Flower power: Q&A with Bloom&Wild CTO Marta Jasinska
Like the letterbox flower kits that it carefully hand packs and delivers in bud form for its customers, online flower gifting company Bloom&Wild has flourished over the last eight years – growing from start-up to scale-up with the acquisition of two key companies.
A couple of months after buying Amsterdam based Bloomon earlier last year, the trusted flower delivery brand – which delivers 11million bouquets annually – then acquired its French-based competitor Bergamotte, a D2C online flower and plant business.
At the centre of these mergers is the ambition to combine a shared knowledge that the London-based firm hopes will give it the most powerful technology, data and marketing platform in the industry.
In terms of integrating cultures, teams, platforms and data, this presents huge challenges for Bloom &Wild’s CTO Marta Jasinska – who was onboarded remotely during the pandemic and had only just got to know her own team before the M&As more than doubled the firm’s tech department.
TechInformed met up with Jasinska during Manchester Tech Week last month, following her appearance on a C-Suit keynote panel that looked at how IT drives business growth.
What have the recent M&As involved from a technology perspective?
Marta Jasinska: It’s significantly expanded our presence in Europe, in particular in the French and German markets. That means we’ve really expanded what we do in terms of ecommerce and the capability to deliver multi-branded experiences. Bloom&Wild already had a strong web and apps experience but now other brands have been converted too.
We’ve also shifted a lot of our software and platform towards supporting our operations. Historically we were a third party-supported operating model using Flamingo as our partner. But since the acquisitions we’ve really expanded our in-house operations and now have multiple warehouses in Europe – operating for both Bloom&Wild and the other brands.
My team manages the software that runs in those warehouses and connects to the platform. So, in the last two years a lot has changed for technology but also for the business as well.
What’s been your approach to managing your team during this rapid growth period?
Expanding from a start-up into a scale up traditionally involves adapting to different ways of working. Making people comfortable with change and making it clear what their role involves is half of what my job involves right now.
You want to be able to connect the culture of the company with your own team and they need to believe in those values just as much as your creative department. You need to be part of the process of understanding why you are in this business.
We care widely about people and environment – and I use this to build spirit in the team that connects them with the business.
A challenge I’ve faced in the past is when I’ve worked in departments with a tech start-up like culture that doesn’t match with the way the wider company works. That can cause problems with individuals and you as a leader – that thinking that the tech department is allowed to do things differently. There’s no table football in our office!
It’s also been about focussing on strategy and the future of the platform – helping people realise that it’s not just about the next win or the next feature anymore but having a roadmap and planning ahead. That can be a bit daunting if you don’t’ have the right skills or the right way of developing the strategy you need.
What challenges did you have to meet operationally?
Once I had everything up and running with the team and things were calming down then the two M&As happened in quite quick succession. When I joined there were 35 people in my team, now there are 70 – we’ve doubled in size.
It was a case of business as usual at Bloom & Wild, but we also needed to develop a plan for integration – of the team and of the platform.
We were able to benefit from combining ecommerce expertise from Bloom&Wild with the operational expertise from Bloomon and Bergamotte. But to develop the plan and execute that quickly was challenging. I’m proud of what the team has achieved over the last 12 months We successfully integrated the platforms and develop multi-brand features, which meant that we didn’t have and migrate customers over.
It was quite a big project for the team to deliver and it took about six months.
In terms of longer-term strategy, what’s next for the business?
Enhancing the customer experience – how can we think about building the most engaging and interesting experience for our customers that takes them beyond just gifting flowers. Thinking about self-purchases, for example, or about buying flowers by subscription or what other products and gifts we can we bring to the home.
We’re also thinking about expanding our geographical locations – we are already quite big in Europe but there are still places to go in Germany and France – we can still grow in those markets so consolidating and making sure that we give customers in those countries the experiences they want – which might be different from what UK customers want.
From a technology perspective, this means having the flexibility at the customer experience level and making sure we can use user journeys in our web and in our apps that are distinct by brand and by purchasing means. And introducing new products in the future as well.
On the other side of the platform there’s the challenge of scaling our operations. Like I mentioned we are operating on two models now – in house and third party supported; building technology that allows us to do this in a sustainable way – we care deeply about the environment and not increasing our carbon footprint. We must make sure that technology supports those efforts and I think that a big part of that is data collection and understanding the metrics and allowing our team to use metrics. First in a manual way – a dashboard that tells you are going over or under a certain KPI. And in the future making sure our systems react automatically to this data in real time.
