Care is not a traditional business value. Peruse the classics – the golden oldies – and you’ll see boldness, passion, honesty and perhaps integrity, but not the C-word. That’s because business was – often still is – seen as a macho game. It cuts, thrusts, talks plainly (“man to man”), makes cash, grows relentlessly and powers the economy. Grrrrrr. Care? That’s reserved for nurses and yoga teachers.
Thankfully things are changing – as Bloom & Wild demonstrates. This flower retailer meets tech company is one of the Sunday Times Top 100 Small Companies to Work For and is undoubtedly growing relentlessly. Yet its business values would disorient yesteryear’s ‘manly’ entrepreneurs as much as a trip into outer space. “We’re obsessed with care,” says founder Aron Gelbard. “It’s vital to me and it’s a key trait I look for when hiring.”
This benevolent culture has helped London-based Bloom & Wild to become the largest online flower company in Europe by attracting and retaining motivated, happy employees. “People want to work here because they relish the time they spend with colleagues,” says Aron. “That’s a huge positive.”
However, care isn’t the only important value steering this company. Aron says: “Our other values are pride, delight, customer first and innovation. We co-established those as a team five years ago. They are vital because they mean we do business in the right way.”
From zero to £200m
And when you’re growing as fast as Bloom & Wild, which launched in 2013, you need some lights to guide you. The 300-strong company’s annual revenue will stand at close to £200m this financial year. In April 2021, it acquired Dutch rival bloomon for an undisclosed sum, and followed this with the acquisition of France’s Bergamotte in July 2021. A clear set of values and priorities that allow fast, sound decisions, keep the company moving in the right direction as a unit. This is vital because, as gardeners know, if you leave your borders to grow willy-nilly and allow your creepers to flourish unguided, they will soon take on a wild look. Weeds will quickly follow.
In reality, Aron was never going to let chaos thrive at his company, no matter how fast it grew. His story is one of calm analysis, efficient action and intelligent decision-making. He says: “I come from a family of entrepreneurs. Dad’s a business owner, as were both my grandads. I know exactly how taxing business ownership can be on you and those around you, so I wanted to do something that had a good chance of success. It felt like the flower industry was perfect if we did a few things differently.”
Four steps to Bloom & Wild
The entrepreneur saw four areas of the industry that were crying out for improvement. The way he talks about these makes it sound simple – as effortless as planting a sunflower seed and watching it grow. But that’s one of this entrepreneur’s talents. His clarity of thought and outsider’s eye (he had no previous flower industry experience) are critical to Bloom & Wild’s success.
First, he saw a supply chain that was insanely long. A flower often travels in an ever decreasing circle from farm to exporter to importer to auction to importer again to wholesaler to retailer and finally to the customer. This was an opportunity – Bloom & Wild would build a much more direct sourcing operation.
Second, he noted that the industry was not putting enough thought into tech. Flower websites tended to be off-the-shelf and generic. So Aron set out to build the best e-commerce flower website in the world. He has surely succeeded, arguably through pure muscle – his company now has a tech team of 65.
Third, the traditional face-to-face delivery method was far from ideal. Flowers perish fast, so rescheduling a delivery is suboptimal. This is another opportunity, thought Aron; we will put flowers into boxes and post them through letterboxes. This was one of Bloom & Wild’s most innovative moves because it went against the grain. Aron explains: “People initially thought the letterbox idea was crazy. They assumed cut flowers had to be in water all the time. But actually, flowers are transported in boxes throughout their supply chain until the final step. You don’t see flowers being moved around Amsterdam airport in vases; they’re laid flat in boxes. What we didn’t realise, though, was how much people would enjoy receiving the flowers unarranged. It turns out they don’t see arranging as a chore but as a joyous activity.”
Fourth and finally, no UK flower company had managed to build a much-loved, go-to brand. The founder says: “There was no flower brand that people loved on a large scale. There was nothing like Coke.” What a brilliant opportunity, thought Aron, let’s build one. And off he set.
How he went about solving these problems is, in his opinion, just as important as the solutions themselves. Why? Because Aron argues that in business, it’s mission-critical to “really care about the problem you are trying to solve”. He says: “Authentic passion is so important for anybody who’s going to dedicate years of hard work to entrepreneurship. I had a genuine desire to create something brilliant. I wondered: can we make this not just OK but brilliant? Not everything needs to be brilliant but flowers do because we give them to express our emotions. If it’s just OK you might as well not bother.”
Moving Bloom & Wild from initial concept to the largest online flower company in Europe took a clear plan, perfect execution, intense passion and the motivation to expand rapidly. During the journey, Aron learnt a lot about growth. Here’s what he says about it: “There are many ways to build a company; no one approach is best. Some founders want 100% control and are therefore happy to operate on a more limited budget. Others want to raise as much cash as possible, spend as quickly as possible, demonstrate growth numbers and raise even more. I respect entrepreneurs at both ends of the spectrum. It’s a personal decision and both can be positive. We’ve positioned ourselves towards the high-growth end, but we’re not Uber. We’ve grown super-rapidly but we’ve done it with protective guard rails in place. Two of those guard rails are our net promoter score and our customer satisfaction rating. We’ve made sure that our proposition is never compromised in the interests of growth.”
Aron’s top tips
Growing Bloom & Wild has also required lots of pitching to potential investors. In January 2021, the company secured £75m of Series D funding in an investment round led by General Catalyst; they then topped this up with a further £30m in July 2021. Aron’s top tip for entrepreneurs looking to raise money is this: “In our early days we found it harder to raise money, even though the sums were smaller. I had less experience of it. My advice to entrepreneurs, especially in the UK, is to be less British when pitching. Don’t brag or show insane levels of wishful thinking, but have the confidence to dream big and articulate huge ambition. Override your natural modesty. Investors are looking for businesses that can change industries around the world.”
His key insight on overseas expansion, meanwhile, is as follows: “You can’t just copy and paste your business into other countries. All sorts of things need to work differently depending on the territory. In Germany, for example, few people have credit cards, while in France most apartment buildings have a door code. There are nuances everywhere. A bigger example of nuance is the Netherlands, which has a strong local flower heritage. That makes it hard to enter as a foreign brand, hence our acquisition of bloomon. In Germany, on the other hand, we’ve been able to scale successfully as a foreign entrant.”
It will come as no surprise to hear that Aron and his team continue to think big for Bloom & Wild. The CEO says: “The European flower and room-plants industry is worth £22bn. We have around a 1% share, so there’s still a huge opportunity.” The next few years will see the company, backed by some of the biggest names in investment, ambitiously and aggressively chasing a larger slice of the pie. But while pursuing the prize, they will undoubtedly stay true to their company values. After all, those values are what keep the plants from growing too wildly. So, while Aron is head gardener, you can be sure that care – as well as intense ambition – will continue to blossom at Bloom & Wild.