It’s pretty objective – flowers have an uncanny ability to make us smile. That’s why it’s often flowers we turn to – to say “Hi” or “Sorry” or “I love you.” But for many of us living in cities, the days are numbered when we visit the local florist to handpick the perfect stems worthy of our sentiments, or the receiver. Instead, these days, because the people on our minds are often cities or states away, we depend on the good old Internet. Which, as you’ve probably experienced, isn’t the most reliable when it comes to sending feelings.
You know how it goes – you scour a page of impersonal arrangements looking for one that isn’t just full of carnations but won’t leave you broke, choose one that looks “okay,” pay exorbitant fees to the three different companies handling the bouquet and then pray it doesn’t end up on the stoop of the neighbor’s English basement.
That’s exactly why Ajay Kori and Jeff Sheely started UrbanStems in the District. Four years ago, the former roommates – no strangers to the startup and tech community – thought there had to be a better way. So, says Kori, they “took a deeper look at the flower exchange and realized how backwards it was, how it actually creates a higher price and a worse quality experience. Which is kind of the opposite of what e-commerce has done for every other category.”
The pair decided to build their new venture by imagining the best possible experience and working back from there. They made it their mission to deliver happiness not only to customers but to the community and everyone in their supply chain – so much so that their company hashtag has become #sendhappy.
Industry veterans told Kori and Sheely that what they were suggesting – flowers delivered in an hour, lasting for two weeks and starting at $35 for delivery – couldn’t be done. But that didn’t stop them from ending up on a bed of roses – literally. And the duo’s success is owed in part to their DC start.
“The startup community here has been phenomenally supportive,” Kori says. “Obviously, it’s much smaller than in New York or the Bay area, but because it is small, everyone really looks out for each other. Our first Valentine’s Day, we were less than a week old but we had hundreds of orders, mostly from the tech community and friends of the tech community here. It’s just such a nurturing and supportive environment.”
Kori recalls Valentine’s Day 2014 during their launch week, when the two drove around the city hand-delivering those orders.
“When the final delivery was made, I would say probably four hours later at like midnight, Jeff and I were just sprawled out in the middle of this tiny floor on a bed of rose petals and we were like, ‘How are we going to do this on a daily basis?’”
But the answer was kind of simple. If you build it, they will come. UrbanStems tapped into what people today care about. The company’s USP is one based in empowerment every step of the way – from the field to the front door where the flowers are delivered. They work directly with socially and environmentally responsible farmers, employ talented designers in-house, and offer full benefits to their team of bike couriers, who snap a photo of the gift and send it to you as it is safely delivered, within an hour of your order.
“With us, we found it really important to bring in the couriers as part of our family,” Kori says. “If that courier really cares about making your day, it makes a huge difference in that gifting experience.”
Now in DC, NYC, Philadelphia and Baltimore, the company is growing fast, and the challenge will be to maintain the standards that distinguish them from large competitors.
“As we continue to scale and expand to new cities across the country, we’re expanding this very different structure,” Kori says.
“Really the key is getting the right people on the ground and doing the right thing to set up shop and replicate that experience,” Sheely adds. “The technology is the easy part. You’ve got to set up the supply chain and get the right people on the ground – the people who have really committed to that mission and are willing to get into the community and spread happy. And that’s our real advantage over the big guys.”
And while during this time of year many customers are thinking about hearts and roses, most of UrbanStems orders are not occasion-based, but rather sent “just because.” At their weekly meetings, the team reads their favorite notes aloud.
Sheely says, “One [note] that sticks out from awhile back is, ‘Sorry about the incident at Pilates.’ That could mean anything! So the mystery of things like that is pretty hilarious. But it really does come out how sweet and heartfelt the notes are that people are writing to each other and sending with the flowers.”
And that is reassuring. Because the truth is, everyone could use a little more happy in their lives.
Learn more at www.urbanstems.com.