"It was a now or never moment"

with Whitney Bromberg-Hawkings, Founder of FLOWERBX

Show notes:

After nearly 20 years as Tom Ford’s right hand woman, Whitney Bromberg-Hawkings went on maternity leave with her third child, and knew she was never going back.

Mat leave was a now or never moment, Whitney knew that the nascent FLOWERBX, set up 7 months before, was a good idea, but she needed to commit. And she never looked back.

There is some real honesty from Whitney in this conversation, what it was like being a young mother working in the fashion industry, ‘hide the baby, lose the weight’, and how difficult it has been creating a business since 2016 amongst Brexit, Covid, inflation and the cost of living crisis.

We spoke about how scary it can be leaving behind a career that has been a defining part of your identity, whether that’s to become a mum or to found your own business.

There’s also a lot of practical tips in there – Tom Ford’s #1 piece of advice, how to create the right team at home and in business, what Whitney wished she had learnt sooner and the 3 things that she wants every female founder to know.

Links

Website
Instagram
LinkedIn

About Whitney Bromberg-Hawkings

Back in 2016, Dallas born Whitney Bromberg-Hawkings quit her job as head of global communications for Tom Ford where she had been for 19 years and started the online floristry company FLOWERBX.

Whitney, was in search of luxury, single-variety flowers at an accessible price point, but could not find a florist or supplier that made her experience simple, reliable, and premium.

And she was not alone, with like-minded flower lovers from London to Manhattan encountering the same inconvenience.

Whitney recognised a niche in the market to deliver best-in-show florals to the front doorsteps of customers across the globe. With that, FLOWERBX was born, and their mantra has remained the same ever since.

Whitney Bromberg-Hawkings’s Links

Website
LinkedIn
Instagram

Transcript:

Intro

Hello. I’m Caroline Marshall, and welcome to Bump to Business Owner the podcast speaking to mums in business. You. I’ll be in conversation with some of the most inspiring women and mothers in enterprise about their journey, how they created their successful businesses alongside raising their children and what that looks like in work and family life.

Caroline (00:29):
Hello and welcome to today’s episode of Bump to Business Owner. It is my pleasure to welcome Whitney Bromberg-Hawkings. Back in 2016, Dallas born Whitney Bromberg-Hawkings quit her job as head of global communications for Tom Ford where she had been for 19 years and started the online floristry company FLOWERBX. Whitney was in search of luxury single variety flowers at an accessible price point, but could not find a florist or supplier that made her experience simple, reliable, and premium. And she was not alone with like-minded flower lovers from London to Manhattan encountering the same inconvenience. Whitney recognised the niche in the market to deliver best in show florals to the front doorstep of customers across the globe. With that FLOWERBX was born and their mantra has remained the same ever since. Not only is Whitney an inspirational founder of a fast growth luxury brand, she’s also a mother of three children and I for one, can’t wait to hear more into her story. So welcome. Thank you so much, Whitney.

Whitney (01:28):
It is so nice to be here and you just really nailed that introduction and sort of got every single thing I’ve been trying to do with FLOWERBX just sort of wrapped up in a few neat paragraphs, so thank you.

Caroline (01:38):
Thank you. I really try really hard, sometimes it’s so awkward for us to kind of showcase what we do, so I’m like, this is the whole point of the podcast. Let’s show off how Whitney got here and what you are trying to achieve with everything you do. And with that, I love hearing about women who come on here who are out there making a change, which you certainly are. What was your career path? It sounds like you were at Tom Ford for a very long time and built a fantastic career there. So tell us a bit about that.

Whitney (02:07):
I really thought I was with Tom for life. I mean it was such a great place to be and I was still learning and I was still growing, but Tom always said from when I was in my twenties working for him, he’s like, it’s really important to have a 10 year plan. You always have to have a 10 year plan. And in my twenties, my 10 year plan was so clear. It was like work, work, work, work, work. Some love on the side, but really focusing on my career. Then my thirties, I found the love of my life luckily, and then I wanted a family, so it was like my thirties was juggling my career and starting a young family, which is obviously very difficult and the career can’t be at the forefront I feel like in that time. And then I was nearing my 40th birthday, I was pregnant with my third child and I was like, god, are my next 10 years really going to be seeing editors that were getting younger and younger at fashion shows and that were sort of thankless and some of them were wonderful, but that were getting younger and younger and they weren’t even editors at this point.

(03:05):
They were bloggers. And then I was getting Tom a diet Coke every five minutes and I was like, is this really what my, am I going to be turning 50 and doing this? And the answer was no. And on the side I had the idea of FLOWERBX and it was one of those now or never moments. I feel like when you’re pregnant you can also make those decisions.

Caroline (03:24):
That’s so true.

Whitney (03:25):
You know what, this is it. I’m just going to jump off the cliff. So I did it and I’ve never looked back.

Caroline (03:32):
I love that. And something I’m dying to ask, I’ve actually had a couple of people on this podcast from the fashion world, and what was it like taking maternity leave, if you are happy to talk about it because it sounds like, so you’ve built your career up to a point. Did you continue trying to grow the career as well as the babies or like you said, you were just figuring out that juggle during your thirties just sadly heard. That’s the case a lot with people in fashion or women in fashion. They feel they get to that ceiling once they decide they become a mother.

