By Ajay Kori, Co-Founder
So let me get this straight — you started a flower company!?
I get this question often. After leaving Quidsi (the company that launched Diapers, Soap, and Wag.com) and two years removed from Harvard Business School, the decision to enter into the business of bouquets took some of my friends and classmates by surprise. After all, my co-founder and I initially set out to change the credit score industry, by using social data to better predict whether someone would be a good tenant or not. We loved our idea, and realized it was a big opportunity to eventually make a lasting change in the enormous financial industry. About a month into it though, we realized that while the product could be great — landlords tend to shy away from new technology, and selling to them at scale would be difficult.
So we went back to the drawing board. While we continued discussing big financial problems, the idea that kept popping in my head was an experience that I had while being in a long-distance relationship in previous years. As someone who likes to show affection often, I sent a lot of flowers when I couldn’t be there. And I had a horrible experience every time — from the bouquets that never looked anything like the picture, to the birthday bouquet that never made it and almost led to a breakup. (Partly my fault — I wanted to wait for the bouquet to surprise her before calling, and my birthday call ended up coming fairly late into the day when I realized the bouquet was never coming!)
I asked around and others seemed to have the same experience universally. When we looked deeper into the reason why, we realized that the flower gifting industry, despite advances in technology, hadn’t been changed in 100 years. You order from an aggregator (the big names you’re used to), and they simply send the order to a local florist through something called a flower wire. Because of the number of parties involved, the price for the consumer ends up adding up to a large number (who hasn’t ended up spending $80 or more for a simple arrangement after all those fees?), while the quality suffers because the actual person putting together your bouquet is paid less than the fee from a customer walking in their door.
The Internet and e-commerce have made almost everything cheaper and better for the customer — except flowers. It’s amazing to us that the act of making someone else’s day has been so complicated and broken for so long, so we decided to do something about it.
The UrbanStems experience is radically different then what you’re used to. Select one of our curated bouquets on our app or site, select the hour you want the flowers delivered (even if it’s within the same hour!), and we’ll zip the long-lasting bundle of joy out to your recipient — and we send you a photo confirmation of your bouquet outside your recipient’s door as soon as it’s dropped off, so you know exactly when it was delivered and what the flowers look like. The best part? We start at $35 with free one-hour delivery. That’s right, fees and surcharges simply don’t exist on our site.
A lot of people ask how we’re able to deliver such a better experience and better flowers at half the price. The answer is simple: we innovated for the first time in this industry in a century. We work directly with farms in South America to source ridiculously long-lasting and beautiful flowers. Instead of the flowers then going to an importer, then wholesaler, then local florist, who fulfills for a website — they go directly from our farms to bike messengers who zip the flowers out to you. Cutting out all the middlemen obviously saves you a bunch of money. But the farm to bike approach also means that our flowers have been handled less, and are only a couple days out from being cut. They have close to a week longer shelf life than those you buy from the traditional players. Plus, the shorter supply chain and bike courier force is great for the environment.
We’ve seen dramatic results from making flowers affordable again. Typically someone buys flowers online 1-2 times a year. Our customers order more than 10 times a year. They’ve told us over and over again, they love that they can get more flowers that last longer.
A recent survey showed that having flowers at your house or workplace makes you significantly happier. What’s better than allowing people to be happier more often? Or sending gifts to more people?
When we pivoted from a social credit score startup to delivering flowers, it certainly caused people to scratch their heads. But as each of my friends and classmates has tried UrbanStems, they’ve all come back with a pretty simple “I get it.” Nothing’s more fun than making the world a happier place.
Along with his business partner Jeff Sheely, Ajay is a co-founder of UrbanStems, which is currently available in Washington DC and New York City. UrbanStems plans on having their service available in most major cities by the end of the year.
Ajay Kori was born in Cleveland and lived in Tampa before settling with his family in Durham, North Carolina. He earned his undergraduate degree at Duke in 2006 and graduated from Harvard Business School in 2011. While at Harvard, Ajay was the president of his section and winner of the HBS 2010 Business Plan Contest. His previous entrepreneurial experience includes founding and selling a content site for over $1m while in high school, and later joining Quidsi (which sold to Amazon for $540m) to launch Amazon’s first pharmacy.
Jeff Sheely was born in Singapore and raised in Houston, and graduated from Duke in 2006 with a degree in Political Science. While head of marketing at Overture Technologies, he launched the first-ever private student loan comparison engine and marketplace to improve transparency in financial aid. Prior to founding UrbanStems, Jeff served as a strategic growth consultant for startups and early-stage tech companies, guiding them in the development and execution of their marketing programs.