An abundance of online florists advertises bountiful bouquets for dirt cheap at $19.99. But the actual cost more than doubles after taxes, shipping, and handling — not to mention other extras like same-day delivery, a vase, balloons, cards, etc. By the time the arrangement arrives at mom’s door, the flowers have wilted and the bouquet is only half as lush as the picture.
John Tabis shared the disappointment he had in sending flowers to his mom with a college buddy, Juan Pablo Montufar, who happened to run a flower farm on the side of a volcano in Ecuador — a perpetually sunny country smack-dab on the equator. Tabis and Montufar decided to disrupt the $50 billion flower industry by starting their own floral delivery business, The Bouqs Company based in Venice, Calif.
“We ship flowers straight from beautiful, sustainable farms straight to your door,” said Tabis. “With our farm-to-table approach, the flowers arrive fresher, they cost less, and the farmers make about 20% more. And because of our streamlined supply chain, our flowers can last as long as three weeks.”
“It also means that we don’t waste any stems, compared to 30%-50% waste in the traditional supply chain,” Tabis added. “We also market in an open and honest way, with free delivery on most orders, transparent and easy to understand pricing and no cheesy upsells like plastic butterflies or a balloon straight out of 1993.”
The company launched in November 2012. In less than a year, the Bouqs did $700,000 in sales, offering 40 choices of bouquets at one flat price of $40 including delivery. It had only been in business for 11 months when Tabis pitched his business to Shark Tank in hopes of getting a $258,000 investment for 3% equity as part of a larger $1.7 million fundraising round.
Unfortunately, Tabis didn’t cut a deal in an episode that aired in May 2014. Kevin O’Leary thought his $8.6 million valuation was outrageous and said he wanted to send a bouquet to company’s grave but it would take too long to arrive. Barbara Corcoran hated the name. Lori Greiner thought it had no edge over other floral companies, which could adopt the same business model. Mark Cuban didn’t want to be “dumb money” given Tabis had already raised $1.1 million in a fundraising round that valued the company at $5.2 million.
Robert Herjavec didn’t think it had a sustainable business model considering that deliveries took five to six days from South America. However, in 2017, Tabis managed to score an investment from Herjavec, who contacted the Bouqs to supply flowers for his wedding with Kym Johnson. The Bouqs has raised more than $19 million from a bunch of firms and angel investors including Azure Capital Partners, Draper Associates, KEC Ventures, Quest Venture Partners, Andy Dunn, Mich Mathews, Brian Spaly and Brian Lee.
The Bouqs plans to launch a new a holiday wreath collection and a wedding collection that Tabis claims will save couples an average of 80% on flowers. Tabis aspires to become the No. 1 player in the flower industry in five years.
Before starting The Bouqs, Tabis served as vice president of brand strategy at Shoedazzle.com and director of corporate brand strategy at Disney (DIS). He started his career in business consulting at Bain & Company. He explains how he arranged a deal with Herjavec after wilting on Shark Tank and much more.
Wilting on Shark Tank and Then Flourishing
Ho: So you didn’t get a deal when you first went on Shark Tank, why not? Should you have done anything differently?
Tabis: The Sharks had various pieces of feedback about the business. Mark wasn’t interested in investing alongside Valley venture capitalists; Barbara didn’t like the name, and so on. I’m not sure that I could pin down a single reason why we didn’t get a deal.
But I think having it tied to an existing round and valuation limited my options for negotiation, which certainly made the path harder. If I were to go on the show again, I’d try to pitch them without a term sheet in place and see how it went. But, I can’t complain, we reeled in a Shark in the end.
Ho: Was the edit fair to you? Was there anything you wished the producers included that was edited out?
Tabis: What you see on Shark Tank is a simplified version of events. But I think the edit was fair. My airtime on the show lasted about six minutes. But I spent almost two hours filming and talking with the Sharks. While the exact order of events wasn’t quite what was shown, and they cut out a lot of debate between Mr. Wonderful and me about whether or not we can take this company public, it was a good and fair representation of the discussion.
Ho: What kind growth did you see after being on Shark Tank?
Tabis: When the episode aired our sales skyrocketed. The interest the business received was nothing short of incredible. Our business was up 600% almost overnight. We were surprised to learn that people didn’t care we were rejected. They were so passionate about our flowers and our mission that the lack of a Shark’s validation didn’t matter.
We knew we had created a product and model that people loved and could feel good about. Since Shark Tank, we’ve had our flowers all over TV, Hollywood, and the press, and we continue to spread the word about sustainable, farm-to-table Bouqs.
Arranging a Deal With Robert Herjavec
Ho: How did you end up getting an investment from Robert Herjavec after Shark Tank?
