shorts, with beer on tap. Back in college at Notre Dame, his buddy Juan Pablo Montufar--who was the guitarist in Tabis's band--joked that he'd someday return to his childhood home of Ecuador and work on his uncle's flower farm, which was nestled alongside an active volcano.
"We all made fun of him," Tabis says. "But lo and behold, he did it."
After college, Tabis spent some years as a consultant for Bain & Company, and worked on marketing strategy for Disney. Then he got the startup bug. Around then, his old friend Juan Pablo called, telling him the supply chains that power the American florist industry were overly complicated, and result in old, overpriced product reaching American consumers--and only tiny sums paid to the farmers.
Together, they built an upstart business called the Bouqs Company. It began in 2012 with a total of $13,000, cobbled together by the founders and their family members. The concept: fresh flowers cut to order, and drop-shipped to online customers, straight from ecofriendly, certified-sustainable farms in the United States, Ecuador, Colombia, and Costa Rica. Soon, investors came calling; to date, venture capital firms such as Quest Venture Partners, Azure Capital Partners, and Draper Associates have put in nearly $20 million. This year, the Bouqs Company is preparing to deliver an estimated 150,000 bouquets of flowers on and around Valentine's Day.
While Tabis and Montufar were scheming about remaking the complicated flower-importing supply chain in 2012, two college friends named Matthew Schwab and David Bladlow, who'd recently graduated from the University of Colorado-Boulder, were looking for startup inspiration. They found it in their own intentions. They realized they'd intended to do more nice little things for their significant others than they actually did. "Why is it so hard to be thoughtful?" they asked each other.
They packed up and moved to San Francisco, and were accepted into the startup bootcamp Y Combinator's 2013 class. They named the company they created BloomThat, and set out to create bouquets for same-day delivery that are more lovely and seasonal than even local florists could pull off. (Hey, the whole farm-to-table dining movement was in full swing; why shouldn't the centerpiece get in on the action?) Now, the company is 45 people based mostly in San Francisco. It has raised $7.6 million in seed funding and venture capital investment to build a nationally scaled bouquet-delivery company--and launched delivery of its bouquets across the U.S., by mail, just in time for Valentine's Day.
Just over a year later, in Washington, D.C., two college friends from Duke were building another competitor. It launched on Valentine's Day of 2014, and is called UrbanStems. Like the Bouqs, it works directly with flower farms to create its arrangements. And, like BloomThat, it offers only a handful of bouquet options on a given day, based on what's fresh, easy to ship, and, as determined by the company's in-house floral designer, very lovely. Oh, and its burlap stem-wraps are pistachio-green, and come with a button rather than a bow. It's not yet available throughout the United States; it's focusing on local deliveries in Washington, D.C., and New York City, made by its own in-house bicycle messengers, who are W-2 employees with benefits, rather than controversial 1099 or "contract" employees. The company boasts some of the most affordable bouquets of the bunch, with free delivery and a $35 bouquet always on offer.
Two more companies, Farmgirl Flowers in San Francisco and Los Angeles and Petal by Pedal in New York, go so far as to fetishize the bike-messenger aspect of their business. Their Instagram feeds are all sun-drenched blooms and hip cargo-bikes with bouquets bursting in Technicolor from the front rack and the messenger's tweedy back-satchel. Weirdly, the company with "pedal" in its name seems in its Instagram feed to be less bike-obsessed than does Farmgirl, which was founded by a young woman who grew up on a soybean farm in northern Indiana--Christina Stembel--who's aiming for $10 million in revenue in 2016. Petal by Pedal was founded by a former New York City lawyer, Kate Gilman, who loved hanging out at the Union Square Greenmarket so much that she decided to ditch her desk job to build a business delivering flowers presented in--yep, you guessed it--Mason jars.
Yet another company, BloomNation, a marketplace and platform for independent florists, has raised $7.15 million. Of the new breed, it's model is the most similar to the one that 1-800-Flowers or FTD uses, i.e., connecting online flower-buyers to a local florist to fulfill their Floral Arrangements 101 orders--say, a dozen red roses with baby's breath. Sound dated? Perhaps it is. But the company claims to give a greater share of the purchase price to the local florists--and it gives them customer and marketing data as well.