Whitney (04:04):
And I had no examples of women that worked in fashion that were openly moms, too young moms. It was very much like hide the baby, lose the weight, come back, be perfect. Not that that came from Tom at all. It just was what I knew I had to do in order to keep my career and I didn’t want to compromise my career. I was also really determined to be like, look, I’m exactly the same. I’m just a mom now, which is also so silly In hindsight, I hard relate because you’re completely different and completely transformed. You’re better and you’re actually capable of more as a mom with a career. And if you need something done, give it to a busy person. I firmly believe that. So I’ve spent my baby’s childhood, which I really regret when their infancy just trying to hide it. It was like pumping milk in bathrooms and closets not being with them as much as I like to. I went back after four or five weeks, all of my children never had a maternity cover. It was like no one could really cover the role that I played. So was I regret it. I feel like now people are more, especially in fashion, are more sort of forthcoming with their children, with their pregnancies. It’s more vogue shows moms has a big section on moms and babies and fashionable moms and there are a lot of influencers and bloggers and editors that show off having babies, but when I had babies it really wasn’t like that.

Caroline (05:29):
Yeah, thank you so much for sharing that reality. I think a lot of people will relate to that, whether it’s now or 10 years ago whenever they had them. I think it’s clear to say, yeah, that didn’t come from Tom, but it was just felt like that’s what you had to do. And it’s hard to describe because I felt similar with my first, I just felt if I wanted to be a career woman, that’s what you have to do and that’s how it goes. And now we’ve got the wisdom a bit more of settling into it. Oh, I’m actually better. This is great. It’s a superpower, but it is that feeling like you had to hide it. And that must’ve been a huge part of you thinking with your third that I can’t do this again.

Whitney (06:06):
It was, I remember packing, I was going, it was Friday night, I was having my baby on Monday morning. I had a planned caesarean. So it was literally, I worked until Friday night in heels in stilettos, went and said goodbye. Tom knew I was leaving, and I knew at that moment I was like, I’m not going back because I had to do it. It was that until I sort of packed up my desk drawer and I was like, I said goodbye. And the anticipation was that I would be coming back in six weeks or whatever, but I just knew in my mind that I wasn’t.

Caroline (06:38):
Did he know?

Whitney (06:40):
No, he had no idea. And I remember I sent him a note, I had a three or four week old baby and I sent him a note and said, may I please have a meeting with you? And I had never, this is also how undemanding we were, never in 19 years asked him for a meeting, ask for a minute, ask for, can I have a word? Never. I was that undemanding. So he just wrote back in huge letters on my computer, said, OH, so he did know. But it’s also so funny because now employees always like, can I have a word? Can I have five minutes? Can we have a catch up? But I never did. I was just so low maintenance.

Caroline (07:17):
Do you think that was because just you’d been doing it for so long and that was, did you start your career by the way, at Tom Ford in America or in the uk?

Whitney (07:26):
It was my first job with his PA in Paris.

Caroline (07:29):
And I think was that just that culture and so you’d not experienced the fact of, there’s a lot more of, can I have a minute? Can I have a bit of your time?

Whitney (07:36):
Oh my gosh, everyone wants a minute all the time.

Caroline (07:41):
We need to quote that. That’s a business owner.
Whitney (07:44):
I mean the dreaded, can I have a minute? Because it’s never can I have a minute to tell you how happy I am and how great this is and how everything’s wonderful.

Caroline (07:53):
Oh, we should start that trend that founders get that occasionally…

Whitney (07:57):
Can I have a minute to just say how much I love the working environment, how much I love working here, how wonderful my job is. It’s never that, unfortunately.

Caroline (08:07):
Oh, that’s reality’s right there. So it’s 2016, you’re like, I’m not coming back. So you’d already had the idea for FLOWERBX at this point,

Whitney (08:16):
And I actually had started it as a side hustle seven months before thought. Naively, I mean so naively I was going to keep my fancy job, keep my amazing position, sort of have my cake and eat it too, and then run FLOWERBX on the side and sort of hire someone to manage it. That was completely ridiculous first of all. Second of all, I realised quite immediately it did have traction. I knew the idea was right. I knew it was resonating with the right people. I’d see people ordering on the backend and I thought, and then Natalie Massenet, the founder of Net-a-Porter, who was a friend and a neighbour at that point, she was ordering quite regularly and she came to me and said, look, if you’re ready to, this is never going to be anything if you don’t go all the way with it. And I knew she was right. It wasn’t like she was telling me something I didn’t know, but I knew if I didn’t give it a hundred percent, it would sort of be a slow burn and never really take off. So that’s when I made the decision to leave.

Caroline (09:13):
And do you think the fact you had a third child help with that? I think it must be a huge shock to go from that position you have at Tom Ford with all the luxuries that come with corporate and everything there and the name you’ve built to then be starting again and how do I pay myself sort of zone that founders go into?

Whitney (09:32):
Oh, it was terrifying because also so much of my adult identity, as I said, I graduated from college in New York, moved to Paris and started working for Tom as his PA worked for him for my entire adulthood. So it was like, here’s Whitney, she works with Tom Ford. Oh, Whitney’s, Tom Ford’s right hand. Oh, Whitney Tom Ford. I was never Whitney as a human being, so I had so much of my identity was wrapped up in this amazing adjacency that I didn’t know sort of how people would respond to me or what my identity would be without at Tom Ford also, I met my husband at Gucci. He is now the creative director of Tom Ford. So much of our romantic life, our romance, our marriage, our kids. It was so much tied up with our work. So I was also really was like, what is this is the one thing that makes it all fall apart. But fortunately it hasn’t.

