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Tech Entrepreneur Takes Pain & Expense Out of Flower Delivery

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 13/10/2015 Renny McPherson
GRATITUDE © Moof via Getty Images GRATITUDE

Ajay Kori is one of the founders of UrbanStems, an on-demand flower delivery service created to spread happiness by making gifting fun and easy. UrbanStems launched during a blizzard on Valentine's Day 2014 in Washington DC and has since expanded into Manhattan, Brooklyn and the DC Metro Area. In February 2015, UrbanStems announced a seed-funding round of $1.5 million.
What does UrbanStems do?
We offer a curated selection of gorgeous bouquets starting at just $35 with free one-hour delivery and no hidden costs. We've worked hard to create an amazing gifting experience, which includes personal touches like a handwritten note from the sender and a delivery confirmation photo of your bouquet outside of your recipient's door, so you know exactly what the flowers look like and exactly when they were delivered. Our flowers also last a lot longer than they would from other companies because we've cut out the middleman to source them directly from the farms, which means most of their lifespan is spent with the recipient. It also makes it cheaper for the customer. We provide the experience that a lot of the big players in the industry should be providing, but make it a lot more fun.
Why did you start UrbanStems?
A couple of years ago, I was living in New York. I was in a long distance relationship so I ended up sending a lot of flowers. When you're not in the same city, that's one of the few options you have for making that person's day special. Unfortunately, I had one terrible flower-sending experience after another, and it came to a crescendo on her birthday. I sent flowers as a surprise but I hadn't called because I wanted the flowers to be the surprise - unlucky for me, they never showed up at all and I ended up with a very unhappy now ex-girlfriend. I was really just flabbergasted that you pay all this money, upwards of $70-80 for a very basic bouquet, and then it ends up being an awful experience.
I started asking my friends about sending flowers to see if they had a similar experience. I thought 'this entire industry can't be like this.' It turns out many others had the exact same miserable experience, so my college friend Jeff Sheely and I decided to start looking into why the industry was this way and how we could potentially change it.
If you look at the customer satisfaction ratings of all the categories in ecommerce, flower companies are about half that of every other category. That's kind of shocking if you think about how the Internet has made everything cheaper and better, but this is the one area where the product is lower quality and you actually end up paying more online than if you just walked into a local florist.
How was the launch?
We launched UrbanStems last Valentine's Day in the middle of a snowstorm in Washington, DC and we were lucky enough to be joined by fellow co-founders Jereme Holiman, Chetan Shenoy, and Scott Simpson; three awesome individuals who have very different backgrounds from Jeff and I. It was basically a couple of us sitting in a circle, trying to figure out how to make deliveries during a blizzard with all the roads closed. I think the best part about starting a company in the middle of a snowstorm is that everything has felt easier since that day. We haven't had anything derail us since then because we had to figure out the worst-case scenario on our first day.
Who are your customers?
As a flower delivery company you automatically assume the clientele are males sending flowers to the women in their lives. That's honestly what we thought when we started UrbanStems, but we were so wrong: the vast majority of our customers are actually women sending to other women. Men send flowers on major holidays, but women tend to send flowers just because they want to, and they do so on an everyday basis. We're incredibly lucky because this means we get to see so many instances of people making other people's days, all the time.
We're also working to change men's behavior! I think the problem for men in the flower-gifting world is that it was always so expensive and it can be such a terrible process ordering from one of the traditional players. UrbanStems takes just a couple of clicks on our app, with a reasonable price and free delivery, and we've really started to see more and more men sending flowers to their significant others, on a daily basis.
What are the next steps for growth?
What we want to be at the end of the day is the app that you think of when trying to make someone happy. You pull out your phone, you hit a couple of buttons, you have a gift anywhere within an hour. You just made someone's day, and it took nothing more than a couple of clicks.
Gifting is such a huge industry and up until now, there's been no real innovation. Typically you either go to a store or buy something off of Amazon and add a gift message - it really hasn't changed at all. There isn't a great way of sending gifts to other people, and we think that we can really build that amazing experience for both the gifter and the recipient.
How was it building your company in Washington, DC?
DC is a much smaller startup community than the Valley or New York, but it's an incredibly supportive one. They want to see everyone succeed; they want to make this a bigger tech scene. We feel incredibly fortunate to be part of the DC tech community and we are trying to be an active participant in lending a hand down to companies even smaller than us and helping bring them up as other people helped us out. It's a great place, even if it's not the first place you might think of in terms of starting a company.

Listen to the full podcast interview with Ajay Kori here.

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