Valentine’s Day is meant to be a time for flowers, chocolate, romantic dinners, and posting smartass memes and comments online to make fun of people who like all those things.
Yesterday, on February 14, the Singapore-based startup’s Facebook page was inundated with comments from angry customers. People’s orders were late or never delivered. Some of the orders that did make it into the hands of customers were subpar – flowers were wilting, cards were hastily scribbled, balloons were missing.
To make matters worse, people were trying to get through to customer service, only to have their calls and emails go unanswered. It stoked a fire of Facebook rage that was blazing for most of the day yesterday and into this morning.
It’s something of a cruel irony for co-founder and CEO Steve Feiner, who started the company in 2015 with a vision of providing a better service than traditional flower sellers after a horrible experience he had ordering flowers for his then-girlfriend’s birthday.
“We let countless customers down. We simply did not do our jobs,” a dejected Steve tells Tech in Asia.
It was around noon on Valentine’s Day that Steve and his team knew things were not going to work out well. Order volume for the day was 20 times what the startup usually faces, so much so that it had to shut down orders two days before.
This amounted to just under 2,000 orders, which would have been almost 3,500 if not for the shutdown. “I suppose this type of demand comes rarely but it’s 20 times your usual day,” Steve says. “These really are manageable problems and we just didn’t manage them.”
Steve tries to identify the main areas that broke down in the process. One was failure to anticipate bottlenecks. “We had 70 couriers showing up, with 900 orders to do in that first time slot,” Steve says. Trying to service them all created congestion. The next time slots suffered.
Order volume for the day was so large that A Better Florist had to shut down orders two days before.
The bottlenecks affected several orders, which did reach customers’ hands in less than ideal condition. “Quality control is another main issue. The amount of time it takes to check a bouquet is about a minute – you don’t have 2,000 minutes,” Steve laments. “These are things we can catch when we do 600 orders but not thousands.”
Finally, decision-making on the spot to tackle each crisis as it came along was flawed. The team was sleepless, having worked for 116 hours last week to get ready. “I don’t think all of us were making the best real-time decisions.”
For example, to try and satisfy as many orders as possible, Steve decided to funnel all available resources to delivery. This meant no time for customer service and communication. He thinks this allowed the company to get another 100 to 200 orders out. On the flipside, customers who weren’t receiving their orders had no idea what was going on.
It didn’t help that a Facebook thread where customers complained was deleted yesterday. The startup put up an apology post that did little to abate the angry comments. Meanwhile, someone went as far as to create a troll “A Better Florist Customer Care” page, which hasn’t seen much traction so far.
This isn’t A Better Florist’s first Valentine’s Day, but it is the first time the startup faced so many problems. “Last year was challenging, but we were able to do it,” Steve says. Since then, its business has grown 10x year-on-year so Valentine’s Day followed suit with that growth.”
Steve doesn’t mince words when reflecting on the past 24 hours. “We got into this business to make people happy and we did the exact opposite,” he says. “Despite our best planning, our hard work, working through the night, fundamentally we didn’t execute.”
The hardest lesson the startup learned was how under-resourced it was to meet this kind of demand. Just the previous day, it was putting out calls online for friends to come help with deliveries.
A customer Tech in Asia spoke with, who happens to be a former VC, had ordered flowers from the site for the day but never received them (the individual asked not to be identified).
“I received no emails, did not see updates on Facebook, called but the phone was disconnected,” the person says. The investor got personally in touch with the team to berate and advise them.
The hardest lesson the startup learned was how under-resourced it was to meet this kind of demand.
Tech in Asia reached out to many other customers affected by this, but we haven’t heard back yet.
Today Steve plans to contact his customers one by one to offer personal apologies. “I’m going to spend the entire day calling, communicating with people, saying I fucked up,” he says. “This is on me, not my team who gave everything they had.”
“I watched two grown men cry last night because of disappointment,” he says of his staff. “I’m a founder, I’m gonna be obsessed with my business but for others to have that passion is something I’m grateful for.”
There’s nothing else to do now but for A Better Florist to pick up the pieces and try to put them together again. “These lessons are brutal, ass-kicking motherfucking lessons,” Steve says. “It’s a mess to clean up but we will clean it up.”