Monocle 24: The Entrepreneurs - The Bouqs

Alejandro Bethlen is the CEO of leading floral brand The Bouqs, a California-based company launched in 2012 by John Tabis and Juan Pablo Montúfar. Bethlen joined from Amazon earlier this year. Plus: we hear from Alan Mahon of Scotland’s Brewgooder about the importance of remembering your reason for starting a business. See for privacy information.

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When we talked about entrepreneurship naturally most of us think about startups and the founder story. We think about growth and scaling and funding rounds and a certain type of Personality perhaps and what it takes to take an idea and turn it into that cool company. We've all heard about but of course to be entrepreneurial to be a Visionary business leader that happens in all sorts of businesses large and small across any sector. You can name to be an entrepreneur. Perhaps is to beat the driving force behind a mission to be consistently problem-solving to help deliver on a brand or company's core Mission and sometimes very often. In fact the Right leader for a business isn't part of the founding story, but they come along later when experience and a fresh perspective is needed to make a vision reality. You're listening to the entrepreneur's with me Daniel page on this week's show Alejandro bethlen, the CEO of leading direct-to-consumer floral brand the bouqs the california-based.

When was launched in 2012 by John tabis an expert in Brandon storytelling and Juan Pablo Montoya for a farmer in Ecuador by working closely with farms and a network of Select florist the bouqs helps to cut out the middleman meaning you can enjoy your flowers for longer and they can pay their suppliers more to invest in sustainable practices after a funding round earlier this year the bouqs a note to find the CEO who can help them expand their reach abroad and to continue shaking up the 100 billion dollar Global floral industry Alejandro brings more than 20 years of experience in fort Fortune 100 companies, including Amazon and Procter & Gamble and is an expert in product strategy Logistics and leading a team. He made the move from Amazon in Germany to California during the height of the lawn interesting personal Journey, but also an inspiring shift into a different way of working but allejandro has no Illusions about changing the direction of the business instead. He explains why the best strategy

Is to remember what you do best at the Brandt he has some great advice for Business Leaders coming up as well. But first the story of how he came to join the books.

So the book says that company that was started by JP montufar and John Thomas in the whole concept came about improving the customer experiences as in regard to flowers, right? So if you think of the traditional flower model that you will hear is you'll call a phone number you'll go to website place an order and what they do is they connect you to the nearest florist to the ZIP code your friendship because of that the whole intermediation of the supply chain has an impact on the type of flower some of these flower shops are selling. So what we decided to do or what the founders decide to do is what would it look like if we were sending flowers directly from the farm to the customer and so that's the whole premise that the company was founded on that's what we're trying to expand into different Avenues into subscriptions into businesses. How can we get farm fresh flowers that last longer?

To your home. And so what that allows us to do is give them more and better quality flowers for a better price. But just as important or more importantly is from a consumer perspective. When you receive the flowers instead of them lasting Ford and eight days they can last up to two weeks. And so you kind of see the whole transformation of the flower in that time. And so to me it has a huge impact on the longevity and so the enjoyment of the flowers by the customer

That subscription model. It is something new I think in sort of the world the flower people might stop off at their local Shopper, you know order on a special occasion and let's say or want to send flowers to someone but that's a huge area of potential growth for you. Can you talk to us a little bit about that subscription model and answer to how that is part of your thinking now more and more getting used to subscription models in the benefits that they bring, you know to me if there's a bit of an awareness with flowers. There's nobody that would tell you that I don't want flowers around me all the time. However, based on your schedule at work at home with your kids you may or may not have time to buy flowers. So if you think of Europe in the cities with the more dense cities, you can't walk more than 3/4 blocks without seeing a flower shop that remind you about flowers you often stop and buy the flowers and you see that flowers are more embedded in the day today in Europe than they are in the u.s.

Read to me the whole concept of being able to help you get the flowers directly to your door in better quality than you can get them at the supermarket or at the flower shop. And without you having to go out of your way to buy them was a concept that to me was super interesting especially with the cost dynamics that you can hit by having a recurring Revenue stream like that where you don't have to spend money on the customer acquisition cost for each single purchase. And so to me when I was interviewing that was probably one of the most exciting opportunities for me and there's different ways. We want to hit this subscription. There's the four mean, you know, I'd love fresh flowers in my house, you know, every two weeks every month every couple of months one of the amazing things onboarding under this brand is every time you watch somebody open the box and see the flowers you literally see their facial expressions change. And so how do we bring that to your house every month the second component that we haven't really

Washed out. Well yet but I think it's going to be something that'll do very well is going to be based on the schedule functionality. So imagine that you Daniel says, you know what there's 10 birthdays. I just can't Forget every year and it's difficult to always remember find the time to buy the present and so forth. You can put those 10 days into our system. The person's name. The person's address in automatically their send flowers on their birthday or on your wedding anniversary or invalid whatever you would like it to be so you don't have to worry about remembering all the days and going in finding and sending something.

