Growth & Customers

Ditch your 9 to 5 and grow a £100m business

Aron Gelbard reveals how he had the confidence to leave his stable career to start Bloom & Wild, which he's grown into a superbrand.

Tired of the daily grind? It’s time to break free from the 9 to 5 and start building your own multi-million-pound empire. 

Aron Gelbard did exactly that. He traded in his cushy career, and well as his own PA and office, for 6am starts at New Covent Garden flower market, in London, UK, and the uncertainty of starting his own business. 

With £30,000 (CA$51,195) to get his idea off the ground, Aron began planting the seeds for his business and landed on the idea of Bloom & Wild—a stunning letterbox flower company dedicated to delivering beauty and joy right to your doorstep. 

In this episode, Aron will delve into how he had the confidence to leave his stable career to start an innovative business, and how he has since grown Bloom & Wild into a superbrand that is raking in over £100m (CA$175m) across 4 countries. 

Here is all his unfiltered advice below:

How an obsession with care and feedback led to Bloom & Wild 

Bex Burn-Callander: 

You must have just come through the most insanely busy period. Because this is after Christmas, after New Year, I imagine that’s absolute peak time for you guys. 

Aron Gelbard: 

It is peak time. Christmas is really busy, and we’re also in the run-up to Valentine’s Day and then Mother’s Day in the UK, which is in early March this year. 

So, peaks are tightly bunched together in our business. 

But that’s good, we’re energized by them. Christmas is an extra big peak for us. 

We don’t just have a peak in flowers, but also in our mini-Christmas trees and also in our ever-expanding range of standalone gifts in other categories like, scented candles and brownies and things like that. 

So, lots going on. 

Bex Burn-Callander: 

Yeah, I mean you have created this juggernaut business which started with flowers, and it has all these amazing extras bolted on. 

So I’m going to get to how you created this sort of, “If you like this, you can have this, this and this on top”. 

But I want to rewind right to the beginning, which kind of sounds like madness, the guy, and the cushy job, earning a decent salary, decides to give it all up, so that he could get 4 hours sleep a night and 0 salary and monumental stress, but that’s you. 

So, tell us why did you do it? 

Aron Gelbard: 

I always hoped to start my own business. I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My dad’s been an entrepreneur for I think 55 years now, and counting. 3 of my 4 grandparents were entrepreneurs as well. 

So I always hoped that I would start my own thing. 

When I grew up, my dad definitely had downs as well as ups, and he actually sold a business and put all of the proceeds into trying to start another one, and that didn’t work, and he lost everything when I was a teenager. 

And I guess that gave me this balance of, on the one hand, having the ambition to follow others in my family and try to start something, but on the other hand, seeing that sometimes it doesn’t work out and that could be difficult for mental and even physical health. 

So I therefore, I guess followed a more traditional path and went to university and worked in consulting for 8 years and learned a lot from doing so, but always hoped that I would branch out on my own one day. 

I guess the other thing is, as a student and then as an employee for the first 8 years of my career, I was always really motivated by feedback, I wanted to get good marks in whatever institution I was part of, but more than that, I really craved the praise and validation. 

As I started thinking about my own business, I thought that that was maybe a personality trait that was particularly strong in me, and so I wanted to start a business in a field where that customer feedback and an obsession with acting on that feedback was going to potentially set my business apart from others that were already established. 

And it was really that, that drew me to the highly emotive category of flowers, where people are trusting flower companies to express their emotions to those that they care most about, at times that are really emotionally important. 

We as an industry, aren’t or weren’t doing a good job of earning that trust and conveying that emotion on behalf of our customers for all sorts of reasons. 

And I thought my obsession with care and earning good feedback, meant that I might be able to do it differently. 

Disrupting and revolutionizing the flower industry 

Bex Burn-Callander: 

But what was it that you thought needed disruption? So, was it that flowers, before they could fit through a letterbox, were often quite a stressful gift to receive, because you have to be in, they get sent to your neighbour, they get left on the doorstep. 

Was that the big pain point that you wanted to resolve? 

Aron Gelbard: 

There were 3 things that I thought weren’t good, and I still really focus on these 3 things today. 

One of them is the supply chain, end-to-end experience. So, you’ve talked about the delivery part of it, but there are other problems as well. 

So, flowers often pass through a large number of middlemen. Between being grown in a field somewhere and reaching a recipient’s kitchen table, they’ll often go from an exporter to an importer to an auction to another exporter and 3 or 4 more steps. I won’t go into the details here. 

