I’m so excited to have Christina Stembel, founder and CEO of Farmgirl Flowers, on today’s episode of Unstoppable.
When Christina moved to San Francisco in the early 2000’s, she was infected by the entrepreneurship bug. She pitched business ideas left and right to her friends and family until she came across the idea to start an e-commerce flower business.
Christina started Farmgirl Flowers in 2010, and her company is now reaching over $20 million in revenue (and they distribute everywhere in the continental US!).
I think you’ll love Christina’s transparency about what it is like to be the founder and CEO of Farmgirl Flowers, how she started this business with just the money in her savings account, her biggest challenges and how she has overcome them, and much more on today’s episode.
You can Subscribe and Listen to the Podcast on Apple Podcasts. And be sure to leave us a Rating and Review!
“It wasn’t that I loved flowers and definitely knew wanted to go into this industry. It was that I wanted to find a business that I could scale big and tick a couple of boxes that I knew it needed to tick in order to be successful.” – Christina Stembel
- What is Farmgirl Flowers
- How to be an entrepreneur
- How to scale a business
- Why not to have a retail store
- How to keep flowers fresh
- What is a workation
“Growing up in the farm environment, I was taught that if we don’t have the money, we don’t spend it – which has really helped me in growing a business.” – Christina Stembel
- Connect with Christina Stembel:
“That’s the key. When you get pushed down, just get back up.” – Christina Stembel
Kara Goldin: Hi everybody. It’s Kara at Unstoppable and I’m so excited here today with Christina Stembel from Farmgirl Flowers
Kara Goldin: Super, super excited to have you here. So Christina, in case you guys are not familiar with Farmgirl Flowers, so founded here in San Francisco. Really, really excited to have her. I actually met Christina threw a couple of different people, including one of our great investors, Sonja Perkins, but also she is part of a couple of tribes that I’m a part of. YPO as well as the EY Winning Women program, which is near and dear to my heart.
Kara Goldin: So, anyways. So, welcome Christina, I’m gonna have her tell everybody a little bit about her, but first I just want to get a little bit of background on Farmgirl Flowers first, and then we’ll back track on sort of you.
Stembel: Great, great.
Kara Goldin: So, yeah. Yeah.
Stembel: Thanks for having me.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, totally.
Stembel: Glad I’m here.
Kara Goldin: So tell me a little bit about Farmgirl Flowers, or tell our audience sort of what is it that you’re doing at Farmgirl Flowers.
Stembel: Yeah, so I started Farmgirl Flowers back in 2010 from my dining room, my little apartment, with this idea to disrupt the E-Commerce flower space. So, I wanted to do something better than what I thought was being done by the big guys you think of when you go online to place a flower order to be delivered nationwide, when you aren’t close enough to a really cute flower shop in your neighborhood. I wanted to give a better alternative to what was currently out there. So.
Stembel: Yeah, so I started it in 2010, and here we are eight years later and we’re still in San Francisco. We ship nationwide, and we have over 100 employees here in this wonderful city.
Kara Goldin: Wow! That’s amazing. That’s so great. So, you started in your apartment, so tell me where you’re from, how did you decide you were going to get into the flower business?
Stembel: It wasn’t the story that everybody thinks of and wants to hear a lot of times to be honest. The press likes to talk about how I grew up frolicking in my Grandmother’s flower garden, and that wasn’t the case. I grew up on a corn and soybean farm in Indiana, Northern Indiana. Little tiny town. And came back to San Francisco in 2000, I was in hotel management, hospitality and management and general manager of a couple small hotels. And it was the dotcom number one, first time around here. And, I kind of equate it to the same as in L.A., you know how everybody has a headshot in the back pocket, and they were waiting for the next big thing, their big shot.
Stembel: Here, in San Francisco, it seemed like everybody had a buisness plan in their back pocket, and everybody was very … It was an energy that was just contagious, and so I got the bug and wanted to start a business. I don’t have the typical background that a lot of people have that start businesses up here. So I knew that it would need to be a different type of business, but I was that person that would annoy everybody, all of my friends and family. Every week I would have four or five different buisness ideas, every girl’s night would turn into a beta testing, you know like, “Hey! Try these iron on pockets for women’s suits.” It was like the gamut of different industries.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome.