In the third component is going to be around businesses. You know, I think that if you look at covid and as people come back to the office, I think kind of having an inviting atmosphere will be important density won't be as much of an issue until we want to bring this whole concept of flowers in the workplace a little bit more to the Forefront historically one of the difficulties the flowers in the workplace is just being able to get them there on a regular basis and a regular quantities. And that's something operation we can take over so you soft and sieve companies that have plans potted plants throughout the office of a rarely flowers. And what we want to do is say look, you know, as we're coming back as the mood is where it is. We'd like to improve it and make it lighter. How do we ensure that you have flowers in the workplace once a month quotes every two weeks. So that's what we think the subscription is the buckets of the subscriptions. Will I

You know, I enjoy it the serve Optimus mija for people who looking for flowers and where they might have those I'm in the office would be a wonderful place obviously taking away some of the pain points to delivery and for customer access to the promise is absolutely massive, but I wonder if you look at sort of tell him that whole journey of the actual product. Obviously these days people will want a little bit more information about that product. Obviously, I wear comes from and how it is it coming to them, you know here in Europe we might well know about y'all DeMatha feels greenhouses in the Netherlands and how that transport network works, but you are a sort of more localized in North America Central America South America to talk to us a little bit about that part of the journey in and how you were sort of telling you the story of your partners because you must have some wonderful partners that are growing these flowers for you without a doubt and I see the I think there's a lot of parallels when you look at what happened in the coffee industry in the US.

It was a nameless ramblas commodity and overtime. It's become a very premium coffee with different brands that tell the origin story of the coffee where it comes from who they're buying it from hell, they're giving back to that Community this community excetera and that's kind of the vision I have for the boobs right is I think that we're doing a pretty good job at explaining where we're getting the flowers including farmer stories on a lot of the bouquets that you would choose that tell you where we're getting that specific bouquet from but I'd love to continue that so that Annie bouquet you buy your able to see which Farm it's coming from what that form story is what the farm specialized is any information about her or interesting information about the farm, but at the same time ensuring that we have a bit of a flywheel in the community give-back, which is helping make sure that they're fair trade certified organic certified helping make sure that we can also

Back to those communities. There's a large percentage of the flower pictures of the people that work on the farms are female a large percentage of our customers are female. So how do we give back to the customers after Farms? How do we find ways to give back to the community that we serve here and in the US and so those are things that we're trying to develop. I think that we're now at the stage that we need to start thinking or calculating and executing you can sew Step Brothers.

And increasingly that probably the way you think about it probably helps those Growers the boost their own profile just like in coffee telling the stories of there was a war against, you know, I would love to just hear a little bit about your own tyranny over to Los Angeles. You have to spend a good portion of your career in the United States. We should say butts in the past few months that made the move from the Munich area to Los Angeles and I very interesting time and difficult time obviously been restrictions for talk to me just a little bit about actually coming in to take over the CEO role oftentimes we speak to people about sort of the ground up story of starting and then growing a business but I find it so fascinating to join at a certain part of the journey to talk to me a little bit about the actual move for you and why you thought it was a good time to join the the family, you know, it's a great question and I think it's a nuanced one. I think that making this type of John from the companies that I've worked with which for the last 15-20 years have been larger companies into a girl.

Anthony in and of itself is a big decision and then compound that changing countries compound that with covalent of the restrictions compound that with a lot of the rioting and protesting we saw in the US it's definitely a time frame with my life. It'll be impossible to forget so that the decision for me was you know, I love Amazon Amazon. I feel like the

My experience at Amazon in my experience of Proctor gave me to slightly different leadership philosophies of how we manage things super complementary to a whole liter. They really gave me the confidence to take someone one of these type of opportunities on when the board talked to me at first sight if I wasn't sure if I would be a fit but after I started the study of the industry that company and became my number one priority to try to get this role. Luckily. I came to the US I'm at with the founders met with the board and we really hit it off. Well, I think we had a very good aligned vision of where we wanted to take the company in what the potential of the company truly was. And so that aspect was fine. But one of my mentors in early March calls me and tells me that you can't take this offer Rihanna resend it. Tell Amazon, you're not quitting to hit him at the time and I'm like Wax and he's like looking I'm talking to a lot of Economist. This is a high-level executive in a large international company and he's like, I'm tired.