Caroline (10:22):
No, it hasn’t. Absolutely. That’s so interesting to talk about because as a former PA, myself and a virtual assistant agency owner, is that I think PAs and mothers can all relate to the fact of your identity getting entwined with who you are supporting. You supporting Tom. Did you think that gave you insight into being a founder? You work so closely with the leader of a business?

Whitney (10:46):
Oh, a thousand percent. So I left Gucci with Tom when he left in 2005, and he’s like, please, will you come? So I was employee number one at Tom Ford as his head of comms, and I watched him literally build the brand from the ground up. I mean, we were walking down the Kings Road buying waste paper bins. We literally were the two of us in starting a company. So I learned everything about starting a brand, about consistency of brand, about the importance of editing, of saying no to being just really focused on a singular vision and not straying from that. So I think I learned invaluable lessons from watching Tom do it.

Caroline (11:25):
Love that. And what has caught you by surprise that you thought you would know? So you got all this great knowledge from being employee number one and working so closely with him. What is like, I didn’t know Tom had to deal with this.?

Whitney (11:38):
Well, Tom had me. Yeah.

Caroline (11:40):
Yeah.

Whitney (11:42):
I did a lot of shielding and protecting. No, I mean, what has not caught me by surprise is a better question. Every single day is a whopper of a surprise, and it has, it’s endless. And I think looking at the macro situation, things that have been thrown at founders over the past four or five years from starting with Brexit, we import our flowers from Holland every single day, every single morning. So that was the first monkey wrench in our entire business model, which we found way around that. Then there was Covid, which completely changed our business. Half of our business had been events, restaurants, hotels, events that just went off a cliff, mercifully, our B2C and direct to consumer business went parabolic. So it was fine, but in hindsight I know that, but at the time I didn’t know that. I just saw half of our business disappear overnight. Then look at cost of living crisis. That’s unheard of. Look at inflation, which hasn’t been this high for decades. So there are a lot of things working against us back to what are the surprises? Literally

Caroline (12:47):
Constant.

Whitney (12:48):
I mean, every single thing that could possibly happen has, I mean, I say that there have been two wars very close that have broken out. So all of this is it makes the existing challenges of running a business even more impossible.

Caroline (13:03):
Yeah, that’s at an excellent point. The time we’re going through it. I start recording this at 2024. We’ve been through an insane few years, and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s the power of hindsight. I think a lot of us with Covid, were kind of brushing it off of like, oh, but that actually turned out okay, but you didn’t know. You lost half your business overnight. And also from a perspective, you’ve got a warehouse and things. How did you manage that? That must have been huge.

Whitney (13:29):
Well, and we had managing warehouse safety of the warehouse, how we handled flowers, how we hand it off to drivers. It was at that point where they could close you down too overnight and you don’t want to. I tried to protect as many employees as I could. Obviously we sat on big events teams in the US and the UK and in France that we couldn’t justify having events teams for a year and a half, two years when there were no events. So it was an attempt to repurpose the people that wanted to stay on and wanted to do different jobs within the business. There was plenty to do. So it was navigating that whole, navigating the people was extremely difficult and trying to predict when and how long and what normal was going to look like. But even so many businesses right now sort of raised a bunch of money, us included, based on covid trajectories, which were amazing.

(14:24):
Everyone was stuck at home. Of course, everyone was buying flowers. We were not seeing relatives, not seeing friends, not seeing mothers. Of course they were sending, and then there was that whole, everyone from Goldman Sachs to Morgan Stanley predicted that’s the end of the shops, end of retail. Everyone’s going e-comm forever and ever and ever, and that’s just not true. And people are back in the shops and people mercifully, we have a beautiful product. We have a really robust B2B business, but if we were just a B2C business that had based our entire business model on Covid trends, no way. It just was impossible to predict the future. It was literally building business on quicksand.

Caroline (15:08):
You are seeing that with B2C, like say, subscription boxes and things that didn’t last. They had huge amounts. And so did you manage to build back that B2B and go from strength after covid?

Whitney (15:21):
Luckily, that’s the part of the business that’s growing the most right now, and so many naysayers throughout were like, oh, that’s not really a scalable business. Now it’s a very scalable, very consistent revenue. So it’s not as seasonal as B2C, for example. There’s Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, and then in the summer people aren’t, there’s sort of a seasonal slump, and that just is the way it is with flowers. Luckily because we’ve built this sort of robust, it is basically hotels and restaurants, it’s basically a subscription service for B2B that’s really helped us mitigate the seasonality and to build a sort of more sound business plan.

Caroline (15:59):
Yeah, and I love what you pointed on there during Covid though, was like you had these events teams and so you worked to put them in different roles. You didn’t just furlough them or say, we don’t have that role anymore. And that’s always a pleasure to hear that when leaders have been like, we had to find different spaces for them if we could.

Whitney (16:17):
I was very surprised though by a lot of people that were like, no, we don’t want to do that. I was like, wow, I would really do anything. I was so sort of existentially terrifying of the world. I mean, there were a few people that were like, that’s not fair. She gets to be furloughed. I’m like, I would be so happy to have a job right now with so many people that were not able to work for so long or didn’t have jobs to come back to.

Caroline (16:43):
Hard relate. I had a month where I didn’t know if I had a job. It was in person. And so I didn’t know, and there was no, I tried to get it virtual, there was no chance. And then I was like, oh, what am I going to do? So hence I started a business. So I guess that’s a certain ilk when you are like, I’ve got to work, so I’ll do it myself, kind of thing. Yeah, that’s such an interesting point. And how did you manage it at home with your family kind of thing? Because the more I talk to women on this podcast, whatever stage, whether it’s pregnancy, birth, older kids, was that covid was just a new level.

