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Jewish Journal

Fresh, local blooms sprout from the Web

by Gerri Miller

April 23, 2014 | 1:47 pm

From left: BloomNation’s David Daneshgar, Farbod Shoraka and Gregg Weisstein. Photo by Jan Lim

From left: BloomNation’s David Daneshgar, Farbod Shoraka and Gregg Weisstein. Photo by Jan Lim

For Gregg Weisstein and David Daneshgar, sending flower arrangements to girlfriends and mothers had long been a disappointing experience. 

“Sometimes the flowers came wilted. Sometimes they didn’t come at all,” Daneshgar said recently. 

Weisstein commiserated: “You have a couple of bad experiences and it’s not worth your effort, time and money anymore.” 

That excuse is now gone, since the two Jewish bachelors have partnered with Farbod Shoraka to found a one-year-old online floral marketplace called BloomNation, based in Santa Monica.

“BloomNation lets the customer shop directly with the local florist,” Weisstein explained. “If you want to send flowers to New York, we show you florists available there, with photos of their actual products. We have well over 2,000 florists across the country, delivering to over 3,000 cities.” 

In the greater Los Angeles area, there are more than 100 participating florists, both retail and studio designers that specialize in events like weddings and b’nai mitzvah.

“Like JDate, we’re the platform, a software that connects two parties that never would have found each other otherwise,” said Daneshgar, head of sales and business development.

He said that unlike well-known flower brokers that act as middlemen, matching buyer and vendor anonymously — think FTD or Teleflora — BloomNation keeps transactions transparent, which benefits the consumer. 

“You can see the pictures, reviews, what other people are saying about [the vendor]. And you know exactly who you’re buying from, so if they do great, you’ll continue buying from them,” Daneshgar said.

He said there are incentives for the florists, too. First, they get 90 percent of the purchase price, more than when dealing with other brokers, some of which take 50 percent. BloomNation also offers free promotion.

“We help them build their Web sites for free, give them their own Facebook store, get them publicity in magazines like Elle Décor,” Daneshgar said. 

Customers can choose among 32,000 arrangements, filtered by location, price and type. Consultants are available for live online chats on the Web site (bloomnation.com). A feature called BloomSnap lets the buyer see a photo of the arrangement before it ships.

“Now no guy has an excuse not to get his wife, mother or girlfriend beautiful flowers,” Daneshgar said. 

While women tend to purchase flowers throughout the year, there’s an uptick in male customers for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, said Weisstein, the company’s COO. For the latter — May 11 this year — “We’ve been preparing since Feb. 15,” Weisstein said. 

“But we want people to know that they don’t have to wait for a holiday to send flowers. We make it super easy and convenient to send a bouquet.” 

Weisstein, who is partial to longer-lasting orchids, lilies and hydrangeas, suggests that recipients who want to extend the life of their flowers trim the stems, change the water daily and add an aspirin or a drop of bleach to the water. “It does work,” he promised.

Daneshgar said he and his family now send arrangements for Passover seders and Shabbat dinners instead of bringing wine: “Before we even get there, we’re the talk of the dinner.” 

A native of Granada Hills and current Santa Monica resident, Weisstein, 33, studied business and economics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and spent eight post-grad years helping to restructure failing companies. 

“We’d go in and act as interim management. It was challenging and exciting and very rewarding. But it made me think about wanting my own business,” he said.

Daneshgar, 32, born and raised in Westlake Village, is an alumnus of  UC Berkeley, where he met fellow grad Shoraka. He was introduced to Weisstein by mutual friends. 

While he was a student, Daneshgar’s expertise as a poker player earned him an invitation to teach a class in statistics and probability in gaming at Berkeley. He turned pro after graduation, becoming a World Series of Poker champion. 

Jetsetting around the world to tournaments was fun and lucrative, and even his conservative Persian-Jewish father, a physician who had hoped he’d be a doctor, warmed to the idea. But after five and a half years, Daneshgar began to think about his next move, which turned out to be the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. 

The school holds a competition called the New Venture Challenge, and Daneshgar decided to enter with the BloomNation concept, which he developed with Weisstein and Shoraka, the latter now CEO. It was inspired by the complaints and challenges faced by Shoraka’s aunt — a florist. 

“We were one of the winners, and through that, people took interest and introduced us [to investors],” Daneshgar said. “They really believe in what we do.” 

The company also got a boost after Daneshgar entered a local poker tournament at a casino in 2011 and won — collecting $27,000.

At first, BloomNation outsourced its Web development, but the partners later decided to bring everyone in-house, for every department. The result has been striking.

“It’s like a family,” Daneshgar said, noting that more than half the employees are Jewish. “I’ve invited a lot of them, Jewish or not, to Shabbat dinner.”

Daneshgar grew up attending Temple Etz Chaim, a Conservative synagogue in Thousand Oaks, and had his bar mitzvah in Israel at the Western Wall. Now he occasionally attends services with his widowed grandmothers — who live in neighboring high-rises — at Sinai Temple in Westwood. They often ask when he’ll get married, and he doesn’t have an answer but confides that he’d like to find “someone who’s really motivated and working at something” with whom he can raise a family.

Weisstein gets the same nudging from his Jewish grandmother, to which he replies: “I’m really focused on flowers right now.”

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