Things are going to get really really really bad in the coming year from an unemployment from a recession perspective. And I don't think it's the right time to be making a jump to this type of company. So I remember thinking okay. What do I do and I set up an hour session with my CFO in my Cielo separately to kind of understand what the Dynamics were looking lawn. What was the the health of the business but more importantly the trajectory sense, dad started. This was probably by mid to late March and what I saw was that a lot of the pressure points things were in our favor because of Farms or essential businesses because last mile delivery partners are essential business is so besides us having to work from home on the destruction of the corporate the disruption to our supply chain was minimal.

And I would even say potentially beneficial because the Farms had extra capacity show is our sales in order started to Skyrocket. If we were able to get the capacity that they had to be able to fulfill those orders. So from that perspective, I think I was really trying to do a little bit of homework before I got here. Obviously, there's an aspect or you just have to push that I believe button have a little faith obviously explaining that to my family was tricky but Uber supportive and that they've become used to the changing countries every 3-4 years based on my career. And so they've been very supportive. Now when I got here is I think when reality started to hit right like in paper, this all makes sense and I used to have a an old boss at told me I can tell you about swimming I can have you read a book, but until I push you in the pool, you're not going to understand and so in concept everything I did prepare to be but when you get here and you're locked in

An apartment nobody's in the corporate office in almost a hundred employees noting the corporate office. You're locked in 50 square meter apartment for days on end by yourself with your family in another continent time zones are such that you can't talk that often. It was difficult. It was really difficult. And I think that would got me through is establishing a routine. And so what I would do is I would block an hour and a half every single day where I would eat dinner with that. So they have dinner. We put Zoom computer in front of them my zoom in front of me and I would eat my lunch while they were having their dinner. So establishing those establishing a lot of one-on-ones with different people on the team brought some normality to the situation. And again, I don't think it's been easy, but I have been very impressed with just a resilience of the employees the resilience of people in general.

You know you talked about its potential in and what you saw in joining the team, they're obviously a big move to leave a company like Amazon where of course you would understand what the road. Looks like Fordham and I think and how we organize selling things to people really intend really presenting them with the best Solutions. But you know in this market where you said there is is so much potential. I'm just wondering about work brand sort of comes into that and what excites you about that. You will have the know-how of getting things done. But you know at this level I think it's quite different to talk to me about what it means for you to join sort of a smaller operation. So what a loved initially in digging in the first 30 60 days is that there was what I called big and obvious. It was just a big an obvious areas for us to work in, you know, just Pockets that we were playing in but not well and so we're going to be going through a bit of a reorganization of the company to focus on those big and obvious areas and carves them out as different business units.

So tell me I think that the P&G and Amazon thinking helps me with that house. We see like hey, this is a big opportunity that we're playing in but not well, we need to break it out and have a lot of resources but against that from the brand perspective what really really got me Amazon's not a brand company right? Looks like Amazon's brand has been built through execution, which I think is an undervalued model to building brand Equity, right if you don't have to advertise if you execute extremely well at an extremely high bar over and over that will create your rent right now coming from Proctor. I also believe there's other ways to create your band. So it was a very good balance what I left here from my Proctor hat when I started to go through the process. My wife had ordered some flowers from a company in Germany just because of covid-19.

You start paying attention to Little Things. It blew me away that she was knowing when the postman was supposed to come to deliver the flowers and waiting for that. And when the flowers came she was excited open the box and you can see her facial expressions change fast forward a week later in an interview with one of the board members same thing. They told me to hold on because I had a delivery it was one of our flowers package of flowers going to her house. She opens that you can see her facial expressions change. And so to me like that's just brand cold, right and what blew me away is you have a commodity category extremely lifestyle category extremely emotional category with absolutely no branding.

