Sramana: How long did it take you to launch the first version of the site?
Farbod Shoraka: Once we won the money, we hired a developer and spent a few months building the first version of BloomNation.com. It was an alpha platform to give florists an idea of where we were headed. It was enough for them to see the dream and see our vision. We used that prototype for another five months to acquire more florists.
Our primarily goal with the first project was to get florists to upload product and list designs. As a consumer when you go to a marketplace, the last thing you want is a zero result search. We wanted enough products on the platform so that we would not have zero result searches for consumers. We used that platform to acquire florists from across the country.
Sramana: Were florists willing to come even though you did not have users?
Farbod Shoraka: A marketplace has that chicken and egg dilemma. Do you go after supply or demand? In our case, the innate vision behind BloomNation.com was so inspiring for florists that even though they were not getting transactional revenue from the platform, the fact that they had an outlet to show off their creativity and talent was enough for them to list their designs for sale. It was more about us as co-founders talking and connecting and being inspirational in how we pitched our company.
At the same time, we started implementing tools that they did use. We built a Facebook store so they could sell their products on the Facebook page. We kept their experience high by adding new tools. We had a need to keep florists engaged.
Sramana: What were some of the major milestones that occurred as you built the business in 2011?
Farbod Shoraka: Our first phase was onboarding florists. We started tracking how many florists we could find in a day. We wanted to know how often they were logging into the account. Revenue was not ramping up to the point where we had analytics. I remember how, in the early days, we would get excited when someone ordered from the marketplace.
We spent a lot of time focusing on the florist side. As we grew and as we started implementing more of these other services, we started to see BloomNation.com rising in organic searches in Google. That resulted in more transactions coming through which made us excited. As a business, we started growing. We have a couple of major seasons that are very big. February 14th is Valentine’s Day, May 12th is Mother’s Day and we used those holidays to get a spike in traffic and get some more revenue. That allowed us to have analytics to show investors and get their interest.
Sramana: So you started looking for financing in 2012?
Farbod Shoraka: Yes. The $30,000 ran out and all of us co-founders self-funded the company. We had a single in-house developer and we did all of the other work from customer services to order validations. There was a point in time when we decided that we had enough revenue generation to validate us talking to some VC firms.
Sramana: Did you talk to VCs in Los Angeles?
Farbod Shoraka: No, our third co-founder was in business school in Chicago. We participated in a business challenge up there, which opened up introductions to various venture capitalist firms. We talked to firms all over the country.