Anyone who has ever purchased flowers for themselves or someone else knows the process can get pricey.
“You see flowers all the time, but never imagine how expensive they will be for your wedding,” Hardesty told Crunchbase News. “What I ended up learning was that customers say they pay too much, while designers say they don’t know how to turn a profit.”
That became the inspiration for her to start Poppy, a tech-enabled wedding and event flower startup headquartered in Washington, D.C., that announced $1.65 million in seed funding.
Planting the seed
At the time of her wedding, Hardesty was on the executive team at direct-to-consumer floral company UrbanStems. She was traveling all over the world to procure flowers and formed relationships with many of the growers.
During wedding planning, she recognized that most of the process could be done using technology apps, but the flower piece remained one of the most expensive, time-consuming and challenging aspects where couples would either settle for over-priced arrangements or go without, Hardesty said.
“So much capital was going into floral gifting, but almost zero dollars was going into modernizing the wedding segment, and that was a big opportunity,” she added.
Hardesty decided to do just that, leveraging her relationships with growers and her business experience to create a platform where couples could find custom arrangements for any budget.
Poppy was just getting started when the global pandemic started, altering the spring 2020 wedding season and Hardesty’s plans. Seeing that business evaporate, as well as hearing from her grower contacts that they were having to throw away flowers, Hardesty did two things: Created the Poppy At Home line of do-it-yourself flower kits, and began arranging smaller wedding ceremonies and reception budgets — things that floral shops typically would not do, she said.
This new smaller budget approach yielded 100 wedding bookings in 2020, more than five times the number of bookings a mature traditional wedding florist would expect to book in a normal year, she added.
“All of the incumbent florists want a bigger floral budget, but our sweet spot is a smaller budget,” Hardesty said. “However, we are also now doing bigger weddings because people are moving ahead with planning for later this year and into 2022.”
Hardesty said the timing of the seed round “was perfect,” as many couples get engaged between September and February and start planning their nuptials.
Heading into “peak acquisition time,” as she called it, the capital will go into hiring employees to service the thousands of leads she expects to receive throughout the peak, as well as to build out a network of floral designers. In addition, Poppy offers a monthly subscription service that starts at $65.
Next up, she expects to be active soon in the 20 top U.S. metropolitan areas and aims to book 500 weddings this year across those markets. She also intends to expand the reach of Poppy At Home and double down on that experience.
Flowers are big business. Overall, the U.S. floral market is valued at $15 billion annually, with half of that money coming from weddings, Hardesty said. Of that, the online flower sector is expected to be a $5.1 billion market this year in the United States, according to IBIS World.
Meanwhile, investors pumped $109 million of known venture-backed capital into domestic floral companies via 21 deals in the past five years, according to Crunchbase data.
One of the top deals during this period was $30 million in growth financing to The Bouqs Co., a Los Angeles-based cut-to-order online flower delivery service, in February 2020. The company has raised a total of $88.1 million since being founded in 2012.
IDEA Fund’s investment partner Chris Langford said in an interview that he learned about Poppy when the startup went through Techstars Atlanta. After spending time with Hardesty, he felt she had a clear vision for the company and a determined plan on how she was going to win the industry.
“Cameron is a domain expert, and if someone is going to disrupt the industry, it is going to be her,” Langford said. “She knows how to grow a company, knows what it takes to serve customers, and has the access and relationships to the farms. We love industries where the traditional customer experience is not great and digitizing it can increase the value. We believe the brides and grooms of the future are digitally native, and that COVID-19 can be a tailwind; as in they won’t want to meet with a bunch of florists or don’t need as big of a budget.”