Whitney (17:14):
I found it so stressful and I felt really resentful of people that were like, oh, I had such a great covid. There was nothing great about it!

Caroline (17:24):
Thank you for sharing. Me too.

Whitney (17:25):
I had one small, I mean my daughter I think was four. She couldn’t do homeschooling, and I was literally, I was closing a fundraising round or we would be out of money and go out of business. So I was sitting there trying to fundraise at home. I had three kids at home, two almost teenagers that were trying to get them to study. My daughter who was four, who I ended up someone, which was illegal at that point, but to come and sit with her and do her homeschooling, I couldn’t do it. So I found it all really also just the sadness. I remember just being so filled with sadness that so many people that were really suffering, you turn on the news, I would just cry the news every night. And you had kids that weren’t getting school lunches, they weren’t eating or didn’t have computers so they couldn’t homeschool, and you’re just like, wow, this is really going to have really disastrous effects

Caroline (18:18):
And how they’re going to catch up when they’re coming from these backgrounds that they’re not supported in. And thank you for sharing on the flip side that you did get someone in, because I think we all had to do bits and still do now, but all have to do things to five, and we don’t have to be transparent on it, but I think it really helps if we are. So then when people aren’t in those positions, it’s kind of like I struggled, so I needed to get help, which is so powerful in sharing that. So thank you. So you were talking about fundraising in 2020, but did you fundraise initially as well when you had a new baby in 2016? And how did it look like from having your baby quitting Tom Ford and being like, I’m going all in.

Whitney (18:57):
First of all, you’re selling flowers. So already going to investors and talking about flowers, they’re like, oh, that’s so cute. You’re like, oh, it’s actually not cute. It’s actually a 30 billion industry. There’s nothing cute about it. So you’re pregnant, you’re a woman, and you’re talking about flowers, which are cute. You’re normally in a room full of men, 80%, 90% men, how they’re not running their household. So they’re not going to know the value of a service that enables someone to send thank you flowers, send birthday flowers to the niece, have order flowers because they’re having a dinner party. They’re not doing those things. So why would they see the value in a service that makes that really easy? So it is terrible. It’s terrible, and the funding environment has got to change dramatically for female founders. And we are running the households. We are doing all of the things that need a solution that makes it slicker easier, faster, more convenient for us to continue doing the things that we are important to us while also working and raising our families. So it’s terrible. It’s literally my least favourite thing in the world is raising money

Caroline (20:06):
That is hitting the nail on the head. That’s cute. She wants to sell flowers, and it’s because you’re right, none of them are buying the flowers. It’s their assistants or their wives.

Whitney (20:15):
Exactly. But I remember I listened to this podcast How I Built This with Dyson on it, and he said he was trying to get the money for the hoover, trying to get the money for the hoover. No banks would give him the money for the hoover, to develop the hoover, went to all of these funds to get money for the hoover. No one would. And then someone’s wife, someone took it home and their wife realised that here’s a hoover with no bag in it. And how, I mean this is obviously many years ago, but how amazing it was, how it was life changing, and then that’s the person that ended up funding it. It’s like the women, the ones who know great ideas, we need them.

Caroline (20:50):
And it just shows it’s so important with diversity that to have those different lived experiences that then the people that are buying this stuff really are invested in it. And I guess it’s the same then if you are building a business for young people and what they like as well and what they’re going to invest and spend their hard earned money on. And so how did you get VC investment? How did it end up? Did you end up just having someone who got it?

Whitney (21:18):
No. Well, luckily I have an amazing group of angel investors that are FLOWERBX customers. They get what we’re doing, they get me get the vision. They’re completely aligned. They’re the best investors in the world. They’re also very evangelical about FLOWERBX. They love what we do, they send it. They’re ambassadors, they’re great. Then it came to a point where we needed more money than sort of angels we’re willing to cough up, and we brought in a few funds who have been, again, just nothing but totally supportive, get it out of everyone that got it. There were 99 that did not get it. So it was not easy or smooth path at all. It’s literally going on a date 10 times a day where everyone’s just telling you everything ugly about yourself, like they’re picking apart your business plan. They’re picking apart why this doesn’t work, that doesn’t work, that’ll never work. That doesn’t make sense. Why don’t you do this? Why are you doing that? So it’s like basically you have to get the thickest skin because at the end of the day you’re like, oh, does this even makes sense? What am I doing?

Caroline (22:22):
What am I doing? What am I selling

Whitney (22:25):
Every day, every single day?

Caroline (22:28):
So yeah, like a harder version of Dragon’s Den every single day

Whitney (22:33):
And just people picking it apart, picking it apart, picking it apart where you have to really believe in what you’re doing really steadfastly or it’s just not going to work.

Caroline (22:42):
I guess that’s part of the process, isn’t it? It’s like if you get through all of that, you’ve got a business that works.

Whitney (22:47):
Exactly, but then you do get filled with self-doubt too, because you’re like, does that even make sense? Should I go more mass? Why don’t you go more mass? You need a lower price point. You need to mix flowers. Everyone has ideas and all of those might make more money immediately, but they’re not true to the vision of why I started it. So ultimately I have stayed true to the vision and the vision that I’ve stayed true to is the reason we’re still alive. If I chased everyone else who was doing everything else that was not right for FLOWERBX and it wasn’t right for our customer.

