Shaper: Aron Gelbard

Show aired on 29th September 2018

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Welcome to the Jazz Shapers podcast from Mishcon de Reya. What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however music has been cut or shortened due to rights issues.

Good morning and welcome to Jazz Shapers it where the Shapers of jazz, soul and blues join forces with the Shapers of Business, I am sure you know the drill. Our guest today is Aron Gelbard the co-founder and CEO of Bloom & Wild the flower delivery service. Aaron co-launched the business in 2013 after being personally disappointed with the customer experience of buying flowers on-line, and noticing how inefficient the supply chain was. His aim to make sending and receiving flowers the joy that it should be. Bloom & Wild which Aron predicts will overtake Inter-flora the biggest florist chain in the UK of course, within four or five years created the signature award winning idea of letterbox flowers, enabling a bouquet of fresh flowers to be delivered through a standard UK letterbox and it is the first florist to create a constantly changing range of a scale they describe as fast fashion for flowers. Hello.

Aron Gelbard
Hello.

Elliot Moss
Thank you for joining me.

Aron Gelbard
Thank you.

Elliot Moss
Where did you get this idea from, tell me about that to start with, because I know you set the business up back in 2013, did you have a passion for flowers or is this much more of, I am a technical guy, a technology guy, a business guy looking for an idea? You have to be honest, Aron.

Aron Gelbard
Neither really I had and still have a passion for making people pleased, getting good feed back that sort of reinforcement and for years that meant I would sort of, you know, try and do a good job at school or at my first couple of jobs, and then I guess I realised that I could do it at a much bigger scale if I tried to set up my own business in a space where you are trying to please people en-masse. And I had had so so experience of sending flowers, lots of times, everyone I knew has had so so experiences sending flowers as well and so I thought could we make a better flower company, use technology, use initiative packaging and make it brilliant which is what it should be.

Elliot Moss
I mean that sounds ridiculously sweet, in the nicest way, and I don’t mean that in a strange way at all, in the sense that you really were just wanting to fix a problem which for you was important, but the output is as you said happiness. That is not often I hear that as a reason to set up a business. What enabled you to know where to start doing that? What do you think, because obviously you’re… often on this programme I have the people that have left school at sixteen or you know just about to start Uni don’t bother… and then I have people like you who’ve got a degree from Oxford, they have got an MBA from Harvard and then they have done some really interesting roles at Management Consultancies, as you have, and so on. What do you think enabled you of all those different things to actually piece this together and get the business off the ground?

Aron Gelbard
I was really lucky with where I got to work, and I learnt about a few industries I worked mainly as a consultant with retail, consumer products and tech companies so I became interested in those industries and then as they were sort of merging together with director consumer e-commerce brands, so I became a sort of student of that space and just found it really interesting how companies were springing up and doing things in a better way. A guy that I was at University with runs Graze the snack-box company, and I had followed their progress with interest, I thought that was really initiative in a different space, I also thought it was really cool that they were doing snacks that fit through the letterbox. And one of the problems with flowers is that the person who you are sending them to has to be in to receive them, so wondered whether we could do flowers through the letterbox too, and that was a big part of what attracted me to the space, it felt like a really good solution to a problem.

Elliot Moss
And then now I am combining wanting to make people happy with the experience you had and the interest that you showed in that confluence of retail and technology, with the missing piece for me which is so you wanted to do something for yourself. And if that is true why?

Aron Gelbard
I did want to do something for myself, my Dad’s an entrepreneur, both my Grandads’ were entrepreneurs and I guess it was something that I always wanted to do, it wasn’t something that I had the confidence to do out of University and wasn’t something that I had the money to do out of Business School because I had debts to pay off. But, it was something that I hoped to do at some point and it felt like the right time in life, we didn’t have kids yet and it felt like it was okay to take a risk and consulting would still be there if it didn’t work out after a couple of months or years or whatever.

Elliot Moss
In terms of those first few months of setting up this business, and the people you had to assemble, the technology you had to get in place, one thing going from concept and from theory and from advising other people, then you are thrown in and you are doing it yourself. What was the biggest surprise to you of that process, of actually doing it?

