David Daneshgar doesn’t shy away from the fact that he loves playing poker. It’s a passion for him and the card game delivered one of the best moments of his life when he won the 2008 World Series of Poker.
But Daneshgar didn’t want poker to be the only thing that defined his life.
“I came from a pretty conservative family who had given me the leeway to play,” Daneshgar says. “But I didn’t want to be raising a family by passing through casinos.”
Daneshgar decided to pursue his master’s of business administration degree and got into the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He was closing in on earning his degree when he had a conversation with Farbod Shoraka, a friend from his days at the University of California, Berkeley.
“David was trying to get into banking and trading and I told him, ‘Listen, you’re going to hate that lifestyle coming out of poker. You don’t want to go work for a company. Let’s start something on our own,’” Shoraka says. “So that summer, we ended up walking around flower shops and creating the concept behind what is today BloomNation.”
As it turned out, poker would come back to play a big part in the launch of this new business.
The seeds of an idea
BloomNation is not your conventional florist in any way, shape or form.
“We always say it’s the first time in the floral industry that three guys got together at a table to discuss flowers,” says Daneshgar, BloomNation’s co-founder and head of business development and sales. “Farbod reached out to me when I was getting heavily recruited for sales and trading at the big firms. He mentioned to me that he had this idea that had come out of the frustrations of his aunt.”
Shoraka’s aunt was a local florist in Irvine and felt that she and her peers in the industry had been reduced to little more than employees of the big players in the floral business.
“They were just marketing middle men buying and selling orders and routing them to different florists to fulfill and not really giving the customer any sort of control over going to a great florist or a bad florist or even knowing if the florist had the flowers available that they wanted,” Shoraka says.
So Shoraka, Daneshgar and their friend, Gregg Weisstein, found themselves at a table brainstorming ideas about what they could do to fix the problem.
“We were all at the same place in our lives,” says Shoraka, who serves as BloomNation’s CEO. “We were all unmarried, under 30 with no mortgage and no real obligations. But we all had this entrepreneurial itch. So I convinced David and Gregg that we should explore this further and see if we could tackle the 800-pound gorillas of the world in the floral space and disrupt the market.”
Their idea was to create an online network of the best florists from all over the country that would allow consumers to pick and choose where they got their flowers. The personal touch, both at the point of sale and in the delivery of the flowers was the key to the pitch.
They began talking about their idea with flower shop owners in Los Angeles. When they walked in the door, they found the owners to be uninterested and offering only a minute or two to hear their pitch.
“But when we explained the idea, every single meeting with the local florist ended with us saying, ‘Uh, we have to go,’ an hour and a half later,” Daneshgar says. “So we saw a real need. But the biggest problem for a startup that is trying to prove the proof of concept is being bootstrapped and trying to raise the initial funding.”
It was time for Daneshgar to bring back his poker face.
The big hand
When Weisstein, BloomNation’s COO, made the suggestion to Daneshgar, he immediately sent a text to friends asking where the poker games were at that week.
“There was one at Commerce Casino, about 30 miles from the office,” Daneshgar says. “The first question we asked when we got there was, ‘Do you guys have Wi-Fi?’ They said yes. I knew the guy there because I had a pretty illustrious career in poker. So they let the guys work on an adjoining table while I was playing in the poker tournament.”
After 13 hours, it was down to Daneshgar and one other player.
“It was pretty big because we needed about $30,000 to get the website going,” Daneshgar says. “The funny thing was my opponent had misread his hand. He started celebrating when we went all in. I’m just a natural poker play because I’ve been playing for so many years. So I was pretty emotionless and everyone thought we had lost. That’s when I walked over to Gregg and he asked what happened. I said, ‘It’s flower time.’”
The boys had the money they needed and got started developing their business.
“None of us came from a technical background so we needed to outsource the development,” Daneshgar says. “But once we got florists on-board and we got traction, we knew we were on to something.”
Today, BloomNation has connections to more than 2,500 florists across the United States.
“We’re creating a great brand and expanding on all levels, both on the supply side with the florists and on the consumer side in spreading the word about us,” Daneshgar says. “It’s exciting that we’re solving a problem in the floral industry, but in a bigger sense, we’re helping local businesses get online and get discovered around the world.”
It’s true that Shoraka, Daneshgar and Weisstein did not come from a floral background; but if they had, their business may never have happened.
“We might have thought this concept we built was too big of a hurdle to overcome,” Shoraka says. “You need to take yourself out of the current mindset of what your industry is like. That’s the best way to keep on top of innovation. That’s what we’ve done.” ●
How to reach: BloomNation, (877) 702-5666 or www.bloomnation.com