We launched Brand Me Collective with a mentoring scheme. Flowerbx CEO and co-founder Whitney Bromberg Hawkings was one of our mentors and has been hugely supportive as we have grown our network.
Whitney Bromberg Hawkings is Founder and CEO of FLOWERBX. She graduated from Columbia University in 1998 and started her career in Paris working for Tom Ford at Gucci. In 2016, she resigned from her position as SVP of Communications of TOM FORD after working for the designer for 18 years to found FLOWERBX, the online flower delivery service that has become the first global flower brand. Over the past three years, she has launched FLOWERBX across the UK and in France, Germany, Belgium, and Ireland and 17 other countries across Europe. She is currently focused on strengthening and growing the European markets and supporting the US expansion.
We chatted to Whitney to find out why she feels so strongly about helping other women…….
In general, have you felt supported by other women in business and if so, how?
Yes, yes, yes! Early on in the journey (so this meant a HUGE deal!), Chrissie Rucker, who owns The White Company, gave me a Brand Of The Future award, and part of the prize was mentoring with Chrissie. Since then, she has become a formal mentor and friend. Also, Chrissie is a mum with four kids, she’s built an empire, and done it all without being some crazy workaholic woman, so all of that was such a great example to me of what I wanted to be. It’s hard to be it if you can’t see it but she’s someone who shows you it’s possible, so you can make it a reality.
Find mentors who you admire personally. You can find someone who is maybe top of their game in finance, for example, and while that’s wonderful, it’s not something I’m ever going to aspire to be because that’s not my skill set. Choose the people who have a similar business. What Chrissie did was she took something really simple and she created a solution that didn’t exist, so for me the whole concept of what she’s done is what I’m trying to do with Flowerbx – beautiful branding, incredible product.
Choose in mentors the women who have done something similar or have had similar challenges.
Have there been any other female role models or mentors who have supported you as you’ve built Flowerbx?
Ruth Chapman from Matches – like with Chrissie, she came up with a simple concept but she executed it perfectly.
Carmen Busquets is one of those great investors who backs female-founded businesses and gets 100% behind them. She was one of the early investors in Net-a-Porter – it gives you this credibility externally to have those incredible women support you.
How important has this been and what difference has it made?
When people believe in you, especially when that person has a strong reputation and is someone people look to, it gives you great confidence. Having Chrissie give me that award – it gave me confidence and external credibility. I remember thinking, I can’t believe these people believe in me and publicly acknowledge they believe in me!
My female supporters also get the products. They run households and families, they order the gifts, organise the dinner parties. They’re the people Flowerbx is a solution for, so they’re also the biggest advocates for the brand because they get it.
Do you have a network of women you turn to?
I have a big, awesome network of women around me. Being a entrepreneur is a very lonely place – the highs are super high when you’re a founder – and the lows are abysmal, so it’s vital to have people around you going through a similar experience, whether it’s early or later on the journey. You can say, ‘This sucks!’ And they’ll say, ‘I know, but here’s what you can do!’
Monica Vinader is a good friend and she’s further along than me, so she’s very helpful with fundraising – she’s done it all!
Michelle Kennedy, the founder of Peanut, is great because she gets the tech nightmares, she’s a mum and has smaller kids than I do so she gets the challenge, she’s also in a very male-dominated world so she has that whole perspective, which is hugely helpful. She’s also a real girl’s girl; she gets behind her friends and puts them forward for everything.
Serena Hood, who owns Collagerie, is a couple of years behind where we are at Flowerbx, but a lot of things she goes through are things I’ve gone through and I think having people with similar challenges is really helpful.
Emilia Wickstead is my best friend – she’s someone who can talk to me out any deep, dark place, and I hopefully can do the same for her.
Lucy Yeomans – talk about ambitious! She’s got this gaming app called Drest, and this team of about 90 tech people, it’s crazy what she’s done in a year and half! She’s killing it and she and I have weekly, ‘Oh my god, what are we doing!’ moments.