And that means they can be very expensive and not last very long and also have a terrible carbon footprint, because at each of those steps, there’s also mis-forecasting and waste and things like that. 

And I thought that there would be an opportunity to try and build relationships direct with growers and get people flowers therefore more freshly and more inexpensively. 

And as part of shortening that supply chain, we also thought that we could make the delivery experience better and more seamless by introducing the idea of letterbox flowers. 

And people were already posting all sorts of other things through the letterbox. I used to get snacks through my letterbox at the time from a company called Graze and people used to get DVDs pre-Netflix through the letterbox and all sorts of other things. 

So I thought, why not flowers? So, that was one area. 

The second area was really the technology. So, I went on holiday a few months before starting the business and some family friends of my dad’s had a holiday flat that they weren’t using for a few days. 

And so, my then girlfriend, now wife and I went to stay there, and we’re getting on the plane to come back home, and I thought I should send some flowers as a thank you. 

I tried to do it on my phone, and I just couldn’t do it. And then I did it when I landed back home on my computer, but by then I’d missed the cut-off and the flowers arrived later than I’d hoped, and I was a bit embarrassed about it. 

And it made me wonder whether it would be possible to make it easier from a tech perspective. 

Then the third area really is building a brand that people love, and it’s something that we’ve really tried to do with Bloom & Wild. 

For many years, people’s favourite flower brand, by a considerable margin, has been Google. And you’ll go to Google and type in flower delivery Birmingham or whatever, and you’ll click a few links, and you’ll hope for the best. 

But we have favourite brands for far more functional things like bottled water or kitchen surface cleaner. 

Yet when we want to express an emotion to people that we really love, we’d go to Google and type in flowers Birmingham and hope for the best. 

So, we thought that we could try and create a brand that did things differently, that resonated with people, and that really honed in on the care that we put into every aspect of what we do. 

Bex Burn-Callander: 

You had all of this worked out in terms of mission, everything that you wanted to tackle, before you launched the business. 

Because, this strikes me as the difference between just starting an ordinary business and starting a superbrand. The fact that you’ve almost gone the whole journey in your mind before you’ve even pressed go. 

Aron Gelbard: 

I don’t think I had all of it worked out. I think I thought of these focus areas from the beginning, with my co-founder, Ben. But we’ve also learned a huge amount along the way about each of them. 

So, I think we thought that they’d be important things to do, but we weren’t experts at them at all. And our first incarnations of what our better brand was going to be, or what our better tech was going to be, or even what our better supply chain and letterbox packaging was going to be, had loads of mistakes in them. 

And we learned from customer feedback and used our obsession with that customer feedback to, I guess, try and improve on things as quickly as we could. 

Leaving behind a cushy career for the unknown of starting your own business 

Bex Burn-Callander: 

So, how did life change when you started the business? 

So, you had a PA in a corner office, I think, in your previous career. 

Aron Gelbard: 

It wasn’t in the corner, but I did have an office. 

Bex Burn-Callander: 

You did have an office, okay, it wasn’t the panoramic views. 

So, tell us what the experience of starting from scratch with Bloom & Wild was like. 

Aron Gelbard: 

So, I guess I went from a job that was hard work, but at the end of the day, was still a job, and where I had a PA. 

Indeed, I also had a team of people reporting to me and my job was more managerial and coordinating other people’s work and bringing it all together and discussing recommendations with clients and things like that. 

I went from that to having to do everything by myself. And everything was actually a wide variety of things, some of which I was alright at and had some experience of, like trying to work on a business plan. 

And other things of which I had absolutely no experience of, like buying flowers from traders in a market, or trying to work out how to keep them hydrated in a box, or designing packaging, things like that. 

So, there were lots of areas that were just brand new to me, that I was trying to figure out. 

But the juggling act is just crazy when you first start because, there are so many things that need improving, because you’re starting from literally 0. And you need to get to something that people will buy and pay you for before you run out of the savings that you’ve got to do so. 

So, you’ve got this clock ticking and the longest to-do list in the world, and it’s also very multifaceted, but it’s also really energizing. 

And I’m, I think naturally a completer finisher and I love trying to get things done and see progress and be able to get feedback, and I was really driven by that. 

When I was a consultant, I got feedback that I was too focused on getting things done and not focused enough on getting to the perfect answer. And it really stuck with me. 

