3 Lessons Farmgirl Flowers Founder Christina Stembel Has Picked Up on the Road to $100 Million in Revenue
It's not all roses. Here's how Stembel is toughening up to become a truly empowering leader.
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Casual, kind and warm. That's how Christina Stembel, founder and CEO of Farmgirl Flowers, shows up to our Zoom interview.
I show her the Farmgirl bouquet I've ordered, and we bond over a mutual shared love of our art. Turns out she likes my food analogy articles, like the infamous "throwing out your old bananas" piece, and I'm a giant fan of all things floral from Farmgirl.
But, more than adoration the two of us have two giant things in common:
- The shared understanding of what it's like to scale and lose your "baby" team.
- The shared feeling of entrepreneurial vision, where you can see you'll be successful, and you're (almost) done trying to explain that vision to others.
In 2020, Stembel's team scaled drastically. Used to 50% year over year growth, the team was doing back flips when Farmgirl reached $65 million in revenue during a time when success was far from guaranteed. Stembel is refreshingly honest about how many gifting companies are now seeing flatlined profits, but in her opinion, few are sharing it.
Stembel's No. 1 focus is reaching $100 million in sales (with $10 million in profit) without funding. As she bootstraps her way to this goal, she's made a conscious effort to slow down in order to speed up. First things first, she's reorganizing the company and hiring a C-suite.
"What I've had to realize is you're going to have to do really hard things," she says. "You're going to have to fire people. You'll have to layer team members up even though you both feel terrible during the process. But these things are necessary, because the person you hired at a $1 million valuation likely would need years to enhance their skills to be in a similar position at a $100 million dollar company, and that can't happen overnight."
Light bulb! When my ghostwriting business scaled from $8,000 a month to $85,000, I was sweating on the floor trying to pay my team. After raising their salaries as our revenue increased, I was still met with unfinished tasks. Stembel solved my brain puzzle when she shared that easy fact. However, the task she's about to tackle — that elusive $100 million goal — is far from easy.
So, how is she slowing down to speed up? What is she learning, and what does she want us to know?
1. Get over your ego
Stembel struggled with being an unfunded woman, namely because she lives in Silicon Valley. She felt there was a stigma around running her business without any venture capital. In a world where most entrepreneurs are judged by their numbers, her advice is to focus on profit and keep your head down.
2. Get used to doing hard (like, really hard) things
You're going to have to fire or move people, even good people. You're going to have to make them feel bad when you demote them and hire a leader above them. But you can do this.
3. Shut down the armchair quarterbacks
Close your literal or proverbial open door, set clear boundaries and learn this one sentence: "I don't care." As Stembel says, "It's time to trust me, or it's time to get off the bus."
I know what you're thinking: Why does a sweet floral shop need such tough leadership? Isn't it just fun and picking flowers?
Not at $65 going on $100 million, folks. It's a perishable-product-based business that involves technology, ecommerce, customer support and high level partnerships. Sometimes we judge the "easy" looking businesses based on their branding color palettes instead of their true ability to stand the test of a full decade, like Farmgirl.
Stembel's mission to reach her new revenue goal comes from a deep desire to show women — and unfunded entrepreneurs — that their visions are possible. In fact, she plans on becoming an investor specifically for women-run businesses in the future.
If you have heart, hustle and skill, you'll have the chance to fight in the arena, as Stembel says based on her unofficial mentor Brene Brown's reading of Roosevelt's famous writing, which she keeps at her desk.
So, if you're ready to do it and do it well, despite the hard things, despite the fear and despite the stigma your ego is feeling, here's what I would suggest based on my time spent with Farmgirl's CEO and founder, as well as my own recent experience:
- Review your numbers (duh). But really look at them. What costs what? Do some costs just cover other team costs? Where can you slim down while you slow down?
Evaluate your team. Who is there based on merit, and who is there just because it terrifies you to let them go (or let them down)? Who would you hire if you could hire anyone, and who emulates those characteristics on the job market now?
Lastly, what will your success mean to other entrepreneurs, men or women? And, what do you plan on doing with that legacy?
Let's go bloom, y'all.