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How Farmgirl Flowers CEO Christina Stembel Built Her Startup Without an Academic Pedigree or Institutional Funding
From her one-bedroom apartment, Christina Stembel grew her local flower delivery service to a company that delivers nationwide.
On this episode of Behind Her Empire, the founder and CEO of Farmgirl Flowers discusses growing up in rural Indiana, overseeing a company without investors and finding creative solutions to obstacles.
Stembel’s family wanted her to stay local to their farm, but she said she knew that wasn’t the path for her. She left the farm after high school and eventually found herself working in hospitality in San Francisco. Seeing people in the city manage their own startups inspired her to consider her own business path, and she considered hundreds of ideas before landing on Farmgirl Flowers.
When it launched, the company offered just one daily bouquet. It has since grown to offer up to 40 arrangements at a time.
Stembel had no experience in the floral industry, and she soon discovered how difficult it could be to work with highly perishable products. Everything from heatwaves to shipping issues impacted the flowers, and she had to familiarize herself with potential roadblocks as she placed orders months in advance.
“I think it's really important especially for women to hear that they don't have to be the cliche story of, ‘Oh, you're so lucky you turned your hobby into a business,’” she said. “You can be intentional about wanting to be an entrepreneur and start a business.”
Stembel said she used to regret not going to college; investors often could not see past her lack of a degree. She had to pull from her own savings to fund the company, which is still completely bootstrapped.
Now, she said she values her experience having to foster her own intellectual curiosity and drive outside without the prompting of an academic institution, adding that perspective helped grow both her understanding of her industry and her creative approach to the business.
“I think we need to get out of this mindset that success equals funding,” She said. “It was the most freeing moment that I've had since starting Farmgirl.”
dot.LA editorial intern Kristin Snyder contributed to this post.
Whether it's Amazon’s enormous investment in electric vans or Starship Technologies’ autonomous food transport rovers, there’s no shortage of tech companies looking to electrify last-mile deliveries and cut carbon emissions.
URB-E, a Los Angeles-based startup, may have the simplest solution of all: electric bicycles. With its fleet of souped-up, battery-powered custom e-bikes equipped with collapsible box trailers, the company is ferrying meals, groceries, ecommerce orders and other packages to doorsteps in L.A. and New York City.
Now, the mobility and logistics company is returning to its roots in California to partner with the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) and the city of Santa Monica on a pilot program that establishes zero-emission delivery zones. Santa Monica has established itself as the cradle of micromobility in recent years, and the city’s initiative—described as the first of its kind in the U.S.—aims to live up to that reputation by carving out priority curb space for electric delivery vehicles in certain high-traffic corridors. In addition to luring new operators, the program should also lower air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and noise pollution in some of the busiest parts of Santa Monica.
The pilot will feature 10 URB-E e-bikes that will service zero-emission delivery zones along Santa Monica Boulevard and Colorado Boulevard, with plans to expand the pilot to 20 URB-E vehicles in the near future. The startup will share the curb space with electric vehicles from the likes of Coco, Fluid Truck, Maxwell Vehicles and Nissan, as well as vendors like Ikea and Shopify. The pilot will run until the end of the year.
“I think we've already seen an enormous amount of excitement in this space,” LACI president and CEO Matt Petersen told dot.LA. “We know that URB-E is going to just crush it as they hit the streets.”
Courtesy of LACI
URB-E is no stranger to LACI: Founded in 2015 by former Ford and Fisker engineer Sven Etzelsberger and business development veteran Peter Lee, the startup joined the incubator in 2018—a stint that helped propel its business forward. Back in those days, URB-E was focused on developing e-scooters; initially, the company wanted to use its scooter technology and to deliver packages around the Burbank area, but quickly discovered that, to be cost-efficient, it needed to carry more weight than the scooters could handle.
“[The scooters] could pull around 300 or 400 pounds, which is not actually that much,” recalled URB-E CEO Charles Jolley, an Apple and Facebook veteran who now leads the startup. “In order to get that good balance of efficiency, you needed to carry around 800 pounds.” So URB-E went back to the drawing board and revamped its designs—moving on to e-bikes that can haul up to 800 pounds and a completely new container system.
In addition to its hometown, the company has also cut its teeth in New York City, where delivery riders pedal across neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Jolley said the length of a delivery run depends on the shape of the neighborhood, but it usually takes five-to-nine miles of riding to unload a full container of goods. The startup was boosted by a $5 million Series A funding round led by UBS Group early last year.
Another week, another new neighborhood for URB-E! Where is it?pic.twitter.com/VmLa2O1bNe— URB-E (@URB-E) 1650992421
While bikes and containers are core to URB-E’s platform, the company is also collecting logistics data every step along the way. With a custom software app that riders use to navigate and deliver packages, URB-E is actively mapping the infrastructure needs of neighborhood-scale electric delivery. As the startup has grown, it’s gained insights into where to position charging stations and staging areas and how to efficiently execute deliveries.
That will help it support whatever electric contraptions may show up down the road as the delivery vehicles of the future, according to Jolley. “The vehicles can evolve over time, and we actually now have all of this infrastructure to support [them],” he said.
Ecommerce shipment tracking startup Route—which is based in the “Silicon Slopes” hotbed surrounding Salt Lake City but has a growing presence in Los Angeles—is now claiming unicorn status after raising $200 million in new funding at a $1.25 billion valuation.
Route co-founder and CEO Evan Walker told Forbes that a “London-based investment firm” led its latest funding round, while declining to name the firm due to a nondisclosure agreement. Other investors in the round included L.A.-based Riot Ventures, Madrona Venture Group and Eldridge. The new funding takes Route’s total capital raised to $291 million, Forbes reported, with Walker noting that he remains “by far the biggest majority stockholder” in the company. (Disclosure: dot.LA co