Caroline (23:22):
And I think that’s an excellent point. And you must have so needed that in 2020 when obviously you’re doing this virtually as well and you are feeling unsteady as a business, as every business was during that time.

Whitney (23:35):
Exactly. And there was also this element, which there is now too, of let’s wait and see. Let’s give it six months, give it a year. But at that point, I didn’t have six months of cash and I couldn’t pay people’s payroll, so I couldn’t give it six months. So there was an urgency to it also.

Caroline (23:51):
Oh gosh. Well done. That’s a really interesting point as well. Did you have any women who had gone through VC investment who helped support you in this process or any men? Did you get any support kind of like, is this normal?

Whitney (24:04):
I’ve got the best group and I think that’s imperative as a female founder to have the best group of women that are going through the same, similar, some are later stage, some are earlier stage, but just to be surrounded by people who are like, oh, have you thought about this? Have you tried these people? Oh, I met these people. They’re really interested in people at your stage. They’re really interested in consumer. Just having a group of women that can identify with where we are also new founders, I think it’s really helpful because giving them advice and you’re like, God, I’ve learned a lot and I think it’s hard for me to acknowledge that I’ve learned so much over the past seven years, but when I’m imparting knowledge on someone else that’s just starting, I’m like, oh, wow, I have learned a lot. And then similarly, having women who have done it exited and they’re like, here’s just sort of an examples to me. So yes, I’m extremely lucky to have a great, great group of female founder friends,

Caroline (24:59):
But you said it yourself. It’s not just about luck, about that realisation as well. While you are still growing and learning and not got to where your 10 year plan or where you want to be, yet you are opening doors for others by imparting everything you have learned on them. For the people that are earlier stage that you were at a couple of years ago, it is probably always how it worked. It’s the fact that now there’s these female founders that we can now create these groups basically, isn’t it?

Whitney (25:25):
Yes, yes. I mean it’s sort of like a buzzword right now, but bring it on. I say the buzzier it is, the better. We all need each other.

Caroline (25:34):
We do. We do. I love that. So have you got anywhere, I can imagine people being like, wow, you are done, Whitney, you’ve got it sorted. You’re the founder of this amazing brand. Would you share what’s been a mistake along the way that you think has got you here to this place of right? You’ve had a lot of trying a couple of years. Have there been any mistakes that you’re like, yeah, I just have felt wobbled and thought, I can’t do this anymore.

Whitney (25:59):
Literally almost every single day for the past year and a half and how many mistakes I’ve made, so many mistakes I’ve made. If I could do it all again, I would do it so differently. But first of all, I didn’t. Hindsight’s 2020. I think the most important thing I’ve learned now, which I maybe didn’t do four or five years ago, is just fail fast. If something’s not working, just rip off the bandaid and move on. I think we’re so apologetic and whether it’s people that aren’t working out and you’re like, let’s give it a few more months. It’s all just wasted time, wasted resource. Even closing our European operation, I probably kept that open with Brexit, all of it. It became impossible. It was burning too much cash. I probably it open a year longer than I should have. I didn’t want to fail. Whereas so what? It didn’t work, move on. And men are so much less apologetic about that. They’re like, okay, that’s it. Closing your up, fine, move on. And we feel like it’s a personal failure. So I think the one thing I’ve really learned is fail fast. It’s not working. Move on. Don’t wait three months, you will have wasted time, you’ll have wasted resource, you will have wasted money, you will have wasted energy. And that’s with people with business decisions. So just fail fast, move on.

Caroline (27:14):
It’s so true. I feel like people is the hardest piece for me when you, it’s really hard.

Whitney (27:21):
My COO who’s my right and left arm and my business partner and best guy, he and I are always like, it’s a game of whack-a-mole. You’re like, okay, now that we’re sorted and then another one pops up, whatever it is, there’s always, people are the hardest part.

Caroline (27:39):
I have a hard relate to that with a client, a people based business, you’re like, ah, done. We fixed it. Oh wait,
Whitney (27:47):
Whack-a-mole I’m telling you.

Caroline (27:48):
Like where did this come from? That’s so true. Oh, thank you so much for sharing. And I actually kind of put in this little tide with motherhood. Like I said, men are so much hate it better at failing than we are. And that’s something we’ve got to learn on our founder journeys. But I wonder if there is this piece with, and what are your thoughts on this motherhood? That’s something as well. I think we start to learn we are not going to make the right decisions and we fail a lot as a parent, and we are figuring it out as we go. And I wonder if that’s what serves us to be a bit braver, becoming founders and business owners kind of like, wow, I can manage this, therefore I can do this as well.

Whitney (28:25):
Yeah, I mean, I am so over, and my third probably help me with this, with apologising. We are just doing the best that we can and we are doing a great job. And you can be there for everything for your children, and then you smother them and they don’t become independent or you can never be there and they become, there’s just no way to do it. A hundred percent right. I think you have to do the best can. I think you have to bring them on the journey. They know what I am doing. They have now seen it also with working from home during Covid. They’re like, wow, they have seen me. They have packed flowers in delivery vans. They’ve delivered flowers on Mother’s Day throughout Covid, and we didn’t have drivers. They have done every single part of it. So it’s like bring them on the journey and then they’re not going to resent that you’re not there, that you’re at work.

(29:11):
And it also goes back to why shouldn’t they see an example of a mom who’s building a business? I want my sons to see that and realise they can fall in love with someone, woman or man who wants to build a business and respect that. And I want my daughter also to know that that’s an option for her. So yeah, I mean, not without it, of course there are days where you feel like you haven’t been the best mom or you haven’t been the best leader at work. But I just think no apologising really just doing that.