And I still remember that feedback from my boss in my old job today. 

Because he was absolutely right, and it’s what made me realize that I wasn’t a natural management consultant forever. I am very focused on getting stuff done, and I’d rather get something done and learn from feedback, which I care a lot about, that it’s not perfect and then improve on it, rather than spend too much time philosophizing about how to make it perfect before pressing go. 

Bex Burn-Callander: 

Well that is the entrepreneurial mindset, isn’t it? It’s just launch and then hone later and don’t try and get things perfect from day one. 

So that’s clearly, you are definitely in the right place for you. 

Bouncing back from technical difficulties 

Bex Burn-Callander: 

You said you love progress, so can you tell me about anything that happened in the first year or second year that really halted that progress? Did you have any big backward steps? What caused them, and how did you come back from that? 

Aron Gelbard: 

One of the things that was much more difficult than I expected in the early days was the technology. I think I naively thought that the fact that I was good at problem-solving and had experience of management, meant that I’d be good at being the product manager, so to speak. 

And specking out what we are going to try and build, and then managing engineers to deliver on it. And actually, it was much more difficult, and I didn’t have experience of managing engineers or really of recruiting them or evaluating them or things like that. 

And I just found that it was much more difficult than I expected. And actually the first 3 sets of web agencies that we worked with, all ended up deciding to part ways with us, because they thought I was too difficult as a client. 

And so, we kept moving from one to another. And I was difficult, because I was very specific about what I wanted, I was obsessing over customer feedback, and I was exacting, and I was perfectionist, and I’m glad that I maintained those standards. 

Ultimately, we started rebuilding our technology from scratch a year or so after we had launched, and we basically threw away the first years’ worth of tech and started again. 

But it was so much better the second time, because we had learned a lot from all of the mistakes and the tech that we had built wasn’t in particularly good shape after having been passed from one agency to another. 

So, that was definitely the biggest setback in the early days. 

Bex Burn-Callander: 

But did that knock your confidence, or did you feel like you were completely right in the way that you were focused on a particular outcome and it kind of didn’t matter that other people didn’t understand why you were being exacting, why you were being rigid? 

Aron Gelbard: 

It massively knocked my confidence. And actually I thought that at one point, that the business wasn’t going to succeed. 

I remember sort of pleading with this developer I was working with, the week before Mother’s Day, to fix something, our first Mother’s Day, without which I didn’t think the site was going to be able to handle what we were trying to do at Mother’s Day. 

And I was really worried that the business wasn’t going to succeed, and I’d put a year into it, and I needed to raise more money right after Mother’s Day, and therefore I needed to show good progress during that period. 

It felt very much touch and go at that point. So maybe I should have therefore been less exacting and more flexible about how I worked with the folks that I was working with at the time. 

But for better or worse, I guess I am a little bit of a perfectionist and specific about what I think the right way of doing things is. And there are pros and cons of that, it frustrates many of the people on our team at Bloom & Wild to this day. 

And people think that I can be detail oriented and too specific and too involved in too many things. 

And on the one hand, they’re right. On the other hand, I do it because I care very much, and I want to give people the best experience that I can. 

If I’ve spotted something, then I feel it’s right to flag it rather than not doing so. 

Bex Burn-Callander: 

And it does help to have someone that’s across everything, because then you can spot problems, you can see in advance when a kind of hiccup in one place might lead to an issue somewhere else. 

You do sometimes need that person with the sort of the macro view as it were. 

Aron Gelbard: 

Yep, completely agree. And I guess I’m constantly looking for a balance between leaving people the space to do their work and empowering people to work things out for themselves. 

But on the other hand, constantly remembering that I’m the only person that’s involved in every area of the business and I have the historical context of having been here since the beginning, which others don’t have. 

Ultimately, it’s my responsibility. And if something goes wrong for our customers or for our shareholders or anybody else, and people will turn to me and say, “Well, I spotted it, but I didn’t want to do anything about it, because it was somebody else’s responsibility. And so, I wanted to let them figure it out.” 

And that just doesn’t cut it. 

I think, if I jump in after 30 seconds then that’s too soon, but on the other hand, never commenting when I spot things where I think I can add value, probably isn’t right either. 

So, I’ve tried to find the happy medium between the two. 

Bex Burn-Callander: 

That’s like between the devil and the deep blue sea, with managing people, I think, often there’s no right way. You’re either stepping on someone’s toes or you are letting something get out of control. So, it’s tricky. 

