Lana Elie: CEO & Founder of Floom
Flowers mean many things to many different people: I love you. I’m thinking of you. Thank you. I’m sorry.
And for Lana Elie, founder & CEO of Floom, they also mean business.
Floom – the beginning of flower, the end of bloom – was born to meet a very real challenge Lana encountered in the workplace: the difficulty of finding bouquets that felt personal, thoughtful, and that she was proud to send. Stemming from a lifelong love of nature and plants, Lana thus gave up her job at a top London fashion magazine to pursue her passion for petals, curating an Etsy-like platform for London’s lesser-known florists. Unlike other online offerings, no two Floom bunches are the same, something that inspires Paris-born, Bali-raised Lana’s business model daily: “I want to educate and remind people of the intricate stories behind flowers and the happiness they can bring to someone’s day”.
In a world in which real-life relationships are increasingly taking a backseat, Lana’s enterprise embraces the joys of the natural world and the way humans interact with it. More than that, it is also a clear reflection of her own vision and values: the seasonal celebration of beauty in a perfect, thoughtful moment.
HER BACK STORY
You grew up in Bali, Indonesia. How did your upbringing contribute to who you are today?
It’s definitely given me a love and appreciation of nature. Growing up as an only child amidst rice fields and jungles meant I spent a lot of time alone with nature as a kid, and it always brought me incredible joy. Growing up somewhere like Bali also allowed for a unique independence that has definitely set the path for how I live my life.
Your first job was as an executive PA at Burberry. What did this teach you about the working world?
That was actually my first job in the UK. My first ever job was when I was 15 – I filed documents at a doctor’s surgery, and shredded them at the weekend. Every job has taught me a huge deal; being a fast learner and having the ability to be inquisitive enough to figure things out yourself will get you far.
You’ve spent the last few years working on campaigns for some huge brands: Burberry, Gucci, and Diesel, to name just three. What is it like working with such well-known names? What are the biggest on-the-job lessons this gave you?
Working with big companies has taught me that business is about so much more than a name. I think the size of a business is what defines the working process, as opposed to the “type” of company. Burberry, for example, taught me a lot about the importance of professional communication and organisation.
When there are so many departments, processes, and politics to manage, organisation will be your best asset. This lesson has followed through in every job; even now, with my small team, we turn practically everything into a spreadsheet. It sounds boring, but it’s the best way to visually process information and clearly define responsibilities. As a PA, I also learnt that no task was too small. To this day I have no qualms with doing the work, no matter the requirements, and it’s taught me how to get things done in a more general way.
Have you had any mentors along the way? What is the best thing they have taught you?
I’ve had many mentors, they just may not have known it! I’ve been very lucky to work for some magnificent and inspiring people. Those people attracted me to the job and, as a result, I learnt many different skills from each of them. I’d always do small things like save emails that I admired or thought were well-written, for my own future reference.
Greg Stogdon (SVP Creative at Burberry) taught me how to be a kind and compassionate boss and leader; Remi Parignaux (Creative Director at Meri Media) taught me a lot about thinking big, beyond your immediate means; and Matt Elek (CEO EMEA at VICE) taught me how to negotiate and conduct business at his level.
HER BIG BREAK
When did you first have the idea for Floom? How did you know the timing was right to launch your own business, and how did you go about getting it off the ground?
I had the idea years ago after encountering so many uninspiring options and clunky websites whilst working as a PA who sent a lot of flowers. But really it didn’t formalise until I started speaking about it out loud to friends. I’d wanted to start something that was my own since I was 15 or so, and always believed I would have my own company, so finding something that was a fit was always on my mind. I knew the time was finally right because I was in a job that was fantastic for my career, but I still felt like something was missing. In my role at the time, I was speaking to clients a lot about customer behaviour, and how habits were rapidly changing. I realised the changing habits were in favour of my idea, so I spent several months perfecting a business plan, sending it to anyone who would read it, and telling anyone and everyone I could about it. That led to introductions with my first investors.
What has been the biggest risk you’ve taken with Floom, and what was the result?
Quitting my job, I suppose. I was Head of Branded Content at i-D, VICE. Jobs like that don’t come around everyday. I was in a great place with my career, and I made a great wage. I left that to enter a completely new industry that required skills I definitely did not have yet.
Since launching in February 2016, you’ve won business with some impressive companies, including Conde Nast, ASOS, and Net-a-Porter. How do you disrupt the market in this way?
We offer what they need, namely better bouquets. These companies care about the impact of their gifts because it’s a representation of them, and we make that available in a simple and time saving way. What isn’t to love?
You’ve been steering the Floom ship for less than a year. What’s the best thing about being your own boss? And the worst?
Having a start up is funny. It’s like having your best day, and worst day, every day! It’s generally amazing, it feels limitless, and that makes it so easy to find inspiration and work hard because the benefits are tied directly to you. On the other side, when things don’t work out the way you’d hoped, after you’ve given it everything – from every hour in the day to every thought possible – it has a serious effect on future motivation and your overall positivity. I have a lot of sleepless nights, but it’s mine, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
HER SUCCESS SECRETS
If someone is interested is making the move from employee to entrepreneur, just as you have, what one piece of advice does she need to hear?
Push through. It’s normal to have bad days, weeks, months. That, and remove the people who are telling you not to do it. You need people who are going to back you on the days you’ve stopped backing yourself, even if they’re the crazier ones.
You’ve been complimented about the office culture you’ve created, a recruiter recently commenting on all the smiley faces at Floom. What advice do you have when it comes to building and nurturing a successful, productive, and happy team?
Find people like you. Not in their skills, but in their personality. I needed people who wanted to work for a start up because it means they are happy to do everything instead of just one role. Those people will either stay with you for the long term or they’ll leave one day to start their own thing. Those are the people who get things done.
Where do you look for inspiration and ideas?
Instagram. I have a serious addiction.
As ambitious working women, we’re always striving for success, but are there any downfalls of being considered successful (especially at a young age)?
I don’t think so. If there are, I guess I’ve blanked them out. I don’t have brain space for that.
HER FIVE YEAR PLAN
What do you wake up looking forward to?
Sleep! Not that I don’t look forward to the day, but I’m generally and constantly exhausted. That said, I also fall asleep looking forward to waking up to work. Sometimes I’m so excited about the following day that I can’t sleep. It’s a bit of a joke.
Let’s talk about mistakes (because we all make them). What missteps have you made to date? How will the lessons learned inform what you do in future?
Too many to list, but I can honestly say they’ve all been for the better of the business.
How do you see Floom evolving over time? What’s the next thing you’d like to accomplish with the business?
I’d like the software element to become a larger part of the business. Luckily I don’t have a shortage of ideas or direction; if anything, the more difficult part is learning to be patient and focus. We have some obvious goals in terms of customer and nationwide growth, but really I want to change how the majority of people see flowers. I want to change current habits and reintroduce flowers in a new light, where curvy, delicate, seasonal stems can sometimes win over mass produced ones that have lost their true beauty, like scent, just for a longer shelf-life.