You know, I started scratching my head. I'm like wow like and if you think about it coffee, I don't think it's as emotional as flowers and that's what done through a branding transformation the last 30 years jewelry. Like I don't know why a brand has to matter and diamonds besides quality, but companies have done an amazing job with. Sterling silver. Tiffany's building brands on things that we would otherwise think or a commodity and so to me that really excited me and I always say that the type of challenge I want to take is when I talked about it and I can think about a 50 idea because then I know for the coming two three, four five years, there's more than enough work to do going after those big and obvious there. It's right and so to me branding in the flower industry is something that makes a lot of sense, you know, just from being such an emotional and lifestyle category.

You know, we are in quite an interesting time obviously as the world gets moving again obviously work in someplace isn't in still in the midst of the pandemic. I would be remiss to not ask you though about sort of the lessons you are bringing over you talk about that big an obvious. I thought I love that term end. You know, there is the thought that in some cases bigger corporates need to be a little bit more Nimble in the end. They love to inject to start a buzz word from the startup World in MD more entrepreneurial hear that all the time obviously in the end. There are many companies that are doing great things in that sense. But, you know coming from two bigger larger global companies and moving into that start up World for you. I wonder what you see is missing for many of these companies they are that are thinking but we're setting out on their own trying to do things on their own trying to be those innovators, but the really missing the mark in some sense. What are the things that you see that it might be other bigen obvious things that are missing in this space.

Japanese and then for the small companies or company's its focus right? Like I think you know, if you take the stereotypical entrepreneur that had the idea right? This is the person that does well with ideas. A lot of times I'll talk to entrepreneurs and they have ideas left and right left and right but what that can happen is it can create a lack of clear focus in an organization to execute against the one thing you're supposed to do very well kind of going back to what I mentioned about execution can build your brand Prime. And so to me what I see in this company or other startups that I've seen or talked to is that maniacal focus on executing this one thing right? And so none of the things that I'm playing in the coming to three years have to do with candles or coffee or no, it's flowers and slept maybe in twenty years will do something great. But while I'm here, it's flowers execute on getting Farm Fresh.

Flowers directly to Consumers and so to me that is really important and I would tell any founder any startup is just to make sure that you're super clear on what the strategy is and more importantly one of the quotes I use a lot is the importance of strategies not just what you do. It's what you don't do right? If you do every thing you don't have a strategy right there's a lack of a strategy. So by definition to have a strategy there seems you don't do because it's off strategy and I think a lot of times founder struggle with that aspect.

On the larger companies. What I find is that the accountability goes way too far up. Right? And so sure they want to have this new incubation unit and this and that but that incubation unit reports of the GM that reports to the president that reports to the CEO. And when the GM has 99% of the revenue coming from their existing business and the ideas that are coming out or send me cannibalistic that GM who's likely going to be there two three four years is not going to allow that to happen. And so there's just an inherent conflict of interest right that I think keeps a lot of these companies from disrupting Innovation, but I think that there's some companies that have done really well at forcing that to happen you get some great advice that they're on execution and how that can really build a brand and build a company and help grow in this time. It's interesting where a lot of people I think will not only be looking for new talent that is available. But also looking for a little bit of guidance and Leadership perhaps on where they are going there's oportun

I think for companies to rise to the top that I have a Nimble in our sort of out there pushing themselves in this moment, but for someone that's new coming into a company that might be afraid. Let's say to shake things up too much what might be your advice there on on how to start a rally the team in and get things going in the right direction. Maybe that's reminding people that you can be the best at doing what you already doing or not doing more things. You know, one of my growing puppies right now is that how companies are using covid-19 excuse even when it's not genuine and there's no way to explain how it would impact so you call an online-only bank and they're like we apologize about the Kobe situation is 5 months in and you're on hold for 30 minutes because of the crazy times were going through and how does that impact you right? Like if your people are still working from home? They can still take as many calls but definitely more and so I feel like a lot of companies are using it as an excuse.

And I think customers or patients will start to decline. So tell me to any company large or small don't use it as an excuse right figure out five six months in all company should have figured out where the pain points are fix those pain points to make sure that we're able to serve the customer whatever industry were in well, right whatever well-made mean by the new definition into I'm a huge believer that

Customer habits are very hard to change and they usually happen at a generational changes more than they do within somebody's own life. And what do I mean by that my wife hates buying groceries online? She doesn't like it. She prefers to go to the grocery store Colvin hits. Guess what she was doing. She was buying groceries online. And now she tells me I think it's easier to buy a lot of the things online. And so whenever you have these shocks to the system, which don't happen often consumers kind of backup and re-evaluate their habits their purchases in Sulphur, if you can be really good at understanding where those re-evaluations are happening. It's a huge opportunity for you to establish yourself in your Brandon your company. So to me, I just I've never been one that likes the woe-is-me mentality to me. It's like, you know, look at the situation and figure out how you adapt your brand of that situation.

