As online shopping rapidly destroys bricks and mortar stores on the high street, Lana Elie is cleverly combining both with Floom, her flower-ordering business, as Steve Dyson reports.
Three years ago, Lana Elie was working on digital projects in the fashion and luxury sectors, and was often sending “thank you” flowers to clients, contacts and suppliers. “I was continuously stunned at how dated the floral industry was, both technically and aesthetically,” she recalls. “There was a severe lack of variety among the online options, whilst ordering the skilfully-crafted bouquets of independent florists presented a hassle in its own right.
“I’d also learnt that the US$50bn (£36bn) global flower industry was being dominated by online conglomerates and British independent florists were closing down as a result. And so I founded Floom, to provide customers with an extensive, hassle-free online shopping experience, whilst simultaneously offering independent florists a simple online solution for their businesses.”
Floom launched in February 2016, with bouquets ranging from £25 or so all the way up to around the £250 mark, covering all the price points in between. After little more than two years, it’s projecting turnover in the region of £2.7m for 2018.
“We’ve done over 600% growth in the last year and are now looking forward to continuing with that speed and success in the year to come,” says Elie. The business has recently raised over £1m in funding and now has plans to expand its pioneering model internationally.
And “international” is a theme that Elie deeply understands. She was born in Paris in the late 1980s, but left aged two and was raised in Bali until she was 15, then lived in California for six years before returning to Bali aged 21.
“Even I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I found Bali life really slow and difficult to adjust to,” says Elie, now aged 30 and living in Hackney, London. “But at the time I was really eager to continue with my career and work for a great brand, and that’s not really what Bali had to offer.
“So, I moved to Melbourne for a year to get a taste of it, absolutely loved it but would have had to apply for another visa to stay and I still felt it was too small and would limit my growth. I have a French passport so kind of looked on a map to where I could live and work with it given I was part of the European Union, and ultimately picked London, headed over and got my first UK job here at Burberry.”
Elie had never been to university, so when she found herself in the intensely-competitive creative industries in London during her early 20s, she used to dread the “Where did you go to uni?” question.
“Looking back now though,” she muses, “perhaps it was something which has shaped both me as a person and my business in a positive way. I started out at Burberry just at the point where they decided to be the first luxury brand to really take the online world and its opportunities seriously by bringing the relevant teams in house.
“I then worked for an agency creating content, mainly app-focused, for the likes of Gucci and other brands. Finally, I was head of branded content for i-D Magazine, before quitting to concentrate on Floom full time.”
By this stage, Elie found herself ready to create an online floristry marketplace, offering quality and beautiful bouquets from a careful selection of local independent florists, with same-day delivery promised. “It’s a go-to place where you can find bouquets you are actually proud to send,” she explains. “We’ve built the software to simplify the process of finding and purchasing from the best florists for the customers, and want the florists to take centre stage.
“With Floom, what you get is not only lovingly made by the independent florist, it’s also added to the site by them in the first place, so what the customer sees, and orders, is actually what turns up. This sounds obvious, but it’s something new in the online flower delivery sector.
“It came from wasting so many hours looking for florists when I sent flowers in the past, and frustration that most of the great ones were still unknown to most. I wanted to build something that simplified this discovery and purchasing process, but not just another floristry website. I knew it needed to be built around these independents and their skills.”
One of Elie’s biggest challenges was Floom’s launch day – back on 26 February 2016… well, almost that date. Her original launch day was mid-March but when she checked the calendar she realised this was a week past Mother’s Day, so she pulled it forward by two weeks.
“We’re a flower business,” she points out, “and if there’s one thing that the useless gift-giving men in my life have taught me it’s that we needed to be up for Mother’s Day.”
Once decided, and despite “1,000 things” that stood in the way of that date, Elie pushed ahead with that deadline in mind. At just past midnight on 26 February – and surrounded by her team who like Elie had not slept for about four weeks – she hit the button that pushed www.floom.com live.
“I got home at 2am, excited, but mostly exhausted,” she remembers. “I went to the sofa to do one last test run.
“Then I saw the test order was overcharging, and anyone who might have been able to fix the problem was, unsurprisingly, unreachable at that time of night. So, I had to hit the same button again that just a couple of hours earlier had given me such joy, and took the site back down…”
This setback didn’t last long. Floom successfully launched the following day – still in plenty of time for Mother’s Day – and since then has surged ahead. Elie says: “I’ve been blessed with relatively smooth sailing to date.
“Everyone who I needed to ‘get’ it has done, from open-minded investors to the great team I now have working with me. That said, there’s always going to be things that go wrong: with team members, orders, and the website.
“Overcoming these issues is helped by having risk strategies in place. For instance with regards to funding, I knew my idea inside out but I also spent months perfecting a viable business plan and model that gave both my investors and me the confidence to take things forward, and how to make minor changes when needed.”
During the past two years, Elie has experienced several “breakthrough” moments – such as getting her first round of funding, landing the first customer sale, and hiring and moulding her team. She sounds most proud of how she approaches funding, focusing on two key areas.
“First, I had my [online] deck professionally designed,” she says. “How do you tell and sell a story without a product?
“My answer was to visualise it, and it seemed to work. When you think of great products, it’s the ones that mix being something you need with something that’s beautiful, simple and easy to use. I think that’s often undervalued.
“Second, and I probably knew this less than I do now, but being me was pretty important. I’m fairly confident, I’m well put together, and I can sell something. That’s not what I thought of when I walked into those first meetings though.
“I was more focused on not being a tech or finance whizz, and whilst I did my own projections, it was absolutely the first time I’d dealt with a budget that size, so instead I’d memorised every breakdown of spend and return of revenue for every month in the next five years.
“Obviously no one bothered to ask me about that, it wasn’t a maths test… but I think if you ask any investor who did take the risk with me, they’ll say it’s my passion that led them to. It’s not my numbers, but it’s the confidence that I want it enough to figure it out.”
Floom now has seven members of staff, with plans to expand in the near future. As well as continuing to grow across the UK, the next target market is New York. Elie is excited by how she feels the American market lends itself to her model and branding. Given her trade, it’s not surprising to hear how much flowers mean to Elie, who tells me “visiting botanical gardens” is one of her joys outside of work. She’s reluctant to tell me her favourite flower, as she insists that all the different seasons bring distinctive colours and patterns. But she finally relents: “I do have a soft spot for dahlias.”
And then she gets passionate about the floral side of life: “Flowers have always been a love of mine, and I believe they’re an exceptionally personal gift that has been stripped back and dulled down by bigger companies – so to be able to disrupt that with my own idea and business is really exciting.
“More than the flowers though, I love independent florists, and it’s such a pleasure to be able to champion the hard work and the skills they bring to the industry.”
Her passion continues when I ask her for top tips for would-be entrepreneurs: “Believe wholeheartedly in your idea no matter what anyone says, but also be objective enough to take the right feedback on board. Definitely get used to rejection, just don’t let it mean anything – it’s a fact that not everyone is going to agree with you.
“And remain curious. It’s pretty easy to find the right tools to teach you about things you don’t know, and if you really don’t have those skills, find people who do that can help you. After all, you can always send them flowers to say thank you…”