Business is booming.

My First Million: Aron Gelbard, co-founder of Bloom & Wild

Aron Gelbard, 40, ordered some snacks by post then wondered if he could sell flowers through the letterbox.

He co-founded Bloom & Wild in February 2013 with ex-fund manager Ben Stanway, 41, using £30,000 in savings. Turnover has gone from £400,000 in 2014 to £145mn in the 2021-22 financial year. Always popular are bouquets with roses and peonies, and tiny Christmas trees.

Today, the Bloom & Wild Group, based in Vauxhall, south London, employs more than 400 people and operates three brands across the UK and seven European countries. These are Bloom & Wild, bloomon, and Bergamotte. It has offices in Amsterdam and Paris and flower warehouses in France, the Netherlands and Germany, as well as Nuneaton, UK.


Born: Nice, France, July 1982

Education: 1995-2000: St Paul’s School, Barnes 

2000-04: Jesus College, Oxford university, MA Modern Languages (French and German)

2007-09: MBA, Harvard Business School 

Career: 2002-03: technology placement at industrial firm Air Liquide, Paris 

2004-07: Retail consulting at OC & C, London
2008: Marketing internship with Google, SW1
2009: Joined management consultancy Bain & Co

July 2013: Resigned to launch Bloom & Wild

2021: Acquired two similar companies, bloomon and Bergamotte

September 2022: Added gifts, including chocolates, biscuits, candles

Lives: Putney, with wife Caroline and two daughters.

Did you think you would get to where you are?
I am pleasantly surprised that I have been able to build a business of this scale, but I always hoped to work for myself.

My dad has been an entrepreneur for 50 years, now in plastic recycling, and three of my grandparents had their own businesses. When I was a teenager my father went through a difficult period in his business, so I understood first-hand the responsibility that you have.

That is why I went to university and worked in consultancy. I was more risk averse than my dad, who dropped out of university after his first year. I didn’t want to do that. I spent 10 years improving my education and work experience.

I chose to sell flowers because I had been routinely disappointed whenever I tried to order them online as gifts. With flowers it is important to me that the recipient is never let down. I hadn’t worked with flowers before. I’ve learnt along the way, from highly creative florists.

Has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business?
Yes, in a positive way. Commercially, people sending flowers as gifts was a substitute for giving people hugs. With massive customer demand for flowers, the business tripled in size in the first year of Covid. We did not need to furlough anyone, but we faced challenges.

We had no idea if we would be able to carry on sourcing the flowers, especially from the Netherlands. We didn’t know if our warehouses or the growers would be allowed to continue. We needed to fulfil millions of unexpected orders and had to take on another 50 staff.

Did you need to diversify to survive?
No. The pandemic gave us an opportunity to focus on our core business. There were a lot more “thinking of you” and “just because” messages sent with our flowers. Many of our customers are women gifting to their close friends, mothers and grandmothers, and that remained true. Our flowers gave a lot of pleasure to the recipients who were self-isolating. The average spend was the same — £30 to £40.

Was your first £1mn a major milestone?
Until the pandemic, we were deliberately allowing the business to be slightly lossmaking every year, to prioritise growth over profitability. However, once the lockdowns came, we made £26mn profit in the year to March 2021. We reinvested this sum into growth, partly through acquisitions in the Netherlands and France to strengthen our presence on the continent.

I was aware how fortunate we were at such a terrible time for many. So we supported those in need, by donating to the National Emergencies Trust Coronavirus Appeal, and later began our partnership with Carers Trust.

In December 2020, when we knew we would be profitable for the first time, we raised £75mn in equity financing from General Catalyst and Index Ventures.

Have you found it difficult to recruit staff in recent months?
It has been difficult in areas such as data, and software engineering, because of the demand for that skill set in the UK. We try to create a positive culture and good career progression and we do eventually find the right people. Sometimes it takes months longer than we would like.

Are you planning for tough times ahead?
Some consumers are buying flowers less frequently. We aim to broaden what we sell, adding standalone non-flower gifts. We’re diversifying our range, considering people’s reduced disposable income. We offer chocolates, biscuits, brownies, diffusers and scented candles.

We want to give people more choice, especially for male recipients, who have not been our focus until now. I’m really pleased with the initial response.

What did you have to sacrifice to start the business?
I walked away from a highly paid job and a comfortable lifestyle. I gave up my rented flat, moved in with my then girlfriend (now wife) and we shared the rent. For the first year I had no salary. I traded in my office and PA for measuring letterboxes and 6am starts at New Covent Garden flower market.

Ben and I spent weeks measuring over 1,000 letterboxes to get an idea of the size of packaging we would need. We found we could design a box that fitted through 90 per cent of letterboxes and would fit a generous bouquet, with traditional flowers like roses and freesias, and eucalyptus foliage.

What was the most challenging period of your career?
For me it was the first year of Bloom & Wild. I was doing something that might not even work out, and I had just proposed to Caroline, so I was trying to think about the future. The moment when I knew we were on to something big was our first Mother’s Day in 2014. I had to process over 1,000 orders, compared to dealing with 100 or 200 orders in a regular week. I realised that we would have to invest in making our system more automated. That’s what made me want to build bespoke technology for our business, which we started in 2014.

What is your basic business philosophy?
We strongly believe that delighted customers, measured by customer review scores, correlate with loyalty and business growth.

We have built technology that calculates — through data from our couriers like Royal Mail and DPD — where our flowers might not arrive on time for occasions like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. If this is a possibility, we send replacement flowers in advance despite the additional cost, to avoid leaving recipients empty-handed on the big day.

We have other technology that analyses all customer reviews to identify themes behind positive and negative feedback, so we can address problems immediately. If we have 5,000 customer reviews and 200 are unfavourable, technology helps us track the most common words, and which bouquets were ordered. Supposing the problem was with lilies not opening, we would contact the grower to put things right.

Do you believe in leaving everything to your family?
No, I don’t, but I do have a will which I wrote at 35. While I think it is essential to leave my family well provided for, I wanted to start giving to charity now, rather than putting this into my will.

In 2021 I personally donated a meaningful sum to 10 charities through Founders Pledge, an organisation which helps company founders give something back. I am proud to support FareShare, who redistribute food that would otherwise go to waste. I have also helped causes that are doing humanitarian work in Ukraine.

Do you want to carry on till you drop?
I don’t want to retire. I really enjoy my work, and there is still a huge amount we can achieve. Our business is two-thirds in the UK, but we can really change people’s gifting experience in our seven other European countries. We operate in Europe’s biggest flower markets — the UK, Germany, France, Netherlands and Belgium. I would prefer to grow our business in these countries than to expand elsewhere.

Have you made any pension provision?
I don’t have a pension. As a founder and a major shareholder of the company my financial profile is different from a pure employee, who is automatically enrolled in a pension. I take a lower salary, but I have an appreciating asset.

Earlier in my career, I had to pay for my MBA, over £100,000. When I was a consultant, I took on a lot of debt to go to business school. I wanted to prioritise paying that off over a long-term pension. So with every job I took I opted out of the pension scheme.

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