Lana Elie: how I'll make my first million
Lana Elie tells us about being backed by New Look founder Tom Singh, not going to university and her investment jargon pet peeves. Floom is an online floristry marketplace launched in February 2015.
Floom has been selling a replica of Meghan Markle's wedding bouquet.
Prior to launching the firm, Elie worked at Burberry as a PA, and in content marketing for brands including Prada and Diesel.
Where did your ambition come from?
I grew up in Bali, Indonesia, to two hippy parents - on a beach, in rice fields.
I was one of those people who liked going to school, and because of financial issues there was a stage where I couldn’t go to school. International school in Bali was 10 grand a year. I would feel very jealous and angry at my friends who hated school. Maybe because my parents were hippies I have always aspired to work.
So my aunt and uncle adopted me and I moved to California when I was 15.
Nobody loves working, but it makes me feel like I’m part of something and I have something to look forward to.
What was your first job?
I was working for a doctor’s office filing documents in the back room.
On the weekends I would do shredding. I would just shred documents with two shredders. I got to understand how thick the paper would have to be so it wouldn’t clog the shredder.
I worked from the age of 15. I got into university but I didn’t go because my visa didn’t transfer over. In a way it was one of the best things that happened to me. I found as I progressed in my career I was always being paid more than people my age, and I was always in more senior positions because I had two or three years more experience.
Do you think your upbringing impacted your attitude to money?
Definitely. It’s made making it quite important so that I can do things for my kids and for my mum. I felt like the struggles I was forced to go through at a young age, I don’t want to put other people through. Not in a huge sob story way. I came out completely fine. But it’s a huge driver.
How did you have the idea for Floom?
I had it when I was at Burberry because I sent so many flowers as a PA. The finance department didn’t like me calling small places and saying: “There’s a handwritten VAT receipt for you to track”. They were like: “This is completely inappropriate. Don’t give our credit card details over the phone to people, use Interflora”. They’ve been around a hundred years so everybody knows them.
But on our site we’re a family, we’re a community. The florists design their bouquets, tell us what’s in stock, build their own pictures. It’s a platform to help them sell online, not us saying: “Hold this in stock, forget about what your style or identity is, in fact we don’t want to tell customers what florist they’re buying from, you just fulfil it.” We don’t live in a world like that anymore.
How did you get funding?
I got committed funding while I was at Vice [the magazine]. I did the business plan in the evenings and I was also helping a guy who’d just raised a couple of million with his content strategy. He wasn’t paying me and I was like: “Can you have a look at my deck [investment presentation]?”. He introduced me to a guy called Tom Singh. That was literally my first investment meeting. It was super daunting.
How did you prepare for the meeting?
I watched a lot of videos on YouTube. They tell you exactly what pages you need. This is the title of the page, this is what information goes in this slide… and you’ll see consistencies between 10 of them and think: “This is how it’s done”. There’s so much information online. I’ve always Googled everything. My whole experience being an entrepreneur has been down to Google and YouTube and a couple of good books along the way.
Have you had advice from anyone on finance?
Greg [Stogdon] at Burberry [senior vice president, Creative] is now one of our investors and he told me so much. I met my MD at Vice, the CMO at Diesel. I was always dealing with such inspiring people that let me in and gave me the opportunity to speak to them and ask them about things.
I speak to one of my investors, who is on my board, every day.
How is Floom doing and what are your plans?
We did 52 per cent order growth between August and September, 60 per cent revenue. In fact September was our best month of orders. We’re a peak business, so our best months were February and March before that, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.
I’d like to replace Interflora. I’m actually serious. I don’t want them to buy us, because that’s not who we are. I have investors who have the intention of an exit, but we have strategies that could introduce extra revenue models for the next 10 years, easily. We have 73 florists and we’re looking to have florists that deliver everywhere in the country.
If I sold it I would go and do something like this again. I don’t know if it would be flowers, but I just want to come up with another idea and do it all over again and start from the beginning.
Do you have investments of your own?
It’s definitely something I would love to do in the future. I already know what my things are, what I would look for and what chances I would take. One of my investors sends me all of his investment presentations and asks what I think. I write him these huge emails, yes for these reasons, no for these reasons.
What would you watch out for as an investor?
I look at the opportunity size and if they’ve broken it down. How realistic is it? Then I always look at brand first. Do you understand how consumer behaviour is changing? Are you building a brand that’s going to exist in 5 or 10 years? Or does it look like a brand that existed 20 years ago. You look at anything now, you walk into a shop, and everything is clean design. There are some companies that you’re like: “How are you not catching on to this?”. Then I guess it’s who are the people running it?
I suppose you never really know until it’s your money and you’re taking that risk, but I say: “This is what I would do”.
What are your investment jargon pet peeves?
Acronyms. It’s like a doctor telling someone they’re ill by using acronyms. VCs [venture capitalists] ask you questions about your business and everyone knows that the people that do well don’t necessarily come from finance backgrounds, but you’re still expected to know these things. My biggest were life-time value, LTV. And also CAC [cost of customer acquisition]. And then I would get thrown off because they would say: “What’s your GMV?” or “GTV”. Gross merchandising value or gross transaction value, same thing. When it got a different letter in it, I thought: “It must be something different”.
Are they trying to catch you out or don’t realise they’re doing it?
It is almost an unknown attitude. Even I do it now. Now when I meet people and they ask me for help, I say: “Know these acronyms!”.
Just know them, because you’re going to sit there and they’ll look at you like you’re an idiot if you need to ask. It’s not about knowing the acronyms, it’s actually important things to running a business and making sure it works. What is the lifetime value of a customer, how much do you need to pay to acquire a customer, what are you going to get back and how long will it take you to get that back?
Now I realise the huge importance of them, from being asked.
Read more: Two-minute guide: Crowdfunding explained