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13 Aug 2019

Tech. Cast: Aron Gelbard on meeting consumer needs faster, cheaper, better

Tech. Cast: Aron Gelbard on meeting consumer needs faster, cheaper, better
We sat with CEO of Bloom & Wild, Aron Gelbard to discuss workplace culture, the key to successful partnerships in fulfilling mutual goals, and why Tech. in October is such a landmark event.


Rebecca Morrison  0:00  
I'm delighted to be joined here by Aron. We just had our last advisory board meeting before Tech. Aron I'll just let you introduce yourself. 

Aron Gelbard  0:10  
Hi, my name is Aron Gelbard. I'm Co-founder and CEO at Bloom & Wild. Bloom & Wild is an online flower company. We're Europe's largest and fastest-growing direct to consumer flower brand. 

Rebecca Morrison  0:21  
Great. So Aron you're obviously on our advisory board. You've been instrumental in building out Tech. Why do you think Tech. is such a landmark event? 

Aron Gelbard  0:32  
It seems like there are a lot of conferences nowadays but this seems to be the one to be at in terms of calibre of speakers, in terms of internationalness of the agenda. And in terms of really finding the innovators globally that are driving the intersect of tech and retail forward. 

Rebecca Morrison  0:49  
Which speakers are you most excited to hear from? 

Aron Gelbard  0:52  
I'm really excited that you are bringing people over from the US, from Stitch Fix and Rent the Runway. They're two of the companies that I find super interesting in terms of use of AI personalization to really drive retail forward using tech, so brilliant to see them represented. 

Rebecca Morrison  1:08  
Great. Why do you think retailers should attend Tech.?

Aron Gelbard  1:14  
I think nowadays every company is a tech company. Of course, you might be a retail company or a bank. But tech is such a big source of competitive advantage for companies that I think putting that into a retail context, every retail company should be thinking about how it can use to drive competitive advantage. And you guys have brought together a set of speakers that are the forefront of that thinking. So it feels remiss for retailers not to be there.

Rebecca Morrison  1:45  
In terms of, kind of, so you've spoken a little bit about speakers that you're excited about at Tech. In terms of themes, are there any themes that form the Tech. programme that you, that you know, are particularly relevant for you or that you're particularly excited about? 

Aron Gelbard  1:58  
We talked at the advisory board meeting earlier this morning about culture as a theme, which I was really pleased to see represented, because I think there's a lot of discussion at conferences like this about the what, and not so much discussion about the how. And ultimately every business is reliant on a group of people and getting people excited and fired up to do what needs to be done. We think about that a huge amount at Bloom & Wild and we invest really heavily in thinking proactively about our culture and our values. So trying to bring together people who are leading the thinking in that dimension at a much bigger scale than companies like us are at is really exciting and I think compliment some of the, let's say hard skills around the latest thinking AI etc. really nicely. 

Rebecca Morrison  2:44  
And in terms of culture, who at Bloom & Wild kind of drive that? Is there a particular department or, where should that come from? Where should the kind of culture piece from? 

Aron Gelbard  2:53  
I'm responsible for culture as the CEO. It's one of my most important jobs and I see myself as a custodian of the sort of careful eggshell or whatever you want to describe it as. That's culture that needs to be nurtured and protected as we grow and not sort of shattered or fragmented. Lots of people help me there are brilliant culture creators through the organisation. They're not necessarily in any one department, a lot of them tend to, tend to be people who've been with us for longer and I find that they both have a better understanding of the nuance of our culture because of the length of tenure with us and a greater sense of pride of ownership around really keeping our culture brilliant. So it's a joint effort, but I feel like I need to personally lead it and I think everybody on the team looks for me to be that cultural leader.

Rebecca Morrison  3:46  
Um, what will people get a Tech. that they won't get elsewhere?

Aron Gelbard  3:54  
I mentioned a little earlier that you have been looking internationally and even intercontinentally for your speakers. That's really struck me when working on the agenda, the advisory board, that there has been an effort to look globally for people who are really driving thinking forward. And I've mentioned AI couple of times, but it just really stands out as an example. And I think often other conferences, you get people who are sort of UK household names or companies that are UK household names, but it's rare that that extends to global household names. And to not just people representing UK divisions of companies, but HQ of those companies where a lot of the innovation is going on. And that seems to be quite specific to Tech. versus the conference landscape.

Rebecca Morrison  4:45  
There is an increasing challenge, albeit opportunity, nowadays to meet consumer needs faster, cheaper and better. How have you, how have you, adapted your business model to kind of satisfy this demand? 

