A Better Florist founder Steve Feiner is a pretty convincing salesman. He fixes his intense gaze on you and gesticulates wildly as he describes why you should take his business seriously. Then, as you get it, he beams a wide, satisfied smile. It’s the same reaction he wants to inspire in his customers with his service. “Smiles guaranteed,” the website claims.
A Better Florist as a company name probably needs little explanation. The Singapore-based startup aims to provide just that: a better flower delivery service. You go on the site, pick a flower arrangement (there are currently four different ones available), choose a time and place for delivery, and add a quick note. The startup will deliver the bouquet and throw in a hand-written card for a personal touch. It will also confirm delivery with a personalized photo on the spot (its Instagram account is a good indication of what it tries to do).
Better than the competition
“Florists suck,” Steve tells me. “And they suck for a number of reasons.”
He says too many middlemen in the process drive the prices up and bring profit margins down. Also, flowers are usually already 10 to 16 days old before they get to customers’ hands. And finally, the overall experience is lacking. “These are primarily family-run businesses who haven’t really evolved since the advent of the telephone,” he adds.
That leads to experiences like a particularly unpleasant one involving an ex-girlfriend. “Two and a half years ago, it was her birthday, and I wanted to get her flowers,” Steve recalls. It was a floral disaster. “The flowers arrived a day after her birthday, they died shortly after, she was not happy. It was scarring to say the least.”
That was one of the contributing factors that spurred him on to found his company. “Giving flowers should be about sharing an emotion,” Steve says. So A Better Florist is trying to fix what’s wrong with flower delivery. The startup ships directly from flower farms in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands, and its flowers are only two days old, instead of 10. It also cuts out all the middlemen, so it can keep its prices about 20 percent lower than the competition.
“We fix the experience,” Steve says. “[We have] a mobile site that works, friendly customer service, order tracking.” One could argue these are the basics a business must take care of, but apparently there are those who ignore them – at their peril, he thinks. Pleasing the customer is his top goal at the moment, he tells me. His email address is front and center on the company’s website, and he does a lot of the deliveries personally, of course with a smile.
From SF to SG via Google
Steve first tried running his own startup back in college in the US, a kind of classifieds platform for local communities. Despite winning some competitions, nothing really came out of it. He went into consulting for another startup, and eventually joined Google in San Francisco to do ecommerce sales and business strategy. It was the big G that brought him to Singapore.
Once in Southeast Asia, the entrepreneurship dengue bit him again. He discovered that flowers were a particularly attractive space in ecommerce. He conducted customer and industry interviews and did some research to find out more.
The global flower market, he learned, is worth US$60 billion. In the greater region, excluding Southeast Asia, it’s worth about US$7 billion. In Southeast Asia itself, that’s US$2.5 billion. “I’d say it’s [a market] ripe for disruption,” explains Steve.
So with all this in mind, Steve returned from his sabbatical to Google, only to resign and go off to found A Better Florist. “I enjoyed Google, it’s a wonderful place to work,” he says. “But I wanted to take a risk. The regret of not doing this would be insurmountable [for me].”
The thrill of trying out his idea was also the reason he stayed in Singapore. “Singapore’s been amazing to me,” he says. “If you want to do something transformational in this world, it’s here. The world is evolving here far faster than it is anywhere else. It’s got a long way to go, it’s still the Wild Wild West, but it’s cool to be in the Wild Wild West,” he laughs.
A Better Florist currently has a team of four, with a fifth recruit coming on board. Steve says he’s fortunate in having a team behind him that knows exactly what the company needs, even if he’s not always sure how to go about it. “It’s been amazing to be able to just trust my team,” he says.
It’s still early days for the company, and no doubt it will need to think seriously about issues like logistics and capacity when it scales up and demand rises. “There’s going to be stuff that changes when 10 or 50 thousand people get on,” Steve says. “When you get on that level, you’re able to make more informed and optimized decisions. Right now we’re trying to bridge the gap [to that point].”
The startup makes sure to use data to inform its decisions, something that helps set it apart from competition. “We’ve done tons of customer interviews, tons of user experience testing,” Steve says. Even an initiative such as distributing advertising flyers for the service provides the company with information that allows it to optimize its offering.
The company is currently self-funded, with just a little external investment so far. Steve says the company’s goal at the moment is to grow 10 percent week-on-week, every week. The startup hopes to have perfected its product in Singapore by the end of the year, and it will also look toward expanding to Kuala Lumpur.
But whatever happens, Steve is sticking to his key mantra: “We want to make our users happy, we won’t sacrifice that,” he says. “At the end of the day, I choose to take action. I’m not searching for my next meal tonight, I have the opportunity to do this, and I feel fortunate for it. I’m not gonna waste that. I might as well take my chance,” he adds, flashing his winning smile.
Ever had a bad experience ordering flowers? Do you think you’ll give A Better Florist a shot? What do you think a small ecommerce startup must do to be able to scale quickly? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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