Northwestern Entrepreneur in the Spotlight — Richard Lim

Purple Arch Ventures sat down with Richard Lim, President of Bloominous, a national floral brand that delivers designer florals for weddings and events at a huge cost savings.

“It’s easy to dismiss the floral business as not having that “cool factor” compared to today’s tech startups, but the lack of innovation going on in this industry is precisely why we went into it.” — Richard Lim

After graduating from Kellogg in 2010 with an MBA, Richard Lim packed his things and moved to Los Angeles with his fianceé (also a Kellogg 2Y MBA). So, how did Richard end up starting Bloominous, a national floral brand that delivers designer florals for weddings and events?

Purple Arch Ventures sat down with Richard Lim to talk about Northwestern’s “atrium effect,” the challenges of delivering fresh flowers on-time, and how Bloominous is able to offer wedding flowers at half the cost.

How did you get into the floral business after graduation?

In Northwestern, we had this saying called the “atrium effect” where Kellogg grads would flock to consulting or investment banking jobs just because that was the thing to do. But it turns out that many missed out on better opportunities. I’ve always admired those in my class who stayed true and pursued their passions — many of them are now leaders in their industries.

When I moved to California, another Northwestern alum had put me in touch with someone at Telefora — a flower delivery service in the area — and I soon was heading up one of their business units.

What did you learn while working at Teleflora?

That the floral industry is massive, but it was quickly moving away from everyday florals and gifts and into events like weddings. The problem was that the event space was highly fragmented and inefficient, and I saw an opportunity to disrupt the current value chain.

The logistical challenges of delivering fresh flowers on-time must be considerable.

Absolutely! We knew weddings were high stakes, and decided early on that logistics had to be one of our core competencies. We need to procure the flowers at the right time, coordinate our production team towards the right tasks, and understand how air carriers are structured to optimize delivery times and costs.

How do you overcome these obstacles?

Because of the volume of orders we do, we use software to optimize procurement: getting fresher flowers from around the world at lower costs. But a key factor of our success is attributed to our operational expertise. I love operations and get excited thinking through all the hundreds of decisions we have to make to optimize these steps.

What other ways do you think that you can limit operational waste at Bloominous?

We’re looking into automation in our warehouse. This industry is full of highly repetitive tasks, and because most players are small, no one has really leveraged that type of technology to solve it.

Did you have to pivot at some point?

Absolutely. At the beginning, we were going to serve consumers (brides), but it turned out that working with wedding planners was a larger portion of our customer base. This opens up new complementary business models that we are aggressively pursuing.

What business advice have you received that you now think is rubbish?

When we first started, all the buzz was around building a marketplace, and we were given advice to avoid carrying inventory. To build software, essentially. Although I recognized the beauty of a two-sided marketplace and not having to touch inventory, I shouldn’t have to force a business model to work just because everyone else is doing it that way. Or because some VCs are drawn to those types of companies.

What about some solid gold advice?

That opportunities can’t always be seen from the shore. You need to set the sails and go further to see them. Don’t plan too far ahead because you never know what opportunities might come up. This was very true about our business. When we started, we had some core beliefs that never changed — like to deliver a great product and service we would be proud of. But we always had our ears close to the ground, and listened to our customers, and explored adjacent opportunities.

Great. Thank you for sitting down with us. Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

That “build a marketplace so you don’t have to carry inventory” advice that was given to us, well, we figured out a way to operate with zero inventory while enjoying much larger margins than traditional marketplaces. So, it wasn’t all that bad.

To learn more about Purple Arch Ventures, or investing alongside Northwestern alumni, follow the link.