On an afternoon in April at approximately 2:59 p.m., John Tabis got an unexpected phone call. It was Robert Herjavec, the Shark Tank judge, who along with other Sharks on the hit show spurned an opportunity to invest in Tabis's flower startup.

Herjavec wasn't calling to express regret that he didn't invest. Rather, he wanted Tabis's company, The Bouqs Co., to do his wedding. The Croatian-born investor married his Dancing With the Stars partner, Kym Johnson, last July.

"He called me randomly," says Tabis, who had been waiting for another call to come in at 3 p.m. when the phone rang. Though the televised refusal three years prior still stung, Tabis didn't hesitate to pitch in. Good thing he did too, as Herjavec recently announced an undisclosed investment in the company.

After four months of commiserating on floral arrangements and centerpieces, Herjavec saw a side of the company he hadn't seen on the show--namely, its value proposition. "He had the opportunity to see how the sausage is made, how the business works, and that's what got him excited about becoming an investor," says Tabis.

Bouqs' main business isn't catering weddings, however. Tabis's online flower delivery business, which is based in Venice, California, specializes in delivering assorted bouquets for a flat fee of between $40 and $50, shipping costs included. The flowers come straight from farms in southern Canada, Ecuador, Colombia, California, Washington, Ohio, and Maryland. The Ecuadorian farm, the company's original farm partner, is located on the side of a volcano.

By selling directly to customers online--and skipping the cost of brick and mortar and other middlemen--Bouqs says it's able to save its customers anywhere from 15 to 50 percent on bouquets. On wedding flowers, the savings tick up to 80 percent.

By way of example, Bouqs wedding packages start at $499, and they include one bridal and three bridesmaid bouquets, four groom boutonnieres, and eight centerpieces. A traditional florist might charge north of $2,000.

Indeed, the savings are massive, adds Herjavec, who revealed that that was the reason he reached back out to Bouqs after so long. "We originally had a quote for wedding flowers and it blew my mind how expensive they were," he says. "It just didn't make any sense to me." (Herjavec refused to disclose how much he spent, if anything, on the floral arrangements provided by Bouqs.)

Herjavec adds that he was also unaware of all the layers or "middlemen" involved in the flower industry. He believes he's found an opportunity in Bouqs' farm-to-table approach. "To me, they are less of a flower service and more of a customer service and logistics company," he says, adding he thinks it is the "Dell model" of flowers, direct to consumer.

Herjavec can be forgiven for missing the boat on Bouqs back in 2013. The company hadn't yet expanded to the budget wedding business when Tabis originally made his pitch to the Sharks. About a year and a half ago, a bride reached out to the company with a singular request. "She said, 'Hey, I use you guys all the time to gift my family and friends, and I would love to use your flowers for my wedding. Can we do that?'" recounts Tabis. Bouqs quickly jumped on the opportunity.

While weddings still represent only a small portion of the business, the category is expanding at a rapid 200 percent clip. And that's just the beginning of Tabis's expansion plans. The company just launched a new collection of premium fair-trade-certified "epic huge roses," and it's expanding its flower network. Soon other farms in the U.S., as well as in Chile, Peru, and Costa Rica, will be added to the mix.

The whole experience should give encouragement to all of the entrepreneurs who've been rebuffed by the Sharks--or other investors--over the years. Your business idea may well be worthy, but the format of the program might not give every business the chance to showcase its competitive advantages to the fullest.

Tabis adds that regardless of Bouqs' failure to land funding, just appearing on the program has done wonders for the business. After the episode aired, Tabis and his co-founder, J.P. Montúfar, successfully closed a $6 million Series A round led by San Francisco-based Azure Capital Partners. Last February, it closed a $12 million Series B round to grow the business.

"Shark Tank is the gift that keeps on giving," declares Tabis.

Published on: Sep 26, 2016