Tabis: After Shark Tank, I didn’t expect to have another opportunity to pitch any of the Sharks. Earlier this spring I was expecting a business call when my phone rang. I picked up assuming it was the call I was expecting. Instead on the other end of the line, I heard, “Hi John, it’s Robert Herjavec from Shark Tank.”
He shared that he was engaged and in the midst of planning his wedding. When it came to having to think about purchasing flowers for the wedding, The Bouqs Company came to mind. He had remembered our beautiful flowers and wanted to see if we could help be his floral solution for his wedding.
What many people don’t realize is that the average cost of flowers for an average wedding is around $3,000. It’s quite pricey. And Robert was planning an epic wedding in Beverly Hills at the Four Seasons. So you can imagine what the floral line item was looking like. By working with us, I explained that Robert could shave off more than half of the typical price and ensure that all of the flowers would be sustainably sourced to boot.
In the months ahead of the wedding, Robert and his fiancée, Kym Johnson, came into our office in Venice, Calif., and we came up with a plan along with our team to put together an incredible design for them. Throughout the process of determining floral arrangements and seeing how our business worked in a hands-on capacity, Robert got excited about what we were doing at the company and asked if there was an opportunity to invest. Of course, I said ‘absolutely.’ Who doesn’t want a Shark on their side!
On Shark Tank, I only got a short amount of time to pitch our business. With this experience, Robert and I got to speak over the course of many weeks. I was able to show him, along with our team, how the business works, and why what we offer is the best solution.
Ho: What are Robert Herjavec and his team doing for your company? How are you working together?
Tabis: It’s been a great partnership to far. It’s validating to have had the whole Shark Tank experience come full circle, three years later. I appreciate that no matter what I reach out to him about, Robert answers my emails within a couple of hours. It’s incredible that a guy that busy takes the time to respond thoughtfully so quickly. We’ve talked about marketing, public relations and distribution strategies, and of course have reminisced about the wedding and my Shark Tank pitch.
Blooms of Wisdom
Ho: What is the best advice or business insights you’ve received from Robert Herjavec?
Tabis: Robert is energetic and infectious with the way he engages with businesses and people. His demeanor, energy and his honest and respectful way of operating are truly unique in the world of business, and something I try my best to emulate every day.
Ho: What’s the worst mistake you’ve ever made in business and how can others learn from it?
Tabis: I don’t regret any of my career path or journey. But I think my biggest mistake in my career was thinking that safe was better. For a long while, I focused on bigger companies, safer paths, and avoided risk. I had this notion that the bigger the name, the better the resume would be, regardless of where I wanted to end up long term.
I found over time that I got restless and wanted to make things happen. That ultimately led to the world of startups. I loved my time working with large companies, and especially Disney (DIS). But I’m glad to be in a smaller, nimbler environment now where I can flex a lot of the skills I picked up along the way.
Ho: What motivates you to continue to pursue your business in the face of obstacles and lack of profits?
Tabis: When there are bumps in the road or hard days, I remember our mission and think about the lives we’re changing. Because of how we do things, farmers on our platform make more than anywhere else. And we create an economic incentive for farmers to do it the right way – sustainable, responsible farming. Their stories inspire us. They’re the backbone of our brand.
I also think about the important moments that we make a little more special by providing a product and brand that people love, and by treating our clients and their loved ones with respect. I think about the amazing, smart and good-hearted team we’ve assembled and remember that this business is about so much more than how I’m feeling at a particular moment. Then I get back at it.
Planting Seeds of Business
Ky Trang Ho: What hardships did you encounter in developing and launching your business?
John Tabis: Getting any business off the ground isn’t easy. For us, it was even more difficult because we had almost no capital. We started the business with $13,000: $4,000 from me, $4,000 from my co-founder, and $1K each from my mom, my sister, and a few buddies.
The $13,000 we started with wasn’t enough to cover much of anything. So we had to beg and borrow and sell the vision to a small team that would help us launch. It was a struggle with fits and starts. But just a couple of months after deciding to go after it full time, we launched. And some of those team members are still with us today, crushing it every day on important Bouqs brand building efforts.
Ho: What sacrifices, if any, did you make to start your business?
Tabis: I did not choose the ideal time to leave a solid, salaried executive position to start the company. My wife and I had a 1-year-old. We’d just bought a new house here in Venice Beach just a few years prior. So there were real, important considerations for our family.
But luckily my wife was fully supportive. So I leaped and off we went. Having no salary or benefits for eight, nine months was a pretty huge sacrifice and a big risk for us. But we pushed through it, and we’ve come out the other side better for it as a family, as a couple, and for me as an executive and person.