Aron Gelbard
I think the biggest surprise at the beginning was how difficult the technology was. We budgeted three thousand pounds to build our website out of our savings and we have literally spent millions later and we are still building our website and making it better and we totally underestimated how difficult it would be, that there is a totally different way of working effectively with software developers. How to motivate them, how to get them excited about what you are doing and how to get them to sort of achieve the quality that you are looking for and it costs money and it takes a lot of time. That was the single biggest surprise at the beginning.

Elliot Moss
And of course, more and more businesses are now technology based, they are software based, they are user experience based, minimal viable products and all the rest of it. How do you encourage and inspire, and how do you translate what is in your head and in your heart into technology driven people?

Aron Gelbard
Over time we’ve developed what is called the product function, which is a group of people that are product people on our team and their job is to understand what customers want, look at customer feedback, focus groups etcetera, understand what business stakeholders are trying to achieve and turn that into what features that we are going to build for our website, and I work with our product team to try and shape that. I have got a lot of ideas myself, I spend a lot of time reading customer feedback daily and that is really helpful for figuring out what is working, what is not working, what we should do more of, but it is a full-time job that I never heard of when I started the Company.

Elliot Moss
And do you have those ‘ah ha’ moments you know when you are not at work when you are with your family, you are getting back from the office, where you go ‘hold on a minute that’s how you crack it’, and if so, do you scribble, do you make a note to yourself, what do you do to ensure that you don’t lose that little glimpse of creativity?

Aron Gelbard
I do have them all the time and I have a terrible memory, so I write myself an e-mail and then my inbox becomes my to do list and my source of ideas and then I chat to somebody about it when I am in the office. So, yep all the time.

Elliot Moss
And in terms of those ideas, are the ones that get through, the ones where you are most, you passionately articulate them, or they are because they are intrinsically the best ideas? Because there is a difference isn’t there, between something that is brilliant that you just can’t convey, versus something you convey which may not be as hot?

Aron Gelbard
I try not to make it just my ideas getting through, I hope that it’s the team’s best ideas that get through, some of them are mine, most of them aren’t mine. We try to focus on a few sort of metrics of how we are doing as a Company, the most important one is our net promoter score which is peoples likelihood of recommending us to their friends, and when there are new ideas to evaluate against each other, we try to assess them against that and figure out what is going to make the most difference in building up our advocacy amongst our customers.

Elliot Moss
Just before we go to the News Sessions what’s your, your 75 plus is a really good score I think on a net promoter score level, what’s yours are you going to tell me?

Aron Gelbard
Thank you I will, ours is 87 at the moment.

Elliot Moss
Look at that, A class student sitting right in front of me, and now he is doing it in business as well, it’s so annoying. Stay with me for much more form Aron Gelbard my Business Shaper today, CEO and co-founder at Bloom & Wild. Right now though we have got some more from our News Sessions, I just mentioned, it is a little taster, you can find all of these on the major podcast platforms it is Paddy O’Connell with the help of Mishcon de Reya exploring the world of cryptocurrency and bitcoins just for you.

There are absolutely loads of ways to hear this very programme plus hundreds of former guests on the show. Here’s the first, you can ask Alexa to play Jazz Shapers and there you can hear many of the recent programmes, or put in the words Jazz Shapers into iTunes or any other of your podcast platforms and you will get the full archive to revel in, including our special Shaper on Shaper additions where past guests interview each other on where they and their businesses are right now. But back to where we are, and we are with Aron Gelbard, he is our Business Shaper today, CEO and Co-founder at Bloom & Wild and they are the people that deliver flowers not to your porch, not outside your door, but no ladies and gentlemen, right inside your very letterbox. Which is actually brilliant, because again your point about you know dissatisfaction of delivering flowers, it is a pain and you have kind of gone to the heart of it. Are there are other things that are obvious within the flower delivering world that you are looking at. Because that seems such an obvious innovation and yet no-one had done it before, are there others that are just there, and I don’t know about them?

Aron Gelbard
There are lots of other things we do, we put nets around flowerheads for some varieties of flowers to transport them, this really helps protect and slightly compress flowers in transit, it means they don’t mash about in a box and it means that flowers arrive in a much better condition. We got the idea for that from buying Christmas trees where there is a big net around the Christmas tree when you buy it and put it in your car so that it doesn’t go everywhere, and actually that gave us the idea for doing Christmas trees through the letterbox which we now do as well.