Stembel: So, it wasn’t that I loved flowers, and definitely knew I wanted to go into this industry, it was that I wanted to find a buisness that could scale big and tick a couple boxes that I knew it would need to tick, in order for it to be successful. And I wanted to have a big enough market share that could take some market share. And so, I kind of back tracked, the goal was to start a successful buisness, the industry was just one that I needed to find out where it fit.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. And so, what year did this start? From-
Stembel: November 2010.
Kara Goldin: 2010. Okay so, take me back through the key highlights of the journey. So you’re in your apartment, you talked a little bit about where you came from. And so, how did you ultimately say, “Okay, it’s going to be … ” What were the other businesses that you were thinking of at the time?
Stembel: Oh all different, I mean like, the iron on pockets I mentioned. There was a web set of tools for event planners, there was one that was similar to an Airbnb type models, and that came from hospitality, you know, an online place where people could get less than a hotel rooms. There was just everything. It was so many different businesses ideas that spanned 20 to 30 different industries. So.
Stembel: A lot of them required outside capital, which I knew with my background there was no way I was going to be able to raise capital, and especially in 2010 it was still the down turn, I hadn’t bounced back yet. And so, I knew I wouldn’t be able to go and get outside capital in a lot of things, like the web set of tools for the event planners would’ve needed like, two million dollars to start, and I didn’t have two million dollars. So, I had $49,000 in my bank account.
Kara Goldin: Oh.
Stembel: And so, when I came up with the idea for Farmgirl I was working at Stanford University, which is ironic ’cause I didn’t go to college. But, I worked there and one of the departments I oversaw did the events for the law school. And it was just an idea I had out of going through the PNL’s during the down turn and all the [inaudible 00:05:10] budgets were cut for events and noticing how much we were spending on flowers and décor for these events. And so then I went down the rabbit hole of research into the floral space and, “Why do flowers cost so much?” And learned why they cost so much, and very quickly shifted from the event space to the E-comm space, because that was the side of the business that was actually declining.
Stembel: And in 2010, E-comm should not be declining in any industry, if it’s being done right. Everything was growing exponentially, every other industry. So, I thought, “Why is it declining?” And that would remind me of all the times I would send my mom flowers in Indiana, and I hated the whole process, I hated the product, I felt like I got ripped off. I spent $100 on what looked like it was $8 from the grocery store. And so I thought, “Well, this is a real problem for me. It’s probably a real problem for a lot of other people, and I’m not just creating a problem to try and solve”, like we tend to do sometimes.
Stembel: And so, I came up with a buisness model that would truly do it different than the other companies and thought, “Okay, well let’s see if this works.” And amazingly it was one that I could start for $49,000, which I thought was a lot of money back then. But, it was when I did the outside capital start.
Kara Goldin: So you used your savings to start it, and people constantly ask me this when I’m out speaking, “Did you max out your credit cards?” “Were you able to … ” Did you need any more capital on that or did you-
Stembel: I didn’t even have a credit card. I don’t think. I had one at work but I didn’t have a personal credit card.
Kara Goldin: Wow.
Stembel: I only ever used debit cards. Growing up in that farm environment I was taught if you don’t have the money, don’t spend it.
Kara Goldin: Wow.
Stembel: Which I think has really helped me in running a business, so if we don’t have the money we don’t spend it. But that also hurt me because I couldn’t get big credit lines for Farmgirl. I think my first card was $500 or $1000 or something, now it’s much better. But I got down to $411 dollars at one point, in about a year and a half in, and I’d given myself as a goal two years to prove out if this concept would work, or until I ran out of money. I didn’t want to be that person at 10 years in, is still trying to get to a million dollars or something like that. I wanted it to be able to grow pretty big quicker than that.
Stembel: And so, yeah, I just was really good with money, and I was really careful. It’s still the biggest challenge that I have, is not running out of money. We’re still bootstrapped. We’re over 20 million in revenue, and it’s hard to run-
Kara Goldin: That’s amazing.