We are all really driven by each other. We’ve got the support of – You’ve got it, go do it! Plus if you see your friends doing terrifying things, you think, am I going to be the scardey cat or I am going to do this?
You are a huge supporter of female entrepreneurs, why is this so important to you?
Because I am one! Because I don’t think it’s a huge network. When I was growing up I didn’t have any examples. Other than Natalie Massenet, there were no other women who were doing really thrilling things like this. And there aren’t that many now which is why it’s so important to surround myself with them.
I think funding is harder for women, they may leave their careers and get stuck at home (if they’re having children), so I think it’s super important for women to show women, to employ women, to be an example to other women, to show that you can do it, that you can be a good mum and a good wife, and you can work your ass off and love you job, and build a career and a company. So I think it’s an important obligation and responsibility I have to younger women.
Are you able to share who any of your mentees are and a little bit about their business?
I an advisor to Amy Christiansen of Sana Jardin, a sustainable fragrance company, and I’m an advisor to Venetia Archer, founder of the app Ruuby. She’s just fierce, she’s got it! I’m a bit further along in the journey so I can offer her advice on fundraising or board building, and all the challenges we all have.
We all feel better when we do something for someone else – it’s like win, win, win! But it’s also an acknowledgement to myself that I have learnt a lot. Because sometimes I think – am I even doing this right? Because there are so many things I am doing wrong every day – but I guess when I am able to pass advice to another person, then I realise I have learnt a lot and I do know what I am doing about a lot of things, and I know a lot more than I did three or four years ago. Being able to share that confirms what I have done (even though I’m not near done and there’s a lot more I want to do!).
What’s your advice to someone starting out in business?
I’d say, just do it and prepare yourself for the ride of your life! You’ll never look back. And then surround yourself with amazing women, who are a little bit ahead and behind you on the journey so you can feel supported because that’s key.
And team is everything – even if it’s just one person that has your back. In fact, maybe two. I had one who resigned after three years and I was crestfallen. It was like the worst break up of my life. It turned out to be a great thing but it’s scary when you rely on one person so much.
It’s easy to say, create a strong team when you have some money, but it’s not easy at the beginning to persuade someone to work in a warehouse that’s freezing cold for a dream!
What advice would you give yourself if you were starting now?
Fail faster! Don’t be afraid afraid to fail. So many things that weren’t working at the beginning I just kept on trying to make them work but now I’m more like, it’s not working, it didn’t turn out the way we thought it would, just move on! The same with people – if they’re not right, don’t spend lots of time trying to make it work, just move on.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Feel the fear and do it anyway. Every single hour of every day I’m out of my comfort zone, but you have to get used to that feeling and embrace it.
What has been your scariest moment?
Last March when Covid hit, for sure! I just thought, that’s it, we’re done. Half of our business historically had been B2B, lots of events – in one day half a million pounds of installations for Chelsea Flower Show cancelled. I thought, how are we even going to survive?
I had 40 employees at that point and we were in the middle of a fundraise, and half the fundraise pulled out. It was terrifying and I thought it was the end of the world… What I didn’t know was that our B2B sales were about to go up 700-800%. It was Mother’s Day, people were self-gifting, staying connected to loved ones with flowers. People couldn’t spend their money on anything else so buying a £35 bunch of tulips seemed like a wonderful idea.
To deal with it personally, I said to myself, if Flowerbx fails, that’s fine. I have so much in my life that I can’t live without, like my family, but this is out of my control. But when you’re leading a team, you can’t be sad. You’re a leader and you have to lead, you have to be okay. The average age of my team 28 so I had to reassure them.
What are your future plans for Flowerbx?
Global floral domination! We’re doing a Series A round now to expand to sole coverage of the US and that’ll keep our hands full for the next two years. To have meaningful growth in the UK, Europe and the US – our whole business plan is focussed on B2C now.
And we have to ask – what are your favourite flowers?
Right now, peonies to sure! But then I’m looking at sweetpeas and they’re the most divine thing, and I’ve just been loving ranunculus earlier in the year, but then I love hydrangeas with their big, beautiful heads… It’s impossible to choose!