Raising £75m (CA$127m) during a global pandemic 

Bex Burn-Callander: 

You mentioned shareholders there, so I’d like to talk to you a bit about fundraising, because you guys have raised quite a bit of money. 

I think you did a massive fundraise during the pandemic, and I mean, there was nothing going on, and I was reading the news, and it was like, bang, “£75 million (CA$127m), Bloom & Wild”. 

I was like, “Wow, how did he pull that off?” 

So, can you tell us a bit about your fundraising journey? 

Aron Gelbard: 

So, we’ve always been quite cautious about how much money to raise. 

I guess, going back to my experience growing up and sort of seeing my dad’s ups and downs, I’ve wanted to always have ambitions that I feel are genuinely achievable and always be in a position where I can control our destiny. 

And I think, if you raise too much money, then you’ll just be encouraged to spend it very quickly. And if it doesn’t work out, then you can get into real trouble. 

So, I’ve always, when it comes to fundraising, tried not to fly too close to the sun in terms of trying to pitch for the most money possible at the highest possible valuation, and then sort of that coming back to bite. 

So, that had been our experience over the first 5 or 6 years of doing business, and we made great progress. 

We raised a little over £20 million (CA$34m) over that period, of which we’d spent about half, and we had a good cushion in the bank with that money. 

And we’d grown to be the number 2 online flower company in the UK, which we are really proud of, and we’re close to breakeven. 

And then the pandemic came along, and we are exceptionally fortunate in a way that we never expected and demand for flowers just massively accelerated, because people weren’t able to see their loved ones. 

And so our flowers, especially because they came through the letterbox and therefore fully socially distanced, really became this substitute for a hug. And we saw incredible demand. 

Our business tripled in scale, year-on-year, in that first year of the pandemic, the period from April 2020 to March 2021, versus the prior year we became the UK online flower market leader. 

And our business also became highly profitable because customers were just ordering from us so much more, and we’re operating at much greater scale. 

With all of that traction we were seeing, we were getting a lot of interest from potential investors who wanted to put in much larger sums of money. 

And given that we had that opportunity, we started to think about what it would take to get the business to the next level. 

We had, at that point, been doing business internationally for a couple of years, and we’d made some good early progress, but we were not at the same scale in our international markets in continental Europe, as we were in the UK. 

So we realized that if we were really going to try and go from being the leading direct-to-consumer flower business in the UK to the leading direct-to-consumer flower business in Europe, we weren’t going to be able to adjust it organically, and we were also going to need to do it through acquiring other businesses. 

And there were 2 other companies where I knew the founders already, just from getting to know other folks in our industry and thought they shared a similar ethos about trying to use technology to build a shorter supply chain, build differentiated brands with special products. 

And I thought that it would make sense to bring our 3 brands together. And so, we raised this £75 million (CA$127m) and then actually raised a little bit more money the following year as well. 

And we used that money not just to fund growing the team in marketing, but to make the 2 acquisitions. 

And we acquired a Dutch business called Bloomon in April 2021 and then a French business called Bergamotte in July 2021, shortly afterwards. 

And as a result of that, we became family of brands active in 8 countries. I don’t think I would’ve raised that sort of money, or had a use for it if it wasn’t for looking to do the acquisitions. 

But I think, without the acquisitions, we would’ve probably ended up building a business that was brilliant in the UK with a little bit of international in it, rather than a truly pan-European, direct-to-consumer leader. 

Bex Burn-Callander: 

And when you say that the investors came to you, because obviously they saw the success and they were like, we want a slice of this. 

But you were talking about your conservative outlook when it comes to raising money. 

Were they offering to throw loads more money at you, and you were like, “Whoa, Nelly, no, let’s keep it conservative.” 

Or did you feel like you were then encouraged by their ambitions to aim that much higher? 

Aron Gelbard: 

A bit of both. We definitely got questions about whether we would take more investment. 

In hindsight, perhaps we should have done by the way, because then macroeconomic conditions became more difficult with COVID. And alongside that COVID receded, and maybe we’ll talk about that in a bit. In hindsight, I’m not sure we should have done still though. 

I think if we had more money, we might have not made the changes that we needed to make as the pandemic ease, and perhaps we’ll talk more about that. 

But yes, there was definitely a lot of exuberance around direct-to-consumer businesses and e-commerce. 

Obviously, nobody knew either, how long COVID was going to last for? Would it be here forever? Would there be a vaccine? Would the vaccine work? 

