Cedar Talks: Farmgirl Flowers founder Christina Stembel’s top five insights on bootstrapping for good
This August, Farmgirl Flowers founder and CEO Christina Stembel joined Cedar Talks to discuss her experience bootstrapping the world's largest e-commerce flower arrangement business from the “ground up.” Throughout the hour-long conversation with Cedar President Seth Cohen, Stembel talked about the tenacity she needed to weather the difficulties of COVID-19, shared her thoughts on keeping vision and values front and center and how she stood strong amidst massive headwinds of adversity and rejection. Her top five insights are presented below.
To watch the full replay click here.
Never be afraid if you don’t “fit the mold”
Growing up in a small town, Stembel knew that she didn’t “fit the mold” for what was considered successful, but realized after working her tail off that she could achieve something bigger and broader.
“Where I grew up your path was set as ‘marry a nice boy and have 3.5 children and a nice life.’ And I didn't really fit that mold. I just had to make my own way and figure out what I was going to do. And that led me to so many industries. That showed me what I didn't want to do, but I learned a lot from each of those industries...I learned really quickly that if you just worked really hard and if you were intellectually inclined, you could do what you want.”
Hear about Stembel’s “Ah ha” moment on her entrepreneurship journey at 3:33.
Make sure your fear of not trying exceeds your fear of failure
After receiving 104 “no’s” from VCs (over 300 if you include email rejections) and dwindling capital, Stembel said that what kept her going was the need to keep “just going for it.”
“I think every entrepreneur has this giant fear of failure, but we have a bigger fear of not trying – just not going for it. I’d like to think I’d quit if it wasn’t working.”
Want to know more about how Stembel hunkered down and pivoted in the midst of extreme challenges? Check out 16:40.
Focus on outworking everyone else
Stembel has called Farmgirl Flowers a “workhorse in a sea of unicorns.” Why?
“I think every bootstrapped kicking-it-old-school type business is like, ‘What does it mean [to be a unicorn]?’ That's probably the farm mentality in me. So I just like to say we're a workhorse. We're gonna get there. We’re a real company that is doing things in a way that is sustainable long term. I’m really proud to be a worker.”
Want to hear Stembel’s full take on work ethic? Navigate to 19:31.
VCs are not the final authority on business viability
After hundreds of different rejections to her VC pitches, Stembel had a Eureka moment where she realized the path to business viability didn’t necessarily go through the standard path of fundraising.
“I just want people to know there's another way. The most freeing moment in the last 10 years for me was when I finally realized after 104 rejections that the VCs I was talking to were not the smartest people in the room. I know what I'm doing and if they don't want to come along for that, that's their loss, not mine.
You have to believe in yourself. If you don't, you're not going to make it, in my opinion— at least bootstrapping—because no one else is going to believe in you. Even my family thought it was nuts.”
Curious as to how Stembel kept following her North Star after relentless rejection? Click here and navigate to 21:39.
Stand by your values
Stembel highlights her values as a critical part of her vision and what keeps her going (43:01).
“We'll always be values driven because I'm values driven—we even put it in our job descriptions. I very much believe in doing the right thing. I worry about that more than the bottom line—I'm worried about people and doing what's right for people.”
To hear about Farmgirl Flowers’ partnering with Levi’s and Planned Parenthood, almost closing due to COVID-19, opening a new facility in Ecuador, standing up to political pressures and much more, click here to watch the full replay.
Cedar Talks is a thought leadership series highlighting experienced entrepreneurs, tech innovators and healthcare leaders who are solving important problems by challenging the status quo. Recent Cedar Talks have included Zola Co-founder and CEO Shan-Lyn Ma, CareJourney President Aneesh Chopra, Affirm founder and CEO Max Levchin and Clinton Foundation Vice Chair Chelsea Clinton.