Caroline (29:42):
I think that’s so true. As someone who would sit in the waiting room, my mom was a nurse and see her do it, she didn’t have childcare. I’m like, yeah, we’ve all got to do this. And it gives you that inspiration to push for the next level for your children to do that as well. And with that in mind, I always kind of think women sometimes, I always find ’em really desperate to be like, how are you doing this? And it comes from a great place. I know there’s the term of like, oh, we’re not asking men how they’re doing it, but I always feel like when women are asking it, it’s a genuine question and they kind of want to know. And with that in mind, how do you manage that integration of your working life? So yeah, bringing your kids on, which is fantastic. Quick question, have they ever asked to be paid for the work They do?

Whitney (30:22):
Oh, I always pay them. I mean, I did at the very beginning of FLOWERBXs, we were doing flyers. We went around Eaton Square and all around Belgravia and Chelsea and did flyers. And I said, for every one, every customer that they get, they were going up and down the streets that they get five pounds from that customer. So they wrote down the streets that they did. They got five pounds for any customer that came from one of the flyers they did. And they each made 15 or 20 quid. They were made up. They were like eight.

Caroline (30:49):
They’re definitely going to have jobs in sales. They’re used to the commission.

Whitney (30:53):
Exactly. Now they’re always hustling me for like, can I get paid? Oh gosh, your question was?

Caroline (30:59):
Yeah, so how you manage the, because you can work all the time as a founder, and I think that is probably…

Whitney (31:04):
All the time. All the time. Luckily, I mean not luckily, I really do miss the time. They’re not teeny tiny where they need you physically all of the time, and you cannot sit down and do emails. Now they have homework. They can sit down and do homework on a Saturday for a couple hours, and I can do work if I need to. And it’s different when they’re teeny tiny. And that time I just think, I mean, that’s full on. But I think what it’s also important to remember is it’s also finite. My kids, I’m lucky if I get half an hour with them, of especially the older ones now. So it goes away. So I think moms, when they’re in the throes of one to four, before the kids are at school, you’re like, oh my God, how am I going to do this? But then it’s gone and you’re like, oh, I wish I had enjoyed that more because it was heaven actually that they wanted that you get to spend everything with them.

(31:58):
So I think it’s just important to remember it’s finite. And then as far as the same way building a business, it’s so important to get the team around you. That’s right. And I’m not saying team as in, I’m fortunate that I’ve had the same nanny for 15 years and some people I know can’t afford to have help at home. But the team, whether it’s a grandmom, an aunt, a best friend, childcare, just setting up that infrastructure so it actually works, having a great partner is vital. So I mean, I say that to my kids all the time, find the right partner because all of life becomes so much easier if you have a partner that shares the load. And of course there ebbs and flows, and there are periods where I’m busier and he does more, and there are periods where he’s busier and I do more, but in general, I have a partner. So I think build the team at work and build the team at home to help you get through it and to have your back when you can’t deliver for whatever reason.

Caroline (32:53):
Yeah, I think there’s so much to say that, and thank you for sharing. You have a nanny and things because actually my friend randomly sent me a post the other day where a nanny on a group she’s on was basically upset. She’d heard her boss on a podcast, not saying that she worked with them or didn’t say that’s how she managed to do it. And it’s true from someone who works with a service business where we support founders be successful, it’s meaningful for our jobs to know as well that we’ve supported other people on their journeys of success and helped with that family. So I think that’s really important to share.

Whitney (33:23):
And also pretending like you’re doing it all yourself. No one’s doing it without a great team. No one is a great parent without a great support network, and no one’s a great leader at all without an excellent team.

Caroline (33:35):
And it’s so true. And bringing your husband on board with your vision. I think that was it. With Upsource, I’ve really had to make sure my husband knows that this is where it’s going and what I’m doing, so he’s in line with that. If I’m having a busy sales moment, he gets it and I want to make these sales. That’s why it’s like this kind of thing. And I guess that’s exactly the same for you and your husband and FLOWERBX.

Whitney (33:56):
And he’s been very involved in sort of the creative vision from the beginning. So he’s as invested as, he’s not as invested as I put in more hours, but he’s as invested in what we’re building too. So that does help.

Caroline (34:07):
Amazing.
Whitney (34:08):
Amazing. The same way I’m as invested in his success too, so it goes hand in hand.

Caroline (34:13):
Absolutely. And like you said, sometimes you are going to have to do the thing for him to do what he needs to do at work, and other times it’ll be that way. And I think that’s great learning as well, and good to know at some point they do homework and sit and do it, and you can do your own work. I look forward to welcoming

Whitney (34:30):
You and then you worry about different things of course.

Caroline (34:33):
Of course. Yeah. An exchange, I’m sure, and letting them go out on their own. There’s a completely different
Whitney (34:38):
Thing. I know. I still just am not comfortable with that. I just think they shouldn’t go out until they’re 25.

Caroline (34:45):
Yeah, 25, 30. Wait until they have kids themselves.

Whitney (34:49):
Exactly.

Caroline (34:50):
Something I’d love to explore on a different note as well is sustainability. Because another real theme I see on this is women are building businesses here, not just to make money and leave a legacy, but also leave a legacy for the planet. They really believe in the circular economy doing things as sustainably as possible. And I’m interested to hear about your journey with that and how important that’s been to you with FLOWERBX and was it harder to get investment because of a commitment to it?