The burlap factor.
There's no clear winner among the upstarts yet. But one indicator that's particularly unique to this industry is, well, let's call it the "burlap factor." Now, this may seem silly, but, really, what is a flower delivery if not a burst of fleeting joy, all scent and sight? These companies know it. When Bladlow and Schwab work with their partner farms, where their BloomThat flowers are grown and crafted into delivery-ready bouquets, the exact look of the finished product is always on their minds. Partnerships hinge on it.
"We let [the partner farms] know the exact stem count we want, and the burlap, and the way we tie a ribbon," Schwab says. His co-founder snickers a bit at this. There's a pause, and, undeterred, Schwab continues: "We are very specific about how we want the ribbon tied."
For its own burlap stem-wrap, Farmgirl Flowers uses burlap bags that once held coffee beans, which it salvages from coffee shops. Stembel, Farmgirl's founder, lost a trademark battle with BloomThat after contending that the competition was trying to mimic the burlap packaging. "Everyone is trying to copy our aesthetic," she says. "But you can't do that so easily, because we put our heart into every bouquet we make."
The battle is on. It's just taking place on a slightly different terrain than most companies expected. Bladlow, BloomThat's chief executive, tells Inc. that 70 percent of his company's customers are women. "We thought we were building a flower company for guys who were having a hard time being on their game," Bladlow says. Farmgirl reports that women--especially those buying for friends or family--make up an even greater slice of their customers: 78 percent are women buying for women.
Except on Mother's Day and Valentine's Day. Turns out, there are two times a year men still buy flowers. In this year's War of the Roses, may the best, most burlap-bedecked and Mason jar-accessorized company win.
Founders: Aron Gelbard and Ben Stanway
Differentiator: Packages of flowers are designed to fit in a letter-slot
Equity funding: $3.88 million
Delivers: Through the Royal Mail, throughout the U.K.
Founders: Farbod Shoraka, Gregg Weisstein, and David Daneshgar
Differentiator: Connects customers with local florists online
Equity funding: $7.15 million
Delivers: Local florists delivery nationwide since February 2016
Founders: David Bladow, Chad Powell, and Matthew Schwab
Differentiator: On-demand, small selection of flower bouquets, to eliminate the "wrong choice" feeling when buying flowers
Equity funding: $7.6 million
Delivers: Very fast--about an hour--delivery in much of New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area. Next-day delivery for much of East and West Coast
Founder: Christina Stembel
Differentiator: U.S.-grown flowers, in seasonal bouquets that come in multiple sizes
Delivers: Bicycle delivery service in San Francisco Bay Area or nationwide next-day shipping
Burlap factor: High. Stems wrapped in reused burlap from coffee-bean bags
Founder: Sani Sanilevich
Differentiator: It's an app for sending flowers over social media platforms. Gives users ability to design bouquets
Hu?: Yes, you can send flowers virtually--or in real life
Founders: Bryan Burkhart and Sonu Panda
Differentiator: Subscription model for custom, high-quality arrangements for both businesses and individuals
Equity funding: $16.9 million
Fast Growth: H. Bloom was No. 252 on Inc. 5000 in 2014
Bless you: Co-founder Panda is allergic to flowers
Founders: Florence Kennedy and James Kennedy
Differentiator: Delivers, by bicycle in London, a choice of two bouquets
Giving back: The company donates £1 on each order to a non-profit that helps bees
Founder: Kate Gilman
Differentiator: Sources flowers from local New York farms and delivers Mason jar bouquets by bicycle throughout Manhattan
Study up: Company also offers bouquet-making workshops (with wine pairing)
Founders: JP Montúfar and John Tabis
Differentiator: "Cut the day you order and free delivery straight from the farm."
Equity funding: $19.1 million
Delivers: Same-day delivery in some locations from local artisan florists; flowers grown on a side of a volcano in Ecuador can take five days to deliver
Founders: Jeff Sheely and Ajay Kori
Differentiator: Quite affordable blooms, at $35 to $55. Flowers shipped from farms in Ecuador and Colombia, and delivered by bicycle messenger
Equity funding: $1.5 million