Aron Gelbard  5:00  
Yep, we're constantly looking at how we can change our business processes and logistical arrangements to do so. One example that I'd call out is we have worked with Royal Mail to be their first customer in a pilot scheme, which allows them to, where they collect from our studio at 11pm, for nationwide next day delivery. Or quasi nationwide next day delivery. There are a few particular remote areas that are excluded. And this is now a programme that they've rolled out to a few other retailers, but still a very small number. We're really proud to be in that first partner for Royal Mail on an initiative like this. And I guess it's a combination of being able to iterate rapidly on the technology and processes that are required for us to be able to support that because they had requirements from us as well, it's a two-way thing. And also really investing in relationships, I think as a small company, we have a disproportionate amount of sense of ownership each. And so people really go the extra mile beyond just their day job and think about how they can develop relationships further with key suppliers like Royal Mail or partners or customers. And that's enabled us to certainly to get product to customers faster. If there are customers ordering at 9:30pm, then they, or 10pm they can order for next day rather than the day after. While doing it relatively cost-effectively. Royal Mail's national scale means that they're a cost-effective distribution partner compared to others. So having that culture of innovation and looking for ways to respond to customer feedback around expectations for rapidity of delivery, and then working with partners to deliver it feels like an advantage that we can have as a scale-up that larger, more process-oriented company might not be able to have. 

Rebecca Morrison  6:46  
So I want to pick up a bit on the partnership piece. What do you think makes an ideal partnership?

Aron Gelbard  6:53  
The ideal partnership has a couple of elements, I think there needs to be genuine win-win for both partners in it. So to look at this Royal Mail example, I think for them, they're trying to use, to differentiate in a crowded delivery carrier landscape. And they do have a huge scale advantage and network advantage that they can use to achieve that. So for them, it's thinking about how to use that to develop unique customer propositions that others can't offer. I think from our perspective, we're looking to serve our customers with increased convenience at low cost. So it's in both of our interests to find a way of extending cutoff time and therefore increasing delivery convenience for customers. And I think those sorts of partnerships are always more effective than when company A does company B a favour with the hope that company B will repay company A in the future. So that's one element. I think the other element is that there's a partnership between companies is always a partnership between two individuals, between two groups of individuals as well. And if people feel really empowered, I can't speak so much for the Royal Mail side, but on our side, the person who led this initiative is constantly looking for ways to drive our operations forward to the next level and has, two of our values of pride and innovation at Bloom & Wild. And this person really sort of embraces both of those values, and is looking for ways to implement them. And I think where you have people behind partnerships at companies that think that way, then that tends to be the sort of the catalyst to making those partnerships really happen. 

Rebecca Morrison  8:31  
Yeah. So from Bloom & Wild's perspective, obviously creating convenience for the customer. It seems to be pretty much at the heart of everything that you do. So I want to kind of pick up on the Tech. Sprint theme, because of course, "how can retailers create convenience for customers" is the theme of the Tech. Sprint. Do you have any tips for the teams that are going to be entering that? Any kind of, any tips at all and what kind of end product you'd like to see from that or how you should approach it?

Aron Gelbard  8:56  
We, we do hack days, once or twice a year Bloom & Wild. We give people a bit less than 24 hours. So actually I think 24 hours is a decent amount of time, and I know it feels like a short amount of time. But if you focus on a really specific problem that you're trying to solve, and remember that this doesn't need to be a fully productionised solution. It just needs to be enough of a solution to excite the judges and be the winner. And then further development can take place beyond the Sprints, I think that's really important to remember. The other thing that I'd advise is even with as little as 24 hours or at Bloom & Wild hack days, in as little as six to eight hours, the teams that do, that tend to win are teams that use some of that very limited time to do some real consumer research in order to, to be really sort of targeted in the solution that they're building. So use some of that 24 hours for some members of the team to go out of the venue and chat to real customers, get feedback on the proposed solution or dig into a pain point a bit more and use that to guide the problem that you're solving. Because often problems that people think are really exciting to solve in a sort of Sprint context aren't the actual problem that is the real consumer need.

Rebecca Morrison  10:06  
Really good point, actually. You have said that the UK startup scene is coming up with brilliant innovations, especially in consumer. Can you expand on that a little bit?

