Monday, March 19, 2012

Entrepreneur's Interview - Flower Aura

MandE: Welcome, Today we have with us Shrey, founder – Flower Aura. 

Could you please tell us your background and something about flower aura?

Shrey: I began the business of Flower Aura in Jan 2010, after working at Quetzal. The intent was always to have something of my own and that’s how I started this business. I and my cofounder always felt we wanted to operate in the e-commerce space. Both of us were from IT background so we felt online business is what we wanted to get into given our IT background, and also the financial restrictions, but we were not clear about which domain we would operate in. Gifting struck to me as an option since I had difficulty with the poor quality of service that I had personally experience – this let to us starting off with Flower Aura.

We made a search of around 40-50 websites, even at that time – but they were not an e-commerce site really. They were florists who built websites for additional sales rather than having online business model..  We were confident we could do a better job than them.

When we entered the market, our expertise was IT, but this is just a part of the business. Operations is critical in the whole game, and we are still learning, and this would be very important for our growth across cities.

MandE: Currently in which cities do you operate?

Shrey: We have a reach in over 100 cities – These are through the affiliate networks of existing florists, which we built by visiting different cities over the last couple of years. We have handpicked these florists, and provide them with a checklist of things before they go and deliver.
Not everything has been smooth sailing; there have been bad experiences in the past. We have sort of stabilized this now.

One big challenge in the current mode is that – on Valentine’s Day typically 10% of the year’s transactions happens. When you do not have your own warehouse, and you are dependent on so many people who are not under your direct control. There are absolutely no issues through the year but on that specific day something goes wrong – we would have to show a sorry figure. This strains our relationship with the customers.

MandE: Feedback is critical for your business, how do you handle get this?

Shrey: We encourage the recipients to send us a picture with the flowers they have received, along with some write up. These could be testimonials as well as some negative feedback.
Flowers are agriculture based, extremely delicate – so we have to factor in the losses that might affect due to these. Our florists too have been very understanding of the fact and have supported us this far.

MandE: Your business requires you to negotiate with florists across the country - how was the experience been?

Shrey: It has been pretty difficult – in all the major cities are able to do it, because we are in a position to provide them volumes. We can have strong terms with these partners. They were florists who built websites for additional sales rather than having online business model.

In the Indian Context, As we have also started our workshop in Gurgaon, we can relate to their challenges and work more closely with them. Both founders work on this aspect. We have divided the cities amongst ourselves and closely work with the florists.

In addition to this, there is the forecasting of such a perishable entity that getting as precise with the forecasting is important.

MandE:  Do you support your florist’s network in different cities with forecasting? 

Shrey:  We provide our florist network with a forecast of how many orders we can provide on Valentine day before hand.
We provide for only 5%-10% of our partner’s business so they do not heavily rely on us, hence there is no great dependence on our forecast. But we see this could be extremely crucial in the future as we grow larger.

MandE: Could you tell us a bit about your partner in business?

Shrey: My partner is Himanshu, who was my batch mate from in my engineering days at NSIT Delhi. The cities we hail from were along the same route and that helped bond better during those days.
Post engineering, while I worked at Quetzal in Mumbai, he was my roommate and used to work at TCS there. We used to discuss numerous ideas every day at that point of time and finally started off.
At the point of starting off Flower Aura, we had almost similar skills, but over the last 2 years we have focused on developing complementary skills. He focuses on technology, while I take care about marketing. For the operations, both of us pitch in.

MandE:    How did working at a start up help you?

Shrey:  I worked at Quetzal in the online and offline education space – I gained tremendous confidence from this experience. This helped me work on projects from scratch to scaling up. I started around 7-8 different products, and this experience of starting new things and meeting different people to make it possible etc was very valuable.  I realized that in a start up you need to extremely generalist to begin with and be pretty open to get moving quickly.

MandE: How was the experience of moving from online education to running an e-commerce industry?

Shrey: Definitely the two industries are definitely different from each other. When we entered into the e-commerce business, we entered it with the assumption that the major component would IT based. We realize, getting orders is only one part, there are aspects like how to buy, purchase, manage inventory, forecast etc.

The Marketing skills I developed while working in the educational space is what I carried over to this business. The other skills required today are the ones which we have acquired over the last 2 years.

MandE: Did you choose to get into the e-commerce business based on the trend in the industry?

Shrey: We got into the e-commerce business when the industry was just emerging. We operate in a very niche segment of the business, not many people operate in this segment given the kind of challenges I have discussed earlier.  There are some funded companies which have a lot of money to spare for the business promotion unlike us. We have started off in a boot strapping model using the investment of the founder.

Given that we have bootstrapped ourselves, and had a lot of learning by taking care of the operations ourselves, we are in many ways a head of the companies that we currently see.

MandE: Are you looking for funding now?

Shrey: Yeah, I guess the time is pretty apt now. I guess this is the right time to grow and we will grow irrespective of the fact that funding comes in, but funding can definitely speed up the growth.

MandE: What would be your major learning other than the operations that forms the basis of your business?

Shrey: I would say the major learning we have learnt is on the business front is the human resource management. Questions like, how to get the right people, hire them, retain them etc. Nearly 40% of my time is spent on managing people and handling issues related to them. From my experience I realize that, if you take care of people who are working with you, most of the operation and marketing things will be taken care of automatically.

MandE: What is your message to aspiring entrepreneurs? 

Shrey: My message is follow your heart and be smart.

When people come to me with the take that being an entrepreneur is extremely risky, I simply say - It’s not very hard to earn what you are getting now, so where is the Risk?”
Yes it will require some of your patience The entrepreneurial experience one has would be extremely valued and cherished.

MandE: Thank you Shrey for the interview. Thanks.

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