So, it was a period of great uncertainty, and we’ve ended up sort of returning to more or less normal now. But at the time, nobody had a crystal ball and there was maybe a chance that that would never happen. 

Has Covid caused a drop-off in business? 

Bex Burn-Callander: 

It’s hard to remember just how many unknowns there are, because obviously we have the beauty of hindsight now, and it would make sense to us, “Oh yeah, there’ll be a vaccine and then there’ll be some periodical economic downturn and then there’ll be a correction later on.” 

But at the time, you were just completely in the trenches, and you have no idea what’s coming next. 

So, tell me a bit about that. So, what came next? Because obviously you had the massive sales surge during the pandemic, sending a hug as you said. 

But then when everyone was allowed out again, was there a sudden drop-off? And how do you as a business cope with that? Tell me a bit about what came next? 

Aron Gelbard: 

Yeah, so there was a drop-off. The business has ended up a little bit smaller than it was during COVID. But still, well over double the scale that it was before COVID started, partly as a result of our organic growth and then partly as a result of having added the 2 international businesses as well. 

So, all in all, it’s been a net positive and many people just tried Bloom & Wild for the first time, either as a customer, or as a recipient of our product, and it accelerated awareness of our 3 brands and our propositions across our markets more than if it hadn’t happened. 

So, it’s been a net positive. But obviously, some of those customers have reverted to not sending as many flowers, or to buying flowers in offline channels, now that that’s possible again, and that makes complete sense. 

So, I would neither expect us to shrink back to exactly the size that we were at before COVID, nor would I expect us to be at the same scale as we were during a period of hard lockdown. And that’s indeed what’s ended up happening. 

The other thing that came with it, that we didn’t really see coming, I guess many people didn’t see coming, was the economic downturn that came with it. And there were a number of things that came together. 

There was initially cost inflation on the supply side and that pushed us to increase our prices, which reduced demand. There was then cost of living crisis and people had less discretionary income to spend, and that meant that marketing became less efficient, which meant that we decided to reduce investment there, which further impacted our scale. 

And as a result of all of that, we and just about every other business like us that I know, decided in 2022 to switch our focus from hyper-growth to focusing on optimizing for profitability. 

And that’s been probably the most difficult period that I’ve been through as a business leader. Because it required a sort of rewiring of how we do business, of what we optimize for and of the whole way that my team, of close to 400 people, works. 

All of these people, more or less, or the people that were here before 2 years ago, joined because they wanted to join a hyper-growth type business and found themselves instead working in business that was really focusing on efficiency and profitability. 

And it requires changing a lot of culture and ways of working and what you measure and things like that. 

And it turned out not to be for everybody. And some people have chosen to move on since then, and I understand why they’ve done so. 

But it’s also been a period which has really sort of galvanized us and brought us together. Also, as a family of 3 brands with offices in multiple locations, having this singular shared focus on getting our business profitable. 

And we’re ahead of where we expected to be, at this stage, on that, which I’m thrilled with. 

And it’s really a testament to the team understanding and embracing what our new focus is and really working together to achieve it. 

Tough moments develop you as a leader 

Bex Burn-Callander: 

And when you say it’s been sort of the hardest time for you as a founder, is that because you had to go through quite a big cost-cutting regime? Did you have to make redundancies? How deep did you have to cut to get those efficiencies? 

Aron Gelbard: 

Yes, we did make redundancies, back in the summer of 2022, so some time ago now. 

And it was the right thing to do, to be honest, and I think everybody understood and accepted that it was the right thing to do. 

What really surprised me, I remember getting up and making the announcement really clearly, and that was the most difficult individual moment I’ve had as a leader. And it was obviously much more difficult for people that were going to have to be leaving our business, than it was for me. 

But actually, the reaction that I got from people, both people who were impacted and people who stayed, was incredibly positive. 

And people gave me and my leadership team around me, a lot of feedback about appreciating the authenticity of our communication, and the honesty with which I explained where we were and why we were there. 

And people felt that it made sense, and they understood the decisions that we made both overall and individually in the case of people that were impacted. 

And we were meant to have our summer party the day that we made the announcement, and we ended up obviously not going ahead with it. 

And we ended up having it 3 months later in September, and we invited back all of the folks that had to leave us. And many of them came and I had really positive exchanges with almost everybody, and I’ve stayed in touch with many of those people personally. 