Are you using AI and ML to help you on this data journey?
We have a data team that consists or data engineering and data scientists. We have traditional operational data flowing into the data warehouse but then we’re developing data models on top of it to enable machine learning.
We are using ML to enhance customer experience – to make sure we are showing the most relevant bouquets, for instance, and not showing you something that you already bought recently or that’s not relevant for the occasion that the customer is buying for.
We’re also developing ML algorithms for operational purposes – to make sure that we can react better to changes in the floor and changes in how the warehouse operates.
What’s your approach to managing third party relationships?
A lot has changed and hasn’t changed in the last five or ten years. There’s always a challenge and tension involved in working with third parties: it could be an agency that provides you with developers – so it’s about integrating those people in with the team being clear on what you are aligned on and what ‘good’ looks like. Making sure they’re delivering on the value you want them to deliver. That hasn’t changed.
What has changed since the pandemic is that everyone has spend so much time working remotely that we’ve tackled some of these issues because you have to become comfortable and be able to collaborate with people that are not in the same room as you. In that respect, working with agencies and contractors has become like working with colleagues within your own organisation – several of whom you might not have met face to face.
I joined Bloom&Wild during the pandemic, and I was onboarded remotely so it’s a bit daunting when you think about leading a team as a CTO. For the first three months the only person I met face to face was the CEO.
How did you manage to establish a rapport during that period of remote working?
It was quite tough, there were a lot of meetings over the first three months. I prioritised the technology team first – so making sure that everyone in the team has spent some time with me and that had a good opportunity to talk to them.
But also, it was about engaging with them on the platform remotely. I spent a lot of time educating myself on the actual platform and the problems that are arising day to day. I also joined team meetings and planning meetings, asking in advance if they would let me join them. I also made sure that I was present and active in those conversations.
As soon as we were able, we organised in-person events – flying people over and having a good time meeting everyone. And we’ve established on going check points so every other week there are innovation review meetings where everybody comes together and does a demo. There are also tech and product meetings. So, there are a lot of opportunities to get together and talk to people.
I’m still getting to know people; it takes time but it’s important. In terms hybrid working, however, I still don’t think anyone’s quite solved that yet.
Is your operation fully hybrid now?
When I joined we were pretty much all based in London – we have an office Vauxhall – but these days 30% of my team is fully remote in the UK and other locations – which means we have no other choice but to be hybrid.
As a result of the acquisitions we also have technology teams In Amsterdam and Paris so we are definitely hybrid – which I think is the hardest of the three options that you could choose from.
The worst type of meeting is when you have five people in a meeting room in an office and one person joining remotely where the camera is far away, and you cannot see that person’s expression. Everyone remote great – you can all see each other – and everyone in the office also works. But those hybrid meetings are challenging.
If you walk around the area here [Manchester Tech Week’s exhibition space at Manchester Central] you can see a lot of companies are trying to solve this – there’s Blue Jeans, there’s Zoom… lots of camera solutions as well as hardware and software designed to help us with those kinds of problems…
As a gifts-based outfit, how do you prepare for peaks such as Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day?
Our peaks start around Christmas then you’ve got Valentines’ Day and Mother’s Day and Easter. Mother’s Day is interesting because you have different mother’s days in different territories. I’m a huge fan of boring peaks – which means that I like the technology to be ready, we can prepare, we can test in advance.
We really try not to rely on individual heroics because as much as we appreciate people going above and beyond when needed, I want to create an environment where engineers don’t have to sacrifice their weekends and evenings and nights to defend the stability of the system.
So, a big part of our strategy for dealing with our peaks is embedding our scalability and reliability priorities in the roadmap for the year and to always continually invest in the database – particularly the database because if that goes down then everything else stops.
And make sure we have performance testing and load testing to ensure we can manage the traffic that’s coming our way.
That said, we have 24/7 support hours and deal with incidents as they come. The management team is also on the rota – there was an incident this weekend I was awakened at 4am on Saturday morning and had to jump in and help.
But most of the time I’m pretty fortunate to say that there are not a lot off issues that come up or keep me awake at night.
Subscribe to our Editor's weekly newsletter