Whitney (35:16):
I feel so fortunate that when I started FLOWERBX, the entire business was founded on sustainability literally from the beginning. And this was in again, 2016 when it wasn’t what everyone was talking about. I wanted to have electric vans. They were twice as expensive as regular vans. Everyone’s like, that’s crazy. I wanted to have no plastic in our wrap. Obviously flowers are wet, so it’s very difficult to develop packaging that does not involve plastic. I did fully compostable flower food, compostable water pads, all of it from the beginning because I think because, and our business model is everything’s cut to order. So we literally have a zero waste business model, which is

Caroline (35:53):
Amazing,

Whitney (35:53):
Incredible with flowers because normally 60% of flowers go to waste in a flower shop. So the fact that everything, if you order flowers today, they’re cut on your behalf from our growers. They arrive tomorrow morning at four o’clock in the morning. We recondition them, repackage them, and send them out to you. So they can’t be fresher. They’re at a more, much more accessible price point, and we literally are sending nothing to a landfill, and we compost all of our greenways from events and from all of our contracts, et cetera. So it’s as clean and green as it can be. What I think is lucky is that we didn’t have to go back and change a bunch of things that it is at the core, it’s one of our cultural values. It’s at the core of what we do. It is fundamental to our entire business. So it’s been hugely important to me. And also as a mom, you’re leaving this legacy and you’re leaving the planet to our children, which if I were doing something that we’re causing extreme environmental damage, even in the name of delivering Beauty, I couldn’t do that with a clear conscience.

Caroline (36:59):
I think you’re hitting the nail on the head there. I think it’s the fact you can see your children running around and it’s like, what kind of planet, what sacrifice would I be making if I did leave this legacy behind for them and their children kind of thing. And that’s so interesting about it. And when you’re talking about the packaging there, it does bring me to a thought because that wasn’t your background at Tom Ford. That wouldn’t have been your area. Was that such a learning curve, actually understanding the process of how to get the flowers you wanted to sell to the customer?

Whitney (37:31):
Well, yeah. And again, I was a bit naive. I mean, flowers are literally dying the second you get your hands on them, they’re literally dying mean. So it’s like working in perishable goods. I had no experience working with cold chain logistics from Holland to the customer. All of it I had no experience with. I mercifully now have an amazing head of ops who handles all of the logistics and it’s become much more refined and much more efficient and much better the entire operation. But it was hit and miss in the beginning and I had no idea what I was doing, but I’m also a problem solver and it’s not rocket science and there aren’t that many flower varieties, and it’s not that hard to learn that part of it. I think the harder part of it was creating a beautiful, desirable brand, which is something I did have experience in.

Caroline (38:23):
Exactly, which is where that comes in and where you saw that gap in the market essentially was because of your experience in luxury brands. And I think that’s a really interesting point is the naivety, because I’ve had another woman on the podcast recently and she’s kind of hitting a nail head about naivety and that probably there’s an element that is essential to being a founder is you think it’s going to be easier than it ever is.

Whitney (38:50):
Totally. I think there’s a reason no one’s done it before. It’s because it’s bloody hard. I think you do have to be sort of naive to think you’re going to do something that no one’s done before. And I listen founders, the enthusiasm and the naivete, but I’d love it. I find it amazing when I listen to sort of early stage founders and they’re like, and then I’m going to do this and I’m going to do this. I’m like, yeah, you got to keep believing that because

Caroline (39:15):
Then I’ll exit after six months. Exactly. I love that. And that’s your experience coming in to kind of keep saying, keep believing, but also maybe just remember that isn’t what normally happens when the windy path you got to get. What’s your favourite part of what you’ve created so far with FLOWERBX?

Whitney (39:37):
My favourite part is my team. I’m honestly so happy to wake up in the morning and work with them. I have the really smartest, most dedicated, committed, passionate, really who care as much as I do about delivering beauty to our customers. And that drives me more than anything. And then also seeing FLOWERBX out in the wild. I was watching the Beckham documentary the other day and we deliver all their flowers and just seeing them and being like, oh my gosh, we’re in so many people’s lives in houses and making so many people’s lives more beautiful, which is such a wonderful thing to be able to do,

Caroline (40:14):
Bringing more beauty to the world. I can only imagine. That just feels really pleasurable and I love that that’s a credit to you on the team you’ve managed to build about you. And from a team building perspective, just because interested, did you have an idea what sort of roles would be key for you? Did you think some people when they find a business, they’re like, and then I’m going to bring in a CEO to run the business. How did that a snapshot of how that process looked for

Whitney (40:39):
You? Yeah, I mean I think it’s funny. I think it’s parenting. You’re like, and I’m going to do this, this, and this. And then you do nothing like it because it’s like an organic being and your family and your children are organic people that have their own plans on how things are going to look. So our head of ops, who I mentioned earlier, sorry, our COO, who I mentioned earlier, who is vital to me and everything that I do, he wasn’t even hired as our COO, he was hired as the head of ops. He was just the right person. So I don’t think it’s necessarily about the right role. I think it’s about finding the right people that work and gel together. And that’s a rare moment when everything is humming. And we’re there actually right now where you’re like, this is all working and that feels great. So it’s not even the right role. It’s the right chemistry of the people. It’s the right complimentary skills. You can have great people, but if there are a lot of people that are really great at this, really great at growth, but not a lot of people that are good at the logistics to support the growth, then the wheels fall off. So there are so many ways the wheels can fall off, and I don’t think it’s about one role or one person. It’s about a whole chemistry of the right people.