And actually, it’s something that really taught me that, moments that can be really difficult and that you fear as a leader, are also moments that can really bring people together and are the moments when you develop as a leader the most. 

Bex Burn-Callander: 

That’s such great advice. I think there are always going to be hard times, but if you are kind and transparent about your intentions and the reasons behind difficult decisions, I think people find it very hard to resent you or be angry or bitter, because they can see that there was no other option, if all the cards are on the table. That’s fantastic advice. 

Pay attention to your rivals but place more focus on your customers 

Bex Burn-Callander: 

And now that there is this kind of tougher macroeconomic environment, do you feel like you have to be more conscious of rivals? 

Is there more jostling for the kind of limited pot of money that’s out there? And how do you manage that? Do you watch them closely? Do you try and ignore them? Is there a lot of one-upmanship going on in terms of the top brands in your area? 

Aron Gelbard: 

I think we always need to pay attention to and respect our competitors. There are lots of great businesses in the fields in which we play. The macro conditions that impact us, impact them too. 

So, during COVID, every flower company was doing well, more, or less. Every online flower company was doing well. And there was a lot of opportunity out there, but there were also a lot of competitions for that opportunity. 

Now, I think every flower company is focusing on profitability, we’re not the only people that are doing so. And so, the nature of the competition has changed. 

While we respect our competitors, we also try to focus primarily on understanding our customers and understanding what they’re happy with, understanding what they want that’s different to what we’re doing at the moment, and trying to be customer led in the initiatives that we prioritize, and how we improve as a business. 

So, I think it’s important to pay attention to what competitors are doing, but I think it’s more important to really be close to your customers and understand their feedback and act on it. 

Be proactive with your customer feedback 

Bex Burn-Callander: 

And you’ve mentioned that before, this kind of single-minded focus on feedback from customers, but how do you generate that feedback? 

Is it that you are having regular focus groups or is it simply that you can tell by looking at the data, what’s being bought, at what time, that is in itself, the feedback? How are you getting the feedback that you need? 

Aron Gelbard: 

Many different ways. 

So yes, we have lots of data and data can tell us what products people are buying, how when you make products more prominent on the website, do they drive an increase in conversion or not? So are they resonating? Are people who are buying particular products, repeating? What are the quality feedback scores associated with particular products or particular delivery companies? Or all sorts of things like that. 

So yes, that data is certainly part of it, and we look at that data obsessively, and we look at it in real time and that enables us to make really good decisions. 

So, if we see that quality feedback on a particular bouquet is spiking today versus an average Thursday, then we can try and understand what the specific feedback is about. 

And if it turns out that it’s a particular variety of that’s driving the complaints, and it’s all of a sudden droopy in people’s bouquets, then we can switch out that Lisianthus for this afternoon’s packing, and we can really react in real time. 

And we have not only the data, but also the tools and the ways of working, to work in that way. And that’s what I mean by being customer obsessed. And part of it is data, but part of it is what you do with data and how you react to it. 

But there’s also a mindset thing, and we encourage everybody in our business to work in our customer delight team for some of the time, and we actually expect people to do so, especially at our busy peak periods. 

And I think that’s really important too because it puts everybody in front of our customers. It means that we all understand what our customers like about our business and what their frustrations are, and it means that we all incorporate that into the way we do our jobs. 

And I lead by example on that. A couple of things that we’ve done as a result of that I’m really proud of, probably the one that we’re best known for is, starting the opt-out movement. 

So, we used to get feedback from customers that they love Bloom & Wild, but actually they’d rather not hear from us at a time like Mother’s Day or Christmas, because it’s a difficult time for them, because of a loss in the family or something like that. 

That was something that we just heard anecdotally from customers, and we thought, rather than just sort of responding reactively when customers told us that, should we be proactive and offer people the opportunity to opt out of hearing from us at sensitive occasions? 

And we launched this, this is now industry standard in any gifting-oriented business. And now actually there are hundreds of emails from all sorts of people that have jumped on the bandwagon, perhaps too many, which is a problem that we’re also trying to solve. 

But we’re proud of having started this. And we also formed a movement called the Thoughtful Marketing Movement and shared our resources and approach that we use, openly with other companies that wanted to do this, because we thought it was the right thing to do. 

And the consumer response both in our business and industry-wide, has been fantastic. 

So, for me, it’s an example of listening to customers and proactively designing a solution to make our business more customer-centric, and we try to do that day in day out. 