If this is the new normal for the next year year-and-a-half, I don't want to hear how you're dealing with unprecedented X right figure it out. And I've been really really surprised at the amount of companies that continue to use it as that as a problem and Jaden gray device that very well said just lastly Alejandro. I've taken a good deal of your time and I do appreciate that. I love to just hear about it a few other things that are in the works for you guys at the moment in terms of getting things on track and in ending better at delivering the services that you already are offering in the US are existing businesses and then expanding into going harder and more delivered into subscriptions and playing a bigger role in weddings. I think that going back to my shock to the system weddings and events have been shocked to the core and I think there's opportunities for us to introduce ourselves and our services and the flexibility something.

That brings so as you're deciding the weddings and where it's going to be how it's going to be the flowers is the last thing you have to worry about. We'll figure it out and wherever you want to have it will ship to where you need to be. So those are the kind of berries will focus on in the short-term and then I'd love to start focusing on International probably in the 12 to 18 months. At least starting to think about it. And so more than likely in Japan with is going to be one of the first markets that we're going to consider and they're also just starting the map what the rest of North American potential Europe looks like and so to meet right things. I think the work from home has been challenging but now all leaders have to figure it out if this is to New Normal, how do you keep your team's motivated? How do you keep the burn out as low as possible? Because of this new way of doing things is also something in spending a very very good deal of my timer.

Even looking into the benefits that we offer as the company you are benefits meet the challenges our employees are having today and that's something I would push on the companies to think about. What are the new benefits we need to establish with this type of work arrangement.

Yeah, something very interesting to think about then. We do appreciate your afford thinking of you as well. I like to think I got a little bit of news out of the you there and we'll check back about Japan in the near future that is exciting thing to think about it. For sure for now Alejandro. Thank you so much for your time. It's been wonderful the kids be so you think you'd like the CEO of the Boost speaking to me from California. You can learn more at

Finally on Today Show. It's time to check in with a pass cast Allen Mahan is the founder of Brew bitter a Scottish Craft Beer Company launched in 2016 that donates 100% of its profits to clean water initiative since we last spoke to Alan in May of last year has been working with Brewers all around the world on unique beer collaborations. Not only is it more sustainable and having a beer brewed in local markets, but it also helps pugador to expand its reach. They've also teamed up with heriot-watt University in Edinborough to launch a bursary to encourage more black Asian and minority ethnic students to pursue careers in Brewing and Distilling for today. I asked Allen to tell me about the business license. He's learned in the past few months as offer some advice or other small business owners as your hair. Alan says if you remember your core Mission, there will be no shortage of new opportunities.

Its March 2020 your team is worth for 6 months to coordinate the launch of totally unique beers with 250 Brewers and 24 country oil to help bring clean drinking water of 200,000 people on projects in Malawi. And there's just one week to go. Nothing can stop us. We do only a freak event or not God, but what are the chances of one of those? Well, you know the rest

We can see all around us that the covid-19 pandemic is be bad for business some Industries more than others. But what about those social and Purpose Driven businesses, like ours or world was turned upside dying or business model of using the profits for a craft beer seals two phone clean water projects with stretched to Breaking Point with 60% of our customers think definitely closed we had to reinvent but we did have it to direct consumer Calabria more closely with lose customers still going and build and packed into every canceled because we were clean or not. I more than ever on why we did it to empower people to go better life for themselves. It's still too early to tell if he's with the Right Moves, but we're still here. We're still moving in the right direction so that they take away from me is something I probably always knew that when you're Guided by a Northstar purpose heaven and comes naturally and in times of Crisis without star to guide you you can even end up finding a batter.

And some more allies of on the way that's not just true for social businesses like ours. It's true any business that exists for something because when you exist for something your survival instincts are finally I need to know what you got to live for.

Alan I had founder of Brew gutter my thanks to Alan. You can hear the full story on episode 150 of Eureka and learn more at That's all for this week. My thanks to Christy. Haven't missed an edited that show on Dania Beach. Thank you so much for listening and goodbye.
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