Elliot Moss
What is interesting to me about what you do Aron is that there is a user experience on-line, there is a user experience I think about with the app, and there is also of course the user experience of receiving the flowers. Is any one of those more important than the other, or does it fall apart if all of it isn’t brilliant?

Aron Gelbard
It all has to be brilliant, but we think about it, we have separate teams that are doing what we call digital user experience and physical user experience.

Elliot Moss
There you go, look I nailed it, how about that?

Aron Gelbard
You did.

Elliot Moss
Complete luck.

Aron Gelbard
So, the digital user experience across our app and our website is about making it really easy for people to order flowers as quickly as possible, we think it should take seconds, it should be as easy as sending a text message. With an app it becomes much easier because your app knows lots of stuff about you, it knows your payment details, it knows your friends and families addresses, it knows their birthdays, because it is all stored in your phone, so we can literally make it possible for you to order flowers in as little as ten seconds. For unboxing it is a little bit more about the emotion of receiving the product, rather than the efficiency of sending it, and so obviously there is the convenience of it coming through the letterbox but actually we are about a lot more than that, we want the packaging to feel really special, we want opening up the box to feel serendipitous and different, and we want to put in touches of delight and care with everything we do. Those are a couple of our company values to make the experience brilliant for people. And actually, the number one way that people have discovered our company and become customers is by having been recipients beforehand.

Elliot Moss
The care and delight points are nice, and it reminds me years ago I worked with Proctor & Gamble a very big company obviously with billions and billions of pounds worth of sales and they really do push the whole notion of delighting their customers and all that. In terms of you as you interact with your team that is delivering all these things do you think you care and delight your own team in equal measure? How would they describe working with you, because you seem incredibly relaxed and reasonable?

Aron Gelbard
Thank you, I try to be. I get stressed sometimes but I try to be reasonable. We have these five values, care, delight the others innovation, pride and customers first and they are meant to reflect our ways of working internally as well as externally. We talked about out net promoter school, we make sure our employee net promoter score is well. It’s not as high as our customer net promoter score but they never are, it is about 60 which we are really proud of and it’s been at that level for over a year, so yep, giving our team a great experience is super important, that is one of the biggest parts of my job now as well.

Elliot Moss
And in one word how would they describe you?

Aron Gelbard
That’s a really difficult one, I think, this isn’t one word, but I think they think that I am trying to do too many things at the same time.

Elliot Moss
That sounds very familiar. Stay with me for much more from Aron Gelbard, my Business Shaper today, CEO and Co-founder at Bloom & Wild. I want to talk about money for a moment, your business like any young business it doesn’t talk about revenue, it doesn’t talk about profit because those things are only important in the old world, in the new world we wait, and we have patience like we would do with any of the big behemoth, the big digital businesses. What have your investors, invested in if it isn’t revenue, do you think? And the investments are seven million pounds plus I believe over the last few years. What do you think they have bought into Aron?

Aron Gelbard
I think they have bought into our potential to build something brilliant with huge revenue in the future and we have got really exciting revenue growth at the moment, we are apparently the second fastest growing company in the UK, according to people who work out this kind of thing, so I think we are growing really quickly and because we are growing we are prepared to lose money for now but we think there is an opportunity to build the world’s best flower gifting company and to make our mission of making sending and receiving flowers the joy that it should be. Something that exists in the UK and lots of other countries and I think our investors believe in that, believe that our team and our approach to technology can achieve it and that is why they have backed us.

Elliot Moss
And what about you and money, what is your relationship like? I mean you obviously you have worked in pretty decent jobs before you took this on, are you hoping that one day there will be a beautiful financial silver lining to all the things that you are doing, or is it not like that for you?

Aron Gelbard
I don’t think you can focus on like just like the destination, I think it has to be about the everyday enjoyment. I think if you have your eye on a prize and that is why you run a business then I don’t think you run it in an authentic way and I don’t think you sort of run it in a way that will make it as successful as possible. I went with no salary for the first couple of years, since we have raised VC money I am able to pay myself a decent salary now and so I live more comfortably. I hope the business will be really successful and then I am sure we will figure out a way for people who are shareholders to benefit from that, but I don’t have my eye on a prize and I don’t want to sort of sell the company and then not work or anything like that. I want to carry on doing this, it is a real privilege to have this job.