Bex Burn-Callander: 

I love the idea that you’re doing that, kind of proactively, as in you are almost solving problems for people before they even have the problem. 

So, that’s just really putting the customer at the heart of everything. They don’t even realize this is happening in the background, but you are taking away an issue that they might have next year that they’ll be able to come to and opt out of something, or they’ll be able to report something in a way that you’ll act on. It’s really interesting. 

Find ways to become more eco-friendly 

Bex Burn-Callander: 

And Aron, you talked about it being a difficult trading environment right now, but I’m wondering how things are going to change in the future, both the immediate future and challenges in 5, 10 years time. 

We’ve seen a lot in the news recently about, for example, impact of climate change on industries like food production. 

And I was wondering how, the crazy weather patterns, for example, how that’s affecting flower production and what you can do to mitigate risk, plan ahead. Is there anything you can do? 

Aron Gelbard: 

Yes. So, a few thoughts on this. We are very hyper conscious of climate change in a few ways. 

Firstly, impact on how we run our business and secondly, our responsibilities. On the former, we have quite a diversified supply chain. We source flowers here in the UK and in some cases, especially during summer months, where flowers that grow naturally here and where there’s no need to use heated greenhouses for UK growing. 

We source a lot of flowers in the Netherlands, and our acquisition of Bloomon has really deepened our relationships in the vibrant flower growing and trading industry that exists in the Netherlands, which really is the sort of global hub of our industry. 

We also source flowers further afield, in particular in Kenya. We do so in particular in winter months, where actually the environmental impact of growing flowers in Kenya, carbon impact and putting them on a plane to Northern Europe, is 1/6th of the impact of using a heated greenhouse in Northern Europe. 

So, we studied this extensively and learned that it’s actually materially better for the environment to diversify sourcing, especially in the winter. 

But we aren’t happy to stop there. 

Something that we’ve been piloting already at decent scale, but with a lot further to go is sea freight, so you can actually ship flowers from Kenya to Europe by sea. 

You need to deoxygenate them and put them in containers for transit, because it takes a few weeks and then re-oxygenate them on arrival in Northern Europe. 

But, doing so reduces the carbon footprint by a further 90% versus the already better carbon footprint of avoiding heated greenhouses in Northern Europe. So, we’ve been thinking about this heavily. 

We also thought last year, quite hard about how to formalize and verify the work that we’ve been doing for some time in the climate space, including having been certified climate neutral for a few years. 

And we decided to apply to become a B Corp, and we have recently received our B Corp certification with a score of 106.5 points versus a required score of 80 to be certified. 

So, it’s an incredibly high score, which we’re really proud of. 

And for us, it’s an important statement of how we want to do business in this space and our commitment to continuing to improve, and not just grow our business but also build a responsible business that has a positive impact on our planet as well. 

How to build up resilience in your supply chain 

Bex Burn-Callander: 

But what about the actual growing of the flowers? 

Do you find that you were planning to buy X flower from X farm and then there’s a heat wave or there’s a flash flood, and then you can’t get that flower anymore, and then what do you do? 

Aron Gelbard: 

Yes, it happens every week. 

So, we’ve designed our business around this, and actually it was particularly acute during COVID, because in addition to all of those things, all of a sudden, government X of country X decided that there wasn’t going to be any flower growing or there was going to be, or there would be specific conditions or this, that or the other. 

So, we really developed the resilience of our supply chain at that point. We don’t ever rely just on a single farm for a single stem type. 

We also have the ability in real time to increase or decrease prominence, or availability of particular products. Because we have a meaningful size subscription business, we have the opportunity to change what products we allocate to different customers. 

In some cases, we allow subscribers to choose, but many subscribers don’t choose and let us allocate their flowers for them. 

And that gives us the flexibility to use the subscription part of our business to balance supply and demand. And if we are undersupplied because of a problem like a flood or heat in a particular place, then we can rebalance accordingly. 

So, that’s a peculiar thing to our business. 

But in general, one of the benefits of being in the flower industry is that, often times people are looking to send a bouquet of flowers, and maybe they have a focal flower or focal colour in mind, but they aren’t looking to send a specific bouquet of flowers in mind, that they’ll go elsewhere for, if it doesn’t exist. 

So, there is some flexibility to be evolving our proposition and we do so literally week in, week out, as a result of unexpected weather conditions and all sorts. 

There can be political unrest in countries where we source from at times as well. There can be the airport closures for all sorts of reasons. 

