Innovating in a new industry: Building a tech-enabled floristry marketplace

With a background in fashion brands and media, Lana Elie is perhaps not the most obvious person to found a tech-enabled floristry marketplace, but that didn't stop her. She explains how she used her lack of experience to innovate...

As sole founder in a space that isn’t my background, I used to get a lot of concerned questions and remarks from supporters or investors. How can you innovate in a space that you haven’t worked in before?

I’m the founder of Floom, a marketplace for florists that was born out of one single frustration: buying flowers online that were delivered looking different from the photo of what I’d selected.

I came from Vice, where I was head of branded content for i-D magazine, and before that I was working for fashion brands - so no, I had no experience with floristry. I didn’t know how the market worked and I could barely hand tie a bouquet on a good day (you’ll be pleased to know many YouTube tutorials later I’m now a pro). However, what I did know is when I bought something online and spent £50 odd on it, I’d like what showed up to my friend/client/loved one to be what I ordered.

I did a bit of research and realised why this wasn’t happening in the flower industry. The companies (that are now Floom competitors) were taking stock images in their HQ, then disseminating those products to a network of their partner florists around the world. Seasonal flowers needed to be held in stock, all year round by every single one of these partners… of course this was never going to work (and still doesn’t today).

I instantly thought that made no sense, and what would make sense is if the florist told me (the customer) what they had and from there I could order based on what was in their shop at the time. People from the industry said florists would never do this, but not knowing any better and unable to understand why, I went ahead with it. We built a florist dashboard where florists uploaded their own product, based on what was available in the store and let them manage stock levels themselves. Of course it worked. Not only did we solve our problem by asking the supplier directly what they had, we actually introduced a market for customers that had ever changing, seasonal bouquets. We had flower varieties that competitors could never hold, and a mix of styles that only each florist held themselves and could not be recreated by a “head office.”

Not coming from the floristry market meant I was not constrained in my thoughts when looking for a solution. I have since met many people from competitor companies and they’re all shocked that florists add their own products, “we never thought they’d be willing to do this” they say. If I’d come from that world, I’d probably have thought the barriers were too high and that it would be too unusual for florists to adopt too - so I’m glad I didn’t!

Let your customers lead the way

We have a two sided marketplace with two customers; the florist is a customer who has a unique merchant experience and the buyer also has their customer shopping journey. We needed to build a product that meant florists could easily add products, mark things as delivered etc., so that the customer had products that were being managed properly from a stock perspective and had a full journey from purchase to delivery. We weren’t florists so we had to let them lead. We realised that they all wanted different things, as some were big companies with a team of 10 and some were studio/event florists who did it alone - so we knew the tech had to suit them all.

How did we do this? We spoke to them, watched them use it, and considered what their days were like. Were they sitting by a computer all day, or were they were making countless bouquets all day, hands often full with stems? Were they running it out of three shops and need several logins? Were they holding stock all the time cause they had a shop front or did they need to pre-plan their wholesale orders? We took all this into consideration, and thought ‘how could we make an easy to use, accessible product that they (no matter the type of florist) could easily update at all times?’.

We looked at the data; where did they click and where did they leave, where did the tech overcomplicate instead of simplify? We built from there, and still do so today.

And then we did the same on the customer end.

This process is constant and will continue to always be at the top of our minds. We have the true professionals at our fingertips, and we let them teach us.

How an evolved customer experience continues to evolve by itself

Once the tech was working and showing that I gave value to both sides of our marketplace it opened up a host of other problems that we weren’t resolving. Stock management for the florists was still hard to manage because they had other websites, and footfall in their shops. We want to perfect the journey so that florists have low risk, and customers get what they ordered - and realised the problem was in how their wholesale providers were connecting to their sales. This is the next step for us… connecting all parts so that at the end of the line, the data stream flows through the journey perfectly. What did the florist buy from the integrated wholesaler, what bouquets does this mean they can make with them, what is being bought by the customers and how does that affect the stock levels in other business areas.

Once you solve the first thing, there’s always another, more exciting issue to solve that follows.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. 

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