Elliot Moss
And in those early days, you say you didn’t pay yourself a salary, how did you get by? Had you saved a bunch basically, simple as that?

Aron Gelbard
Saved a bunch, moved in with my then girlfriend, now wife, we lived in a smaller flat, didn’t go on as many holidays, cut back on stuff and tried to make my savings last until we could raise money and I could start paying myself a salary.

Elliot Moss
Did it get bumpy in those early days or were you always sure that it was going to be okay?

Aron Gelbard
No super bumpy, lots of the time. One of the first big mistakes that I remember we made was we were paying a box design company in South East London, £30 a box to make us prototypes of our now box, and this was super expensive for a product that was going to retail for less than that. So, we asked them if they could make it cheaper and they said they would make it cheaper if we bought more of them, and we agreed a price of £2.70 per box for a thousand boxes and so we spent £2,700 of our savings on those thousand boxes, and we thought that we had figured out the design and this was going to save us lots of money, and we then sent out twenty of the boxes to our potential clients and all of the flowers arrived mouldy because the boxes didn’t have ventilation in them, which was one of the things we hadn’t considered. And so we actually had to get rid of the other 980 boxes and it was a huge waste of money, so that was maybe the bumpiest early moment but there were lots of them.

Elliot Moss
And what is extraordinary is right now, that you look back and that is under £3,000 a lot of money but in the scheme of things maybe it was a good price to pay to understand that ventilation was important. I am being philosophical on your behalf, I have no idea why and you are looking at me, going thanks very much. That was a waste of money. Yeah, cheers Elliot. Finally chat coming up with Aron plus we are playing a track with Sarah Vaughan, stay with me here on Jazz FM because it is all coming up in just a moment.

I am with Aron Gelbard, just for a few more minutes here on Jazz Shapers and if you haven’t been listening he is the flower man. He brings happiness and a smile to your face, at least that is what he hopes when his flowers come through your letterbox, rather than waiting outside or being stolen by the neighbours if they are mean. That doesn’t happen in your world does it?

Aron Gelbard
No, it doesn’t.

Elliot Moss
Doesn’t, never. You are now in year five, you have got decent funding, you’ve got your team, you’ve expanded internationally, it feels to be looking at this from outside obviously that the pieces are in place. What does one do now to ensure that you maximise those fundamentals which you spent time building?

Aron Gelbard
We need to continue to make the customer experience better and better, at every touch point, so this is our packaging, this is our floristry its our technology, our app, which we talked about a little earlier, our marketing, everything. One of the things we are doing to keep it fresh is trying to do lots of collaborations to make it exciting for our customers, get them coming back, ordering again, keeping it interesting. One of the collaborations I am really excited about that we are doing at the moment, is for Liberty London, Liberty are famous for their Liberty prints which have got floral designs and we have taken those floral designs and put them on to our packaging so the packaging isn’t plain anymore, it’s Liberty print for these collections and then the flowers inside the box match the Liberty print packaging and customers seem to really love it, it’s really innovative, innovation is one of our values and it’s really exciting and different and I would love to come up with more stuff like that.

Elliot Moss
And the co-labs and people talk about collaborations in fashion, and they talk about them across every industry at the moment it seems to be very fashionable. How do you approach those, is it literally ‘oh why don’t we do that’, or shall we just go and talk to them, or is it about people approaching you as well?

Aron Gelbard
A lot of people approach us, to be honest most collaborations are inbound now and we need to be disciplined that are a lot that aren’t right for whatever reason or there are some that are too similar to others, so we need to keep it mixed up. I think it is important for us to do the outbound ones as well because you can be more strategic about what is going to be really valuable for your customers rather than if you are inbound only then its more opportunistic and you just do whatever comes in, but you don’t really think about how it fits together with your broader goals for your business.

Elliot Moss
And competition wise, there are all sorts of people nibbling around, doing these, how do you, are you interested in what they are doing, or is it more about saying we are going to do what we are doing based on our values and our approach?

Aron Gelbard
It is about saying we are going to do what we are doing. I think there are lots of other great flower companies out there, there are big flower companies that have been there for a long time, there are other new flower companies that have started to do things in a different way.