Aron Gelbard  10:17  
Yeah, I think people associate a lot of the direct to consumer movement with the US and with companies like Warby Parker or Harry's Dollar Shave Club. I can list many others. And I think there is a lot of excitement in that US scene. But I think against the odds, given the sort of much smaller population domestic market we have here, there's a cohort of companies here in the UK, of which I think Bloom & Wild is at the heart of but there are others like Gousto or Graze and then more up and coming ones like Pastor Evangelists, Cornerstone that I think this next generation of DTC companies that are really excelling and doing so without having that huge domestic market and without, in many cases having the levels of funding that our US counterparts are able to have. And because it's a smaller domestic market, we're forced to think internationally more quickly in many cases, which I think sets a high bar. But if you solve that early on, then it gives you this huge addressable market actually much bigger than a US company would have. Because a lot of US scale-ups don't think international until very late. Warby Parker still has not internationalised at all, for example, and it's, you know, nearly 10 years in. And I think that's that combination of great investor and sort of scale-up scene here in London. The fact that we do have English language. And that sort of means that we can attract teams of people from beyond the UK that speak English to build the best teams. And then, that push to go international relatively early, be it to Europe or to the US, creating a really exciting ecosystem to maybe not be at the level that we're seeing in the US, but certainly to be on the same trajectory.

Rebecca Morrison  12:06  
Really, really interesting. And I want to come back to the culture piece as well, again, because obviously, you've spoken about culture being such an important thing within the organisation. I'm a customer of Bloom & Wild as well. And recently, I got an email through, well two actually. One before Mother's Day and before Father's Day to ask if I wanted to opt-out of, of that email. Which I was quite overwhelmed, to be honest, because I've never had a retailer kind of approach me in that quite sensitive kind of way as well. So obviously, culture is something that you have internally, but also kind of externally as well. Who kind of comes up with ideas like that?

Aron Gelbard  12:46  
Yeah, that came that specific idea came from, Em, Lucy and Joe who are on our retention team. So, but ideas can come from a number of different places. I think the genesis of that idea is that people are trusting us with their emotions as an online flower company, people don't order from us all the time. But when they do order from us, it's outsourcing a really important expression of emotion to us. And so we need to be sensitive in how we interact with our customers more than if we were selling pencils. And I think it's really important that we remember that. So as a result, we're quite sort of attuned to feedback from customers, and when we don't do things, right. And in previous years, we've had customers respond to marketing around Mother's Day in particular, which is the busiest time of the year for us, saying, you know, I'd really rather not receive your emails, because Mother's Day is a difficult time for me for whatever good reason. And, and so this year, we thought, can we be proactive rather than reactive, which has a huge benefit to customers that they see that we're thinking sensitively. It also has a benefit to us, because it means that rather than customers unsubscribing altogether from our email day instead, sort of re-subscribe after the Mother's Day period. And, and actually, we can then personalise our communications and futures. Actually, next year, we won't even need to ask those customers who opted out whether they want to opt-out of Mother's Day, because they've already told us they want to opt-out of Mother's Day. So we can build that into segmentation, and be even more customer centric in future and start to build up a profile of what's relevant to customers. So there's a, there's a, we talked a bit about sort of what a good partnership is. This is a valuable two-sided partnership between us and our customers where we're doing the right thing by them. And we're also better able to serve them in future, which is, you know, good for the way that we run our business. So I think, but at the hub, sort of root of it, we, we need to be super aware of customer feedback and use that to drive decisions. And, culturally, the way that we achieved this is that we all do customer delight multiple times a year. So we don't, our customer delight team sits in our office, and they're really central to what, what we do, everybody does a day of customer delight in their first week at the company. And then at peak times, and ideally, other times throughout the year, we expect every single person in the company to be on email, phone, chat, whatever it is, to our customers, and putting that at the heart of our business process, I think makes us all aware of how to, you know, read and gather customer feedback and use that to inform decisions that we're making, you know, in a function like CRM, in this case, or many other functions as well. 

Rebecca Morrison  15:46  
It's really, really interesting. Thank you.

Um, I'm gonna turn the discussion back to Tech. with a capital T. Again, so what does Tech. mean for you in one word?

Aron Gelbard  15:57  
Excitement. I think, shall I elaborate?

Rebecca Morrison  16:01  
Yeah, please do. Yeah.

Aron Gelbard  16:02  
I think, you know, I've said this in different ways during this chat, but there are lots of conferences out there. And you know, you could spend your whole working year going to them, and obviously, you can't, because there's lots of other stuff going on back at the office and you're busy and whatever. And so, in order to, to really stand out in that landscape, I think a conference needs to have some highlights to it that make people feel I'm going to take time out of my, you know, really busy schedule, in the case of many attendees to, to go to this. And so it needs to sort of be exciting to people and, and it feels like the agenda that you guys put together sort of has that excitement and wow factor that's often missing.