Caroline (41:46):
Amazing. Yeah. So yeah, that’s really true. And from your perspective as well, so you in person, have you brought in some sort of flexible working? How does your business run on that level as well? I’m

Whitney (41:58):
Completely flexible. I think hire great people and they’re going to work really hard. There are people that are vital to, they need to be physically present. They are handling a physical product. And obviously those people know who they are, but it’s like if I have to tell someone they need to be in the office for a certain part of their job, then they’re not the right person. And I also found that our team worked better during Covid. Everyone is, everyone’s aligned on the cause. I really believe that. So everyone is gunning for FLOWERBXs right now. So they’re working all the time.

Caroline (42:35):
Amazing. And can you share a little bit of what’s next for your vision? Is there anything coming up which you can share with us?

Whitney (42:40):
Well, I’ve gone through years of grow, grow, grow, grow, grow. And a lot of businesses that growth came at a great expense and there was capital available to raise money to grow faster. Now all of a sudden that has completely changed, done a 180. There is no more capital available. You can’t just raise money and grow. You need to become profitable fast. So it’s actually a relief to not be focused on huge growth, to really focus on becoming very profitable as a business. So that’s what our current plans are. Of course, it is continuing to grow our amazing B2B business, continuing to grow our D two C, but without spending on digital marketing, just eye watering how much money you can flush down the toilet on digital marketing. So it’s really just becoming a much more sustainable, profitable business.

Caroline (43:32):
I love that. It’s kind of like what happens after you’ve got the fundraising story and everything’s gone to plan with the growth, what happens next? So I think that’s really interesting. Thank you for sharing that. And finally, what are your three learnings or tips or something you can give to someone who sees a lot of themselves in you and feels like, I want to kick off my luxury brand idea. What could you share with them?

Whitney (43:57):
I mean, first of all, be prepared to work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life. I love the people that are like, and I did this too. I want to work for myself because then I can really be in charge of my own schedule. No, that’s a myth,

Caroline (44:11):
Especially if you’ve gone for fundraising, got to,

Whitney (44:15):
You’re accountable to your shareholders, of course. I think also get a thick skin, be prepared for rejection all the time. And you have to have the people around you, your team, your team at home, your partner that really have back and that really are like, no, you’ve got this. Keep going, keep going, keep going. Because there are times where everyone feels like, I cannot keep going anymore. This is it. So I think just having a team around to support rejection is key. And then I think also staying really true to your vision. So many people are going to try to knock you off course and the world and the environment, and people are like, why don’t you do this? Why don’t you do this? Why don’t you sell this? Why don’t you go into this? Oh, have you ever thought about, I mean, I love this. Have you ever thought about, I’m like, listen, if it has to do with flowers, I’ve thought about it. There’s not anything in the world to do with flowers I have not thought about. And most of the time it’s in the middle of the night. I have thought about it. There’s a reason we’re not selling preserved roses. There’s a reason we’re not selling. There’s a reason. Yes, I’ve thought about it. So I think just staying really true to your vision and almost blinders on a horse, stay on the path.

Caroline (45:26):
I love that. I can relate to that. Recently, actually a couple of times people have been, have you thought of providing this? And I’m like, yeah. And I’ve been like, yeah, I’d like to do that. But the reality is it would take a lot of time and it’s not profitable enough. And I was

Whitney (45:39):
Exactly, exactly. I’ve thought about it and there are 99 reasons why it’s not a good idea right now for the business. Yeah,

Caroline (45:46):
I so excited. That’s a good reminder to me of when people are like, and I’m like, yeah, this would be great, because immediately sometimes your excitement like, no, I have thought about this and it’s not a good idea. So I think per female founders has such value in being trust your idea and that you have thought about it and it’s not a good idea

Whitney (46:04):
Or it’s not a good idea right now, or it’s not. The team has to stay focused. There’s such a finite amount of resource you have, even with a small team. So it’s like everyone needs to be focused on the right things because the second you start losing focus, then it all falls apart.

Caroline (46:20):
Stay focused. Oh, Whitney, thank you so much. It’s been an absolute pleasure to chat with you today. And if people want to follow the FLOWERBX journey more, where do you suggest they go to?

Whitney (46:31):
Sure. On our Instagram @theflowerbx, FLOWERBX, not flower box. And yes, and sign up to our newsletters. We have really beautiful inspired content, which I’m super proud. It’s just how to live your most beautiful life with flowers, which I think everyone can learn a thing or two from that.

Caroline (46:53):
Definitely bring a bit more joy to our homes, even if we’re in them a bit less than in 2020, I think we can all love that and gift them as well and give others joy to theirs.

Whitney (47:02):
Exactly. Thank you so much for having me.

Caroline (47:05):
Thank you, Whitney. Thank you.

Outro:

Thank you so much for listening to Bump to Business Owner. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. Please do rate, review, follow or subscribe wherever you’re listening. It really helps us to connect with more mums and business owners. You can DM me at Bump to Business Owner on Instagram and I’ll be back next week.

Coming Up Next Week:

Thank you so much for tuning in today’s episode of Bump to Business Owner. Please do tune in next week while we’ll be talking to Anna Mathur, psychotherapist, Sunday Times’s bestselling author and mom of three. We’ll be talking about her career to date, the new season she’s entering in, and how she feels about that with her business. But also we’ll talk all things mama age, intrusive thoughts and course from her new book, Raising a Happier Mother.