Elliot Moss
You have been quoted I think as saying that you will overtake Inter-flora one day, it might take you five years, but you are going to do it. I mean that is a pretty audacious statement, do you stand by that?

Aron Gelbard
Stand by it, that is my goal. I think Inter-flora does some things really well, they have been around for a long time, everybody has heard of them, and because they partner with local florists you can get their flowers very quickly anywhere in the country. I think there are all sorts of other stuff that we do better I think, I think we make it a better user experience, our prices are less expensive because we have a more efficient supply chain, we have more special floristry and packaging which is seasonal and changes regularly.

Elliot Moss
But you can do the scale? And the scale thing is the one thing I am interested in, that you think you can manage?

Aron Gelbard
Of course, why not? We have got the best net promoter score, clients love us, people who have heard of us won’t go elsewhere, they really like it, it’s just about getting the word out there.

Elliot Moss
Aron it’s been a real pleasure talking to you, thank you for your time and good luck with your mission to make the world happy.

Aron Gelbard
Thank you.

Elliot Moss
You seem to be doing a good job so far. Just before I let you go what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Aron Gelbard
My song choice is LOVE by Nat King Cole, it’s a brilliant song and all of our guests at our wedding surprised us, the lights went off and they did a flash-mob to this song and a few of them sung it and it was brilliant.

Elliot Moss
That was Nat King Cole with LOVE, the song choice of my Business Shaper, Aron Gelbard. Someone who discovered that there was this thing called a product function and he has really worked out how to make the very best product for him. Someone who is brave enough to ask his employees whether they are happy, a net promoter score internally and not a bad idea and someone also who is really interested in the power of collaboration to build his own brand and all those interesting things he is doing with Liberty and the like. All really, really good stuff. That’s it from me and Jazz Shapers. Have a fantastic weekend.

Aron Gelbard

Aron Gelbard is the founder and CEO of tech-first florists Bloom & Wild. Launched in 2013, tech-first florist Bloom & Wild is currently the 2nd fastest growing business in the UK and the 5th fastest growing in EMEA.

Prior to Bloom & Wild, Aron worked as a management consultant, advising technology, retail and consumer products companies at Bain & Company, having previously worked at Google and OC&C. Aron has an MA in Modern Languages from Jesus College, Oxford, and an MBA from Harvard Business School. Aron set out to make the process of sending and receiving flowers as easy as sending a text message, and receiving them as easy as doing so a letter. He conceptualised the now award-winning idea of letterbox flowers. Bloom & Wild’s ascension has been impressive. Only two years after launch Bloom & Wild had not only claimed the title of the UK’s top rated flower company, but had done this while scaling at 1000% YoY. Named the second fastest growing business in the UK, Aron has to date attracted more than £7m in funding and expanded into Germany, France and Ireland. Beyond growth, the brand has always placed customer satisfaction at the forefront of importance, successfully rising to become the top-rated seller in its sector, featuring on the besting lists of the Apple Store, Android Playstore and Google Reviews.  At 35 years old, Aron has been named in the 2018 Maserati 100, and his values remain the same as when he started out five years ago.

Follow Aron on Twitter @AronGelbard.

“I’ve realised that I could share positivity on a bigger scale if I set up my own business in a space where you are trying to please people en-masse.”

“I became a student of the retail and tech space and found it really interesting how companies were springing up and doing things in a better way.”

“That was a big part of what attracted me, it felt like a really good solution to a problem.”

“Over time we’ve developed what is called the product function. A group of people assess product to understand what customers want, look at customer feedback, focus groups, understand what business stakeholders are trying to achieve and turn that into what features that we build for our website.”

“My Dad’s an entrepreneur, both my Grandads’ were entrepreneurs and I guess it was something that I always wanted to do.”

“The biggest surprise was how difficult the technology was.  We budgeted three thousand pounds to build our website and we have literally spent millions later, and we are still building our website and making it better. We totally underestimated how difficult it would be.”

“I try not to make it just my ideas getting through, I hope that it’s the team’s best ideas that get through, some of them are mine, most of them aren’t mine.”

“It all has to be brilliant, but we think about it, we have separate teams that are doing what we call digital user experience and physical user experience.”

“There isn’t one word to describe me, but I think that I am trying to do too many things at the same time.”