Stembel: -a perishable product company in the most expensive city in the United Sates, with over 100 team members and not run out of money.
Kara Goldin: So wait, you haven’t taken any funding?
Kara Goldin: At all?
Stembel: That $49,000 is the total amount.
Kara Goldin: Okay, I thought for some reason Broadway [inaudible 00:07:43] had actually invested.
Stembel: Nope, no.
Kara Goldin: And you’re just friends with Sonja-
Kara Goldin: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s very, very cool. So how did you learn to … I mean you’ve talked about this, you don’t have any sort of formal education, how did you learn to scale a business without having-
Stembel: That education?
Kara Goldin: Yeah. The question is always … you know, people say like, “How do you write a buisness plan?” And I get this a lot from kids that I’m talking to who are going to school and they are asking me, “What classes would you take in order to learn how to run a business?” And then there’s you, who’s running a 20 million dollar plus business, you didn’t have any of that. So, where did you get the resources to sort of know how to do that?
Stembel: I’m a big believer in the thought that education is very important, but how you get that education can be a myriad of different ways. So, while I didn’t go to college I do consider myself very educated. There’s really no excuse to not be educated, I mean everything is at your finger tips, and for free. You know I [crosstalk 00:08:52]-
Kara Goldin: Yeah, you can do online education.
Kara Goldin: And you can … Yeah, totally.
Stembel: I hadn’t been to classes on how to do … I self taught on Excel, you know? Now one of my favorite things to do is do buisness models. But you can do that for $29.99 on Belinda and not … I started Farmgirl for far less than what an education would’ve cost me.
Kara Goldin: That’s amazing.
Stembel: You know, $50,000. So I actually think that … I would love it if we looked at other alternate ways of educating people as well, into more opportunities that are skilled, where it’s on the job training. So I think I just, I’m a very entrepreious person and I think that if there’s something I need to know I can go learn it. There are a few things like brain surgery, I wouldn’t want somebody operating on me without a lot of formalized education, but for most things, especially for starting a buisness you can learn it yourself online. You don’t even have to go to the library anymore.
Kara Goldin: So do you have a physical store? Or?
Stembel: No. We have a warehouse. We have a 15,000 square foot warehouse in [inaudible 00:09:48] here.
Kara Goldin: Have people asked you to open a store?
Stembel: Yeah, lots. Yeah.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, I’m sure.
Stembel: It doesn’t fit our model. The reason that we work is because we aren’t doing it the traditional way. And I know that there’s experiential retail 2.0 that’s going on, and I think that that’s great for some industries. It doesn’t work for flowers, I mean at the $16,000 flower shops nationwide, they’re going out of a buisness in a very rapid pace because it does not work. The overhead’s too expensive, you have a perishable product that has about a three day lifespan, so it’s less than food. Now, if I knew then what I know now, I never would’ve started a perishable product company in the flower space. It’s working and I’m very grateful for that, but it is the absolute hardest thing that you can do in my opinion.
Stembel: So having a storefront with a three day turn-around perishability … Everybody wants us to do pop-up shops now. I’m like, “It’s not a sweater that I can go re-sell if it doesn’t sell at that pop-up shop. I have to throw it away.”
Kara Goldin: Yeah. No, totally.
Stembel: And you can’t do that.
Kara Goldin: So is there anyway to flash freeze them or anything like that to get more of a shelf life? I have no idea.
Stembel: Yeah, there’s some new … We just launched our first preserved flower line, so it’s a new techniques to get longer … they’re 12 month lifespan.
Kara Goldin: Oh, wow.
Stembel: Yeah, so there’s things that you can do.
Kara Goldin: I need to get some of those ’cause I’m not good with-
Stembel: [inaudible 00:11:05]
Kara Goldin: Yeah. That would-
Stembel: It helps, and then you have 12 months. I mean they are real flowers but they look like a mix between real and fake flowers because of the chemical process that they put them through. So, you know, there’s nothing like fresh flowers still in my opinion; however, there are some other alternatives that work as well for your home.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. So do you think you would ever raise money or are you just not really interested?
