At Tech City News, we’re always keen to shine a light on those who make up the UK’s thriving technology community. This week, we spoke with Aron Gelbard, CEO of Bloom & Wild, a platform that enables people to order flowers, which are packaged in such a way that they can be delivered through a letterbox. He shares his views on how to secure Seed funding, expanding his company to Ireland and the importance of attention to detail.
Tech vertical: E-commerce
Staff count: 25
Q: Where did the idea come from?
The crux of the idea for Bloom & Wild was that we feel that sending and receiving flowers should be a moment of joy, which enables people to connect with each other more thoughtfully and feel good about themselves at emotionally important moments in their lives. Yet flower delivery is associated with hassle, anxiety and, in too many cases, disappointment. We were inspired by lots of other companies, including Graze for our through-the-letterbox delivery method.
Q: What’s your background? What were you doing before?
Prior to Bloom & Wild, I worked as a management consultant, advising technology, retail and consumer products companies at Bain & Company, having previously worked at Google and OC&C. I always wanted to start my own company and make the most of having had the chance to learn from some of the leading companies in these fields. I studied French and German at Oxford and then did an MBA in the US.
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Q: How is it going? Can you share stats on number of users/revenue?
We’ve been humbled with the response we continue to see from our customers. We grew the business 7x from 2014 to 2015, and will grow by several 100% again this year. We send out several thousand bouquets of flowers every week all over the UK and recently expanded our service to cover the Republic of Ireland too. We’re the UK’s top-rated flower company, with an average review score of 4.8/5 from well over 10,000 reviews, and our Net Promoter Score is 75%.
Q: Have you raised any funding?
We’ve raised funding three times. We raised an initial seed investment through the SEIS scheme 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 £2.5m venture capital funding last summer, led by MMC, who’ve also invested in some similar businesses to us such as Pact Coffee and Gousto, and therefore were an obvious fit.
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Q: What advice would you give to companies looking to raise funding?
It’s really important to start building relationships with potential investors early, well before you actually need money from them. This allows you to get to know each other and allows them to see you running your business and continuing to learn/improve. We had known MMC for 18 months by the time we raised our Series A round from them. Fundraising also always takes longer than you think it will!
Q: What has been the most challenging part about setting up your company?
Like many founders, I spend a huge amount of time on hiring, which is a combination of networking with potential candidates (and people who might know potential candidates), interviewing, and onboarding new team members. As a small business with finite resources (both money and time), it’s so important to get every single hire right. I still meet every candidate personally and am constantly learning how to work out who’ll fit in with our culture and our vision.
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Q: What has been the most enjoyable part about setting up your company?
The part I’ve most enjoyed has been the feedback we get from our customers. We started Bloom & Wild to make sending and receiving flowers the joy that it should be, and so it’s incredibly rewarding to see feedback every day across our social, review and customer delight channels from people whose days we’re really brightening up. I’ve also loved building the Bloom & Wild team – there are 25 of us now and we share a set of common values around taking pride in our work, innovating, putting our customers first and delighting them, all while having a lot of fun every day.
Q: What have been your biggest company milestones?
There have been lots, but one recent one has been our expansion into Ireland this month – we’ve always offered a UK-nationwide service but have consistently had feedback from existing and prospective customers (both in the UK and in Ireland) that they’d love to be able to send our flowers to Ireland as well – Irish letterboxes are the same as UK letterboxes and there’s no service like this in Ireland. There’s a huge amount that we’ve learned already from our first foray into international expansion!
Q: Have you had a mentor? If so, who and what did they do for you?
I’ve been fortunate to have benefitted from a large number of people who’ve generously shared their time and advice with me. One person who has gone above and beyond others is Jackson Hull, who’s the experienced CTO of a much later stage startup [Student.com]. We started the business with no technical co-founder/team members, and Jackson has been a consistent sounding board for the last few years when it came to structuring and developing our tech team and our approach. More recently, Jackson has joined our board and has been a sounding board for us not only about technology but also on broader topics such as strategy and fundraising.
Q: Who do you see as your main competitors and how do you differ?
I don’t like to talk about competitors – there are lots of companies that offer flower delivery, both on- and offline, and they all have relative strengths to their service. At Bloom & Wild, we’re committed to creating the best possible flower gift buying and receiving experience. Our buying experience is different because it’s designed to be mobile-first, has very few steps, and actually not too much choice (which can be overwhelming on mobile). We also keep our prices really reasonable while offering a luxurious product – we’re determined to making flower gifts accessible.
Our receiving experience is different too – we pioneered the concept of flower delivery through the letterbox so receiving our flowers is as easy as receiving a letter. And because we source our flowers direct from growers and, in many cases, send them out still in bud, they last longer than those you can buy elsewhere. We put a great deal of care and attention into everything we do, from netting the heads of individual flowers to protect them in transit, through to a quibble-free customer delight process – our Terms & Conditions page starts off with a large-font promise of a refund or a replacement bouquet if our customers aren’t happy for any reason.
Q: What are your plans for the next 12 months?
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. As part of this, we’ll continue to refine our floristry and aesthetic and offer ever more beautiful bouquets, packaging and presentation. We’re also building exciting technology that will fully personalise our customers’ experience, both in terms of the products we offer them and their ability to customise them.
Finally, we’re building out our business offering – lots of leading companies are sending Bloom & Wild flowers to their customers to say thank you or sorry, or to turn prospects into clients. We’re working with our business clients to measure ROI from sending our flowers and are seeing very strong results on important metrics like churn reduction and lifetime value improvement from our first cohort of clients.
Q: What advice would you give to those starting their own tech company?
One piece of advice is to 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, create something people want. We overcomplicated our proposition to start with and we thought we had a MVP (Minimum Viable Product) but had built in stuff that people didn’t need and missed stuff people did need.