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Entrepreneur

Christina Stembel

The Entrepreneur Delivering Local Blooms to the Masses

Many of the best business ideas start from solving simple, everyday problems—and such was the case for Farmgirl Flowers CEO Christina Stembel. Frustrated by a lack of choice and quality when sending flowers, Stembel took matters into her own hands. The idea? Source florals locally and curate a limited inventory—thereby yielding less waste, less expense and higher quality blooms. Spoiler: The model worked. After netting $15 million in 2017, Farmgirl has recently expanded into weddings and events, inching Stembel closer and closer to achieving her goal: becoming a billion dollar business (and a beautiful one at that).

What is your biggest accomplishment to date?

“Not running out of money! I’m only half joking. Owning and operating a bootstrapped business means we have to carefully consider every dollar that we spend. While our team’s employment certainly isn’t in jeopardy, we’re a far cry from the business that can throw money at a problem in order to fix it. Or really, throw money at anything. I actually really like this about our team—it helps us stay creative and scrappy! I know one day we’ll be able to run a little less lean than we do now, but I hope we always keep that spirit of scrappiness.”

What’s something you’d like people to know about you or your job that they probably don’t?

“I didn’t start Farmgirl Flowers because I loved flowers and wanted to play with them all day. I think we often make the assumption when a woman starts a business in a creative space that it must have been a passion project. And that’s the story that’s often told. All of our competitive companies are owned and led by men, and I don’t think anyone says the same for them. I’ve never heard anyone suggest that the McCann brothers started 1-800-Flowers.com because they used to love frolicking in their grandmother’s garden, but that’s the story many want to portray about Farmgirl.

“Don’t get me wrong, I really like flowers—and LOVE that we get to show hundreds of thousands of people each year that they are loved. And we get to do that by providing them a beautiful product. I truly love that. But I started Farmgirl Flowers to build a big company that did it better than what was currently offered, because my dream was to grow a successful company—not to play with flowers. What I get the most joy from is building a great company that does things the right way.”

What does being a woman mean to you today?

“I think it means different things personally and professionally. I’m more outspoken about being a woman in business—in terms of equal pay, access to funding and leadership positions. Some days it feels like an uphill battle. As an entrepreneur who is also female, I have less than a 2 percent chance of ever receiving funding for Farmgirl Flowers. If I identified as a person of color, my chances would be even lower. That’s a frustrating fact, especially when there are strikingly similar competitors who were founded after I started Farmgirl Flowers that received funding pre-revenue.

“I used to feel bitter about this, but now I get it. People trust people who look like them—and I don’t look like 99 percent of the people I’ve pitched to. So now I turn that frustration into energy that helps fuel the company. It’s like Will Smith said of not being afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be outworked, and I believe that no matter what disadvantage I might have by being a woman in business, I will make up for in grit. And I’ll keep shouting about it from every mountaintop I can find so hopefully the next generation of women in business won’t face the same resistance.

“Personally, I grew up with well-defined gender roles and from a very young age, they just didn’t fit for me. Those gender roles dictated that my sister and I wouldn’t go to college, but our younger brother would. They said that the man was the head of the household and, as a woman, I was supposed to get married, have children and be subordinate. I was even asked to not return to my parents’ church while in high school because I asked too many questions and was disruptive of other people’s learnings. So, personally, what being a woman means to me is the same as what being a man would mean to me—being able to make any choice I want for myself and knowing that I alone am the person who determines what my life looks like.”

Desert island question: If you could bring only three things, what would they be?

“An iPhone full of audiobooks, the biggest extended charger I could find and two of my best friends. After all, building an epic treehouse will be much easier with help.”

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