Stembel: Oh I’ve tried. I pitched over 90 companies.
Kara Goldin: Oh, wow! Okay.
Stembel: Yeah, yeah.
Kara Goldin: Okay.
Stembel: It’s not for lack of trying. We don’t pattern much and I get it. I get why we’re not a great investment for a lot of people in some respects. We have very high perishability, low margins, it’s a very low margin business. I mean we can get to a billion dollars in revenue. We will never have software margins, we will never have sweater in margins that you make in China and sell here. We will never have those margins and for consumer goods right now? You need to have big margins, you need to make it elsewhere and then sell it here for way higher mark ups than what I can do. Especially because what we do is we’re making a designed bouquet in house, thousands of times each day, with people. You know?
Kara Goldin: Yeah.
Stembel: And so, it’s really hard what we do. And so, I get why we’re not super attractive, I’ve hoped that there would be people that might have a different, maybe a slower trajectory, not as quick of a turn-around, but we’re still talking to a few companies. It may happen, it may not. The great thing is we’re not reliant on it to stay in business.
Kara Goldin: No, you’re built … Right
Stembel: People ask me all the time if we’re profitable. I’m like, “Duh!” Like we have to be profitable, I wouldn’t be around. It don’t matter [crosstalk 00:12:39]-
Kara Goldin: What would you use the money for? What are the key things that you … If you had a raise done, what would you use that you-
Stembel: Yeah. A team. So the number one reason why we haven’t been able to raise besides our margins being smaller, is that I don’t have a team that looks like Silicon Valley. So I don’t have a C-Suite, I have an amazing team. I’d argue that I have the best team in the entire pay area. I have a team that cares more than any team I’ve ever worked with, and they’re amazing. But they look like a manufacturing facility team. They’re a great operations team, but they do not look like Silicon Valley with a C-Suite. And so, that looks different, it doesn’t garner trust among …
Stembel: We don’t have a highly educated, with all this experience at all these places. These tech companies that make VC’s look at it as, “Oh. This is the people that we trust with our money.” So, a team would be one that would be nice to have some help. I do everything at about 20% which is a failing grade in any curve, right? So from finance to marketing, to all of the areas that I do, and so, that would be a big part.
Stembel: Also, we just need to open up distribution centers, and right now it’s too risky for me to put that much capital into something like that. And so, anywhere-
Kara Goldin: To go … ?
Stembel: To segment our shipping-
Kara Goldin: Bigger, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Stembel: We need to get closer to the end consumer. We’re shipping everything from San Francisco and we subsidize shipping to the two and a half millions of dollars. We subsidized almost four million dollars in shipping in the last three years. So it’s just that would be another thing, that open distribution centers would be closer to end consumer. Technology. So for an E-Commerce company we are the only company I know that doesn’t have a single person on a tech, onsite, in house, at all. And not even a project manager, so I do that as well.
Stembel: And so it would be the people for that, and also better technology to support what we do. We have subscriptions but there’s no discount ’cause our technology doesn’t support it right now, so there’s no reason to get people to buy more than once, which would help our LTB. You know, it’s all-
Kara Goldin: All of these … Yeah.
Stembel: -a ripple effect for that. And then marketing. So 2017, I don’t have the 2018 numbers finalized yet, but we spent $2.84 per $70 average order value, or $90. Sorry, $90 average order value on marketing, and one of our big competitors spent $20 per $70 AOV. So we’re spending far less than all of our competitors.
Kara Goldin: That’s amazing.
Stembel: We spend about 45% on marketing, and to have growth numbers that are about 60% year over year [crosstalk 00:14:59]-
Kara Goldin: You hit a point though when your company gets big enough though, that I think you start to attract … You get some credibility. It sounds like you’ve talked to a bunch of people and haven’t raised money, but I think you’ve hit this point where you start to get this credibility like, “She’s still there.” Right?
Kara Goldin: Why can’t you just continuing to grow without you?
Stembel: Totally, yeah.
Kara Goldin: We certainly went through that over the years. So, don’t give up on it yet. I think it will end up happening-
Stembel: If it happens, it happens. Yeah.
