If you've ever ordered flowers from one of the big floral services, you know it's an impersonal, cookie-cutter, and heavily commoditized area. Those services work on volume, and the designs you can send--and which you receive--are from a limited selection, not at all personalized to the recipient, and for the florist delivering the flowers, provides slim margins and no opportunity to build a customer base. Los Angeles-based BloomNation (www.bloomnation.com) is looking to change the model, and instead empower local florists to deliver their own, unique designs. The startup--which is part of MuckerLab--landed a seed funding round last week, so we thought we'd catch up with founder and CEO Farbod Shoraka to dig deeper into the company's goals and service.
What is BloomNation?
Farbod Shoraka: BloomNation is an online marketplace that allows consumers to discover and find handcrafted flowers and gifts, which they can send and get delivered locally by floral designers nearby the recipient. It allows those flower shops to upload and sell their own unique designs, and lets people see what's available locally. It's sort of an Etsy for flowers.
What's your background and how did you get into this business?
Farbod Shoraka: My background is actually in mergers and acquisition advisory. It's very similar to flowers, in that sense that I was working on a deal selling a flower company, and got lots of background information and understanding of the industry as part of our due diligence. I got to see how different marketing and middlemen in the industry, such as Teleflora, 1-800-Flowers, and FTD, operate. My aunt happened to be a local florist in irvine, and I understood how she had dealt with these services, and the value destruction which happens when you use those services, both as a florist and a consumer. Both of them are getting screwed in this transaction. So, I decided to take a leap of faith, and leave my comfy corporate job, and go around to flower shops and get a full understanding of how they operate, how they run their business, and help solve this problem.
You mention the big companies, like FTD, 1-800 Flowers, etc. How does a startup like your fight such a dominant industry?
Farbod Shoraka: Lots of people say we don't have the same kind of firepower, brand reputation, and money they have. However, for us, it's more about empowering the local florist. We have thousands of voices promoting not only themselves, but also the BloomNation concept. We partner with them, and give them tools to help their business. The florist business center we launched recently empowers florists, with tools to run email marketing campaigns, reach out through social media, and even gives them a point of sale system and website builder. It's everything they need to thrive in the e-commerce world, and we hand it to them with a simple, 30-second signup on BloomNation. It's all about empowering the florists, and have them show up on local results. If you type in flowers in Beverly Hills, you won't see any organic results for the big businesses. They have to pay for placement. This empowers local florists to take advantage of things like organic SEO, and also helps them promote their current business, as well.
Have florists been willing to use your service, given that they're getting lots of business from those big brands?
Farbod Shoraka: It's interesting. Florists receive their orders through these other sites, but the problem is, there's no profit. When they receive an order, they're only getting half the money that the customer spent on those flowers. Plus, they get no brand recognition, and no repeat orders coming through, or any customer loyalty. With us, florists receive 90 percent of the order, and also get the brand recognition, and the customer becomes a repeat customer. That's why it's exciting for flower shops. It's not how many orders versus BloomNation, it's tapping into their creativity, and they love that. We've been growing our community, and florists have been raving about it, so much that we've grown naturally without any outbound marketing. We now have 2,000 florists around the country. That speaks to how different we are from those big services. We're partnering with the florists, and giving them free tools to help them build their business. It's more about connecting then with customer, than BloomNation sending orders through the platform.
How long has the service been available?
Farbod Shoraka: We started out in the summer of 2011. From there, we actually joined the Muckerlab incubator, and essentially have been growing florists on the supply side. We launched the website to consumers nine months ago, and have just launched our florist business center to further build the florist platform and get more exposure. We've even just released a tool that allows florists to take a photo of the arrangement they've sold, and send it to the customer so they can see what is being delivered, even before it's been sent out. That's something which hasn't ever been done in the industry. We're solving the problem of customers not feeling comfortable sending flowers online, because it's kind of a crapshoot with the bigger brokers if you'll actually end up with a good florist. With BloomNation, what you see is what you get, and you get a photo of the actual design.
What's the biggest lesson you've learned so far?
Farbod Shoraka: For me, I have learned how complicated it is to make things easy. I have such respect for other platforms and technology. I never thought of how much goes into making something work, and work easily, and work with a lot of people. You really get to understand that with flower shops, who don't have the resources, time, and the money to really made a dedicated effort to build an online business. You have to make it as easy and seamless and pain free as possible. I really didn't understand how complicated it was to make things simple.
Finally, what's next for you and what will drive growth for you?
Farbod Shoraka: We're really excited. Concurrently with our product launch, we announced our seed round from Andreessen Horowitz, Spark Capital, Chicago Ventures, CrunchFund and MuckerLab. We're really leveraging the financial investment and tapping into domain expertise, to make our platform really seamless for the florist, so they can give us more content, and use that data to create an amazing experience for consumers. We also will be providing more product information and fresh inventory, and pass that information on to consumers. For example, if it's 3 pm and you forgot your wife's birthday, and you want to bring her orchids, you can hop on the site and see who still has orchids today in Beverly Hills. Our mission is to create that kind of experience for our customers.