Tech-enabled flower company Poppy is poised for growth: The Brentwood-based startup just closed a $1.65 million seed round led by by IDEA Fund Partners with participation from IrishAngels and Techstars.
Poppy, a 2021 RealLIST Startups honoree, is a direct-to-consumer ecommerce company with a goal to make picking event flowers a fun and easy process. Former UrbanStems Head of Product Cameron Hardesty founded the company two years ago and now plans to use this seed funding to add some key team members, develop Poppy’s tech platform further and invest in marketing.
With 10 employees, Hardesty said Poppy’s team will stay pretty small for the year, with a few additions. But the expansion of the company’s mission is what has her most excited.
“We’re creating an actually new business model in the industry that hasn’t existed before,” Hardesty told Technical.ly. “There have been groups of floral designers who create communities online, but they’ve never sort of organized to monetize.”
Here’s how the company has grown so far, and what’s planned for 2021.
Hardesty first learned about floral design while working at the White House flower shop back in 2014. After designing floral arrangements for her own wedding back in 2017, she decided to take her expertise full time. As UrbanStems’ product lead, Hardesty had the opportunity to travel to different regions while learning the business side of the floral industry and meeting the people who owned the big farms that manage export and import.
These experiences — plus her love for flowers — prompted her to launch Poppy. But there’s a deeper reason Hardesty engulfed herself in this work.
“The people running these farms are making millions of dollars a year, and the people doing the back-breaking work are making pennies,” she said. “It just felt so unfair.”
What sets Poppy aside from other floral businesses is Hardesty’s desire to invest back into communities. Poppy hires independent floral designers to design its bouquets. This lets the company provide living wage jobs and support designers, mostly women, who might not know how to run their own businesses and be profitable.
“I want to get as many floral designers and enthusiasts into the Poppy designer community as we can because it’s such a great opportunity,” she said. “It’s something I wish I had when I was getting into flowers. I didn’t know where to start.”
Poppy is currently operational in D.C., New York, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta and Austin. Hardesty said order volume has been back up since seeing a dip in sales last year. At the very beginning of the pandemic, the company began offering Poppy At Home floral arranging kits to provide a distraction while we’re all social distancing. She said the company was able to set this new venture up so quickly because of a connection at an Ecuadorian farm she made during her time at UrbanStems. These kits ship anywhere and are equipped with flowers from Poppy and instructions on how to create a floral arrangement for your home.
The kits, which also source from farms in Columbia and California, include info about which farm the flowers came from, too.
“Even though a lot my competitors are shipping from the same farm in Ecuador, I have known the farm owner for years, he’s a really wonderful person,” she said. “I know he treats the people at the farms well because I’ve talked to many of them. This all kind of ties into the central mission of empowering women through Poppy.”
The company also booked 100 weddings last year and Hardesty set an ambitious goal to book 500 weddings and bring in $1 million in revenue in 2021, mainly through Poppy’s Micro Wedding package for couples. This new seed funding will allow Poppy to implement more marketing and sales efforts to attract customers.
“The plan is to take those funds and really go ham on weddings and events.”
Poppy also recently welcomed Megan Greineisen to its team as director of designer operations. Her job is to develop Poppy’s network of floral designers and customers so the company can scale in the top 20 U.S. markets.
When consumers visit Poppy’s site, the experience is two-fold. Those interested in ordering a Poppy At Home floral arranging kit can expect a standard ecommerce experience — picking what you like and adding it to your cart. If you’re looking for wedding or event flowers, you start off with a style quiz, and then Poppy will develop a customized proposal based on your inputs. The proposal is sent to the customer for review, and from there, edits are made by Poppy’s sales team, and the final contract and date are locked in.
“The people in our wedding sales team are all floral designers so they really know flowers,” she said.
Some of the company’s recent seed funds came from Poppy’s participation in the 2020 Techstars Atlanta Accelerator program along with a RealLIST honoree from last year, Please Assist Me. (Speaking of RealLIST connections: Last year, Poppy also sponsored an episode of CarpeDM’s online dating show, LoveCast. CarpeDM is another runner up honored on this year’s list.)
Hardesty hopes to one day have her own farm to control her own inventory at Poppy, but she said that’s a long-term goal. For right now, the founder is most excited to bring Poppy’s business model to life in other markets.
“We’ve seen how well it works in D.C.,” she said. “I think I’m really excited about expanding opportunities for designers and the technology we’re building to support that.”
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