Kara Goldin: -and you just have to keep talking but it’s great the way that you’re running the buisness ’cause I think you could get a big enough, and you could have lots of names and helping people to really understand who this customer is that cares about this stuff. But anyway, I think that’s super interesting.
Kara Goldin: So, you talked about you’re doing a lot of different things. I always say this to entrepreneurs, even the size our company is today, we’re definitely at a point where we have lots of different people, we have 140 people in the company now, and basically it’s like … I mean I know enough about lots of different areas to get me into trouble, and it sounds like that’s kinda where you’ve been as well, which is great, as you start to add people to sort of run these things, just to understand what each of these people you’re hiring are doing. Whether it’s SCO, or whether it’s content, or whatever it is along the way.
Kara Goldin: So how do you stay motivated through the long days? And you know, I think there’s also a saying, “It’s lonely at the top.” Right? Where you’re sort of trying to, I don’t know. Like, how do you do that? What do you do to get your brain to keep going, and wake up the next day and start again?
Stembel: That’s a good question. I’m not gonna lie, there are times where I’m like, “What the heck am I doing?” How many years can I work 20 hours a day, every day, seven days a week, without burning out? So there’s a couple times a year that I get to that point and I just need to take a break, and not burn out, and just sleep-
Kara Goldin: It’s totally true.
Stembel: -for a day straight, you know?
Kara Goldin: Yeah. Yeah.
Stembel: And there’s that. I am a very self-motivated person, kind of like Will Smith, his famous quote about how we will not be outworked, like he’ll die on the treadmill. There may be people that are smarter, and more talented, and more funded. There are so many people that are more funded. Even in our space, that have started after us, and look strikingly similar to us, which can be really, really infuriating and scary. But, the one thing I come back to is, even though I might not be the smartest, and the most funded, and whatever, I will not be outworked. I just won’t.
Stembel: And I get some flack for that ’cause I’ve said that before and especially women will say like, “I don’t think you should be promoting people working 20 hours a day”, and I disagree with that. I think I’m motivated myself, because I know that if hard work can do it, I will do it. You know?
Kara Goldin: Yeah, that’s awesome.
Stembel: So that’s how I stay motivated. Just-
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. So-
Stembel: -it’s in me.
Kara Goldin: So one thing that EY and that program, that I think I heard for the first time actually, in the Winning Women program was, “Work outside the business.” At least that was a saying I picked up. You get so caught, right? Especially in the early days of founding the company, you’re just constantly-
Stembel: In the business.
Kara Goldin: You’re in it right?
Stembel: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kara Goldin: And I’ve found that it’s always this balance, “How much of the time should you be out of the business?” I have entrepreneurs who say, “How do you meet these people?” I was talking to an entrepreneur that I’m kind of mentoring the other day, and she was saying the same thing. She’s in the hotel industry, she’s trying to launch something and she said she’s got very high level contacts but it’s actually the people that are actually doing what she needs done. Like within these hotels, she just finds they’re not responsive, like, “How do you do that?” And I’m like, “Look that happen in every single … That is the typical story of a founder.”
Kara Goldin: For me, it’s like, I can have high level contacts at Whole Foods, but then I still gotta deal with the guy that’s stocking the shelves at Whole Foods, right? And figure out how do I get him to do stuff that he doesn’t necessarily want to do but you have to figure out ways to get them motivated in order to do it. Whether it’s show them that the buisness model makes sense, or whatever along the way.
Kara Goldin: So can you think of any example of a time when you felt like you really had to make that happen. I mean you’ve got a lot of people like you said, who are not necessarily your typical C-Suite in Silicon Valley workers. What do you think they think of, when you’re in there sort of working with them to do things? Does that make sense?
Stembel: Yeah. Yeah. I have one of my team members here. I should actually ask them what they think, ’cause I’m actually in the buisness a lot, and I think that … I hear that a lot too about the, “You need to work on it and not in the business” and through [inaudible 00:20:16] too. And my mentor there, and the person that was for my program, was saying that a lot to me. And I understand that, and also I think that that’s a luxury that some people just don’t have.