So lots of things can change. People can go on strike, so things can change day in, day out. 

We have to have a resilience in our supply chain and operations to be able to handle this, and it’s something that we’ve developed over time. 

With the acquisition of Bloomon. They’ve also brought into our group, technology that helps to manage this. 

So Bloomon, pre-acquisition had and still has relationships with over 200 growers, many in the Netherlands, but also many countries around the world. 

And so, we have proprietary technology that enables us to balance volumes between growers, communicate with growers, increase, or decrease volumes between them based on real time information. 

Also, that same technology now allows us to track the carbon footprint of each stem at the grower level, so that we understand and can make sure that we’re delivering also on our commitments to reduce carbon intensity, each year on our path to net-zero. 

So, we invest a lot in that sourcing and supply management part of our technology. 

Build a team you can trust 

Bex Burn-Callander: 

I mean, I’m sweating just hearing about all the things that can go wrong and the fact that something goes wrong every week. 

How are you so calm, Aron? Do you thrive on this level of chaos and stress? Is it something that kind of sets you on fire? 

Aron Gelbard: 

I’ve been in this interview for an hour, so if something’s been going wrong then I wouldn’t know. So maybe that’s why. Who knows what’s waiting. 

I have a great team around me now. And at the beginning, I mentioned that I had to do everything myself, but I’m no longer the expert on anything personally and I trust my team. They have the experience to handle these sorts of things. 

And because we obsess over our customers, if this was a really big problem, and we were constantly letting our customers down and sort of selling them products that we didn’t have and things like that, then that would bubble up to me, and I’d sort of dive in the way that I’ve talked about before and work with the team to make sure that we have a sort of systematic solution to that not happening going forward. 

So, I guess you learn to roll with it and try to build your business around it. 

Bex Burn-Callander: 

But you’ve got 400 people now. So it’s a big team, so it’s a lot of people helping each other out, and you are just having to have the bird’s eye view at the top. 

Always have a plan B 

Bex Burn-Callander: 

One final question, Aron, which is that you celebrated, I think, 10 years in business, back in September, which is a massive milestone to make it through startup phase, growth phase, and now you are like a well-known household name. It’s massive. 

So, I wanted to get a few tips from you, for many of our listeners who are either considering taking the plunge or are in the throes of their first couple of years in business, which is about learning. 

So, you said right at the beginning of our chat that you saw the ups and downs of your father’s business. 

So I was curious whether you had safeguards in place when, for example, you started Bloom & Wild, but you made sure you didn’t over-leverage yourself, you never put your house, you never mortgaged your house. 

What are some of the tips that you can share, that you have learned, that have stood you in good stead to get you 10 years through? 

Aron Gelbard: 

I always drew a dividing line between how much personal financial risk I was prepared to take in terms of, how long I was prepared to go without a salary and or could afford to, and how many savings I had. 

And knew that, with that, I needed to get to a point where we were going to be able to raise money and with that money, we were going be able to get to our next milestone. I was going to be able to afford a salary that I’d be able to live on with a modest lifestyle at the time. 

So, I think, designing all of those personal guardrails rather than taking out as many credit cards as you can and maxing out your debt, is really important. 

For some people that’s the right thing to do. But my advice would be to try and work for a bit longer. Potentially, in doing so, also gain some experience and skills that will be valuable and be in a position where you maybe don’t have to do that. 

But obviously, everyone’s circumstances are different, and I don’t want to overgeneralize. 

I guess sort of looking beyond that, we are in a difficult fundraising environment now, and when I speak to founders who their only plan is to raise a large amount of money in a short space of time, and they don’t have a plan B for what will happen if they aren’t able to do that. 

I really encourage them to think of that plan B, because we aren’t in the same environment as we were in 3 or 5 years ago. And I think, people need to work in that way. 

And so it’s not the most exhilarating advice to hear, but I think it’s something founders, need that reality check, and I’ve gone through that, and it’s served our business well and ultimately therefore our customers and our stakeholders and the people around us as well. 

So, that’s my number 1 thing, especially in the environment that we’re in, in early 2024. 

Bex Burn-Callander: 

I suppose that’s good advice for everything. Always have a plan B. 

Don’t just presume that your best way of getting from A to B will work out. You must always have supplementary plans, just in case they fall through. 

But that could be investment, it can be marketing, it could be operation, it could be anything. 

Always have a plan B. 

Aron Gelbard: 

Completely agree. 

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