Steve Feiner, CEO, A Better Florist

“Thank you, have yourself a great day,” says Steve Feiner to the waitress as she puts down our cups of tea.

It speaks of the 27-year-old’s congenial character, one that the former Googler similarly works to imbue in his next-generation florist startup in Singapore, as e27 sits down with him for a freewheeling chat.

Flowers from Cameron Highlands

Feiner, whose startup A Better Florist launched barely a month ago, explains the problems of traditional florists.

“Flowers suck (with the way they are sold) for three main reasons: The prices are really high because there are many middlemen who touch the flowers on their path [to the recipient], the flowers are, on average, 10 days old [when they get to the recipient] — and, again, the answer is the middleman — and experientially, there’re almost no proper websites in this market.”

To tackle the first two problems, Feiner sources the flowers from Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, before bringing them to customers in Singapore — same-day delivery, if requested — cutting out middlemen and preserving the freshness of the flowers.

“We have a woman stationed on the farms. She’s helping us make sure we have the best quality of flowers,” says Feiner, who uses trucks from existing business providers to transport the flowers to Singapore.

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Customer service

As part of his market research, Feiner, who’s the CEO, called up a major florist in Singapore and found out that they do not inform the buyer if the flowers have been successfully delivered.

“From a service perspective, it’s just not good. Nobody is [the consumer’s] advocate. I [as the consumer] am trying to give something to somebody I love, I’m trying to say, ‘Hi’ or I’m trying to say, ‘I’m sorry’, and I feel like the [flower] retail business is saying, ‘Give me your money’. It needs to be much more of a two-way interaction,” says Feiner.

As part of the initiative to foster greater two-way interaction, Feiner decided to adopt a strategy that prioritises the mobile experience, though he was keen to emphasise that it did not mean discriminating against other means of placing an order.

“Every day, more transactions are taking place on this device (referring to a mobile phone) and no one [in the florist industry] is taking advantage of this. That’s just insulting. We design to be mobile-first [but] I don’t believe the answer is mobile-only because a lot of people still search for and order flowers from their computers,” he explains.

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Variety of flowers

Another problem, Feiner realises, is that many florists offer an overwhelming number of options for bouquets. “I hate the fact that there are 500 offerings [of flowers] when someone is not even producing [those] flowers. We’ve spoken to our customers and they told us, ‘We don’t want dozens of options.’”

“It’s a problem of choice. Right now, we offer four different products. We change them seasonally. We try to make it as easy and efficient for you so that, the rest of your day, you spend it being happy,” adds Feiner.

For those concerned about the limited variety of flowers available, Feiner is keen to express that A Better Florist invites feedback.

“Thus far, customers have given us feedback. So, we’ve added sunflowers because everybody has messaged me how much they like sunflowers and how it makes their day. We added a lot of bouquets around carnations, really vibrant colours — pink and purple. If you don’t like anything we’re doing, let us know. We’ll be the single most approachable people you’ll ever find,” says the CEO.

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Leaving Google

Before striking out into the business of being a florist, Feiner had been an employee of Google, in both its San Francisco and Singapore offices, the former in the role of Senior Associate in its Global Business Strategy department.

Making the career switch, he explains, was not easy.

“There was constantly this argument going on in my head. Everybody sees Google as this amazing place and it is. But these people value the things that, right now, I wasn’t valuing, such as job security and to be home every night for dinner. For me, starting this company is never going to be easier than exactly this moment. I’m never going to have less responsibilities and I don’t want to regret [giving up] this [opportunity],” says Feiner.

But setting up a business is one matter and choosing to make that business this one, another. When asked why he chooses to be a florist, there is an enthusiasm about bringing happiness to people that re-surfaces.

“I’ll do this for the rest of my life. It is love at scale. That’s our mission statement. I want to make as many customers smile as I can. Whether these are customers in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Jakarta or Dubai, it doesn’t matter,” says Feiner, who plans to expand his business once he sees that the Singapore operations have stabilised.

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“We want to make sure that what we do in Singapore is amazing before we move on to any other geographies. This isn’t a sprint. I’m not trying to get your money and run off. I want you to be my friend, customer, and keep coming back and the only way you’d want to do that is if we absolutely make this the best possible experience,” says Feiner.

While he displays an unabashed passion for bringing happiness to people through flowers, it also helps that the flowers industry, according to his research at Google, is booming.

“Google asked me what were the verticals we wanted to prioritise for e-commerce and I tried to answer it. Flowers were at or near the top of this list. It’s about S$300–S$350 million (US$417–US$487 million) a year spent on flowers in Singapore. The Southeast Asian region as a whole is approaching US$2.5 billion,” shares Feiner.

With a team of five currently, Feiner says he still does some deliveries himself.

“There’s a Paul Graham (Y-Combinator Founder and author) quote about doing things that don’t scale. And, for me, this is the perfect instance of [it]. But there’s something so important about connecting with the customer or the user, getting that feedback that means we’re going to do things so much differently,” he concludes.

And those differences may be just why this startup is A Better Florist.

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