Stembel: So if you are bootstrapped and you don’t have a lot of money? You can’t hire people, and so you have to be in the business because there’s literally no one else to make the bouquets, until you’re four and a half … I’m still making bouquets, I have a quota every single day on the floor. You know?
Kara Goldin: Yeah.
Stembel: Maybe five years in. Next week for Valentine’s day I will be on the floor with a quota, and every holiday, every manager is.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome.
Stembel: Yeah, like everybody is boxing or making bouquets. And [Kat 00:20:53] is with me here, our PR manager, will … I think she’s on plants next week. So every one person-
Kara Goldin: So everyone’s doing it.
Stembel: Yeah. Everyone’s doing it and I think that that shows the entire team that no one’s above anything. I’m usually on the floor. We have a hundred temps next week that will be there, they will have no idea that I’m the CEO and founder of the company. They’ll just be right next to me boxing. Or I’m in single stems, I’ll be making a lot of bouquets, single stem bouquets and things.
Stembel: And I think that’s really important for the entire team to see that you’re there with them. You’re not asking them to do something and … To your point on, I know enough to get myself in trouble, I also know how fast things should be ’cause I’ve done it. That’s really helpful in the buisness as well. I think that there are times though, to your point on how you have to work on the business, that I start to feel out of control when I haven’t had any time to work on the buisness because I’ve been too into the business.
Stembel: And I know that that probably rubs off on my time, when I feel really stressed out. Energy is very transferrable, and it stresses out your team when they see you’re stressed out. I think one of those times actually was the beginning of this year. Money is always super right after Christmas and the New Year, and money was really tight, and whenever money is tight is when I’m stressed out the most. And I also, usually in the beginning of January I go and do a work-cation. A one week long, get my financial model revised for the year, work on what my objectives are going to be for that year, what we’re going to work on as a team, get all of my thoughts collected. And I didn’t get a chance to do that this year.
Stembel: And that was really stressful for me because I feel like I’m constantly catching up, and so I know I need to prioritize that after Valentine’s Day to get some time to do that. So I think that it’s doing the rights things when you know … Like, I can feel it from my heart rate when I’m not working on the buisness and I’m working in the business, because it means that we’re not going to hit our gross numbers this year, that I need to hit. We’re not going to hit that 60% this year, unless I can work on the business.
Stembel: So, and that I do work-cation. So the best years that we’ve had are when I’ve been able to go away for at least twice during the year, for one week at a time. And I get more done in those weeks then I get done in probably a quarter-
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome.
Stembel: -when I’m at the operation, and so I think that’s worked for me. I have a group from EY actually that I’m going on a very small three day work-cation with at the end of February, which I think will be really great for us to do for our businesses.
Kara Goldin: Oh, that’s awesome.
Stembel: And we did it last year as well and it was really helpful. So I think it’s that, it’s you do what you can. It would’ve been more ideal if I had done that earlier in January, but then again I didn’t have the time because I needed to be in the operations, so.
Kara Goldin: So you are working outside of the buisness though, too. I mean that’s definitely like … meeting these people from EY … That’s super awesome.
Kara Goldin: So sourced in the U.S. We’re-
Stembel: Not all, anymore.
Kara Goldin: No.
Stembel: We were. Yeah.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, you guys were all sourced … So what’s the difference between flowers outside of the U.S. versus flowers … What do you think is the key?
Stembel: To be really transparent here, it’s not a popular answer, it is been life changing for us. We would probably not be in buisness, I would’ve closed down the buisness if we couldn’t source from outside of the U.S. Not only because cannabis, which the industry is trying to keep that really hush-hush, but cannabis is completely changing the landscape of floral agriculture in the United States.
Kara Goldin: Interesting.
Stembel: Yeah, so you can make so much more money growing cannabis, or just leasing out your frame houses for Cannabis production-
Kara Goldin: Wow.
Stembel: -then you’ve ever could. To the tune of like a $1.50 a square foot versus 5 to 10 cents a square foot.
Kara Goldin: Wow.
Stembel: I mean it’s huge. The difference is huge, and I can’t say anything bad about it. They can make money doing that? Make money doing that. That’s their business. But even before that, most of the U.S. growers that we work with, there’s some amazing ones, and then there’s a lot that just aren’t amazing. In 2016, we received 26% of our confirmed orders. You can’t run a buisness in 26% of your confirmed orders-
Kara Goldin: No, no.
Stembel: -showing up. And it has a ripple effect that dramatically affects our buisness negatively, where we then have to buy from wholesalers, our entire inventory, worked out at 30% a higher price. And then we have to change the recipes, so then every line we have a different recipe, which isn’t good for operational labor costs, and there’s just ripple effects that you don’t even think about when you’re just … ordered 7,000 stems of something that they send you 70. You know?
Kara Goldin: Yeah.
Stembel: So it wasn’t sustainable for us to do that. And the international farms that we work with are run much more like businesses. It’s not a second or third generation farm that’s been- –
Kara Goldin: Right. They’re-
Stembel: -passed down. They need it to eat. And the people in the United States, most of the farmers are second or third generation, they don’t need it to eat. You know?
Kara Goldin: Yeah.
Stembel: Their land alone is worth so many, you know, especially in California, so much more than what [crosstalk 00:25:41].
Kara Goldin: So it’s not necessarily more difficult to deal with internationally, they’re-
Stembel: It’s so much better. We receive 98% of our confirmed orders [crosstalk 00:25:47].
Kara Goldin: That’s amazing.
Stembel: For 26% [crosstalk 00:25:49].
Kara Goldin: That’s so great.
Stembel: The other thing is, and I’m just going to full out say this [crosstalk 00:25:51] here.
Kara Goldin: And they’re beautiful.
Stembel: Thank you.
Kara Goldin: I’m staring at one right now.
Kara Goldin: It’s absolutely gorgeous.
Stembel: You can’t even get this flower, that amazing [inaudible 00:25:57] in the United States. So we wouldn’t be able to get the varieties that we get now as well.
Kara Goldin: That is so gorgeous.
Stembel: Also, the very large U.S. growers, several of them will not work with me, and it’s 100% because I’m a woman.
Kara Goldin: Interesting.
Stembel: It’s a very much good ol’ boys network, and I was fighting with them, and begging them to sell to me. And we are a very good customer, we pay our bills, we don’t ask for terms, we pay them right away, every week. We’re a great customer to work with, that’s what we’re known for from the international farms, is that we’re the customer that pays their bills. You know?
Kara Goldin: Yeah.
Stembel: So, it was infuriating and finally I had to come to a poin where I was like, “Why am I fighting so hard for an industry that doesn’t even want to sell to me?” That’s crazy. I’m basically the definition on insanity right now. So let’s not be insane, let’s move on.
Kara Goldin: Well, I mean it’s an interesting thing. You can sit there and you can talk about they’re not selling to you ’cause you’re a woman, but it’s also, I don’t know, I also think it could be because you’re small and there’s these large companies where they have like-
Stembel: I though that too.
Kara Goldin: You know?
Stembel: It’s not that though. I just need it really clear, because those start-ups, the tech guys that started after us? And not naming names, because legally I’ll get in trouble, they were all selling to them, 100%. They were much smaller than us.
Kara Goldin: Oh, okay. Interesting.
Stembel: The only difference is that they’re male owned and they had funding. That’s the only difference, but they were much smaller than us revenue-wise, buying was. And they were selling to them, I have the emails to prove it, that they were selling.
Kara Goldin: Crazy.
Stembel: So when they were telling me that they just don’t sell to small retail businesses like us, they only sell to the big wholesalers, I went and got my wholesale license. So I went, “Okay, now I’m a wholesaler and I buy twice as much as this wholesaler does-“
Kara Goldin: That’s crazy.
Stembel: [crosstalk 00:27:29] “-mark that you sell to.” So I was going around every hurdle and like, “Oh. You only sell wholesale, I’ll get a wholesale license.” “Oh, you don’t sell to the small ones? Okay, I’ll guarantee that I’m going to buy a million dollars from you this year.” You know?
Kara Goldin: Yeah.
Stembel: That type of thing. And then when I found out that they were selling to the newer male owned start-ups, flower start-ups, that were smaller-
Kara Goldin: That-
Stembel: -revenue than us. [crosstalk 00:27:48]
Kara Goldin: But had funding from somebody.
Stembel: Only two differences is funding and their gender, and that’s it. So.
Kara Goldin: Well it’s interesting. Who does that funding have connections with, too. And I think-
Kara Goldin: -it’s like … But I think it’s an interesting thing because I don’t know what the number is in your business, or in your category, but I’m a big believer that at some point, if you keep growing, or when you keep growing that people will … Whether it’s finance people, or suppliers, or whatever, they’re going to turn around and they’re going to be like, “Wait. She’s still there.” Like, “She’s still there. She’s continuing to grow.” You’ll start hearing, “And she hasn’t even raised any money.” Like, versus-
Stembel: I hear that now. [crosstalk 00:28:34]
Kara Goldin: Yeah, I’m sure … And I think it’s-
Stembel: I thought when we hit 10 million that would be the case, and it was, and we had a whole ‘nother discussion with a lot of people. And then we hit 20, same thing. And then by the end we’ll be at 100 in a couple of years, and then we’ll hit 200, and we’ll still be here. We’ll definitely still be here.
Kara Goldin: Have you ever run into a woman, Elaine [Rueben 00:28:53]?
Stembel: Mm-mm (negative).
Kara Goldin: Along the way. She used to be at 1-800 Flowers. You guys should definitely meet. So she’s amazing, she’s a very good friend of mine, but also has just a mentor on a lot of fronts. So she does a lot of E-Commerce, she works with a lot of private equity guys now. But she also is just this E-Commerce guru, she actually was the founder of Shop.org.
Stembel: Good. Great. Yeah.
Kara Goldin: Do you know Shop.org?
Stembel: No. I don’t.
Kara Goldin: Anyways, so I was part of the founding group, there were 10 of us that sort of co-founded it with her, but it was really her idea to start Shop.org. So she ended up selling off the National Retail Federation, and she makes guest appearances back there every once in a while, just ’cause she’s so awesome. But anyway, she could be really interesting for you guys.
Stembel: Yeah, I’d love to meet her.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, she’s amazing and I think she does some seed investing but also … Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. So, anyway.
Kara Goldin: So, I think I know this but I want to hear from you, what makes you unstoppable? I mean I think the tenacity definitely, I’m hearing this, and scrappiness, and willing to just … You’re gonna get this done.
Stembel: Yeah, totally that.
Kara Goldin: But I’d love to hear … for our listeners who are thinking about starting a business, what can they learn from you?
Stembel: I think it’s resilience really. I mean last year was probably the most challenging year, not probably, it definitely was the most challenging year for Farmgirl Flowers and for me. And it was get through one major issue, unforeseen issue, and then before I’m even done with one, there’d be another big, bigger one that seemed even more insurmountable. And I’d just be like, “How many more of these can I take?” You know?
Kara Goldin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Stembel: Like, “How many more can we keep bouncing back from?” But I think that’s the key, it’s just when you get pushed down, just getting back up. Like, just get back up. And so I think, the thing that makes me unstoppable is that I just get back up. It’s nothing like-
Kara Goldin: Yeah, that’s awesome.
Stembel: There’s no glow, halo around my head, or superpowers, it’s just getting back up, so.
Kara Goldin: Which I love. It’s great. Well, this has been so much fun Christina, thank you so much for coming by and where can people find Farmgirl Flowers?
Kara Goldin: Sorry.
Stembel: Online at www.farmgirlflowers.com, we ship anywhere in the continental United States, next day air. So just check us out there, and Valentine’s Day is next week.
Kara Goldin: Yeah! Super, super exciting, And Mother’s Days is around the corner.
Stembel: Yes, yes.
Kara Goldin: And Easter, and lots of other-
Stembel: So many things.
Kara Goldin: -events coming up.
Kara Goldin: Very, very exciting. So.
Kara Goldin: Well, thank you so much, this has been a lot of fun.
Stembel: Thanks for having me Kara.
Kara Goldin: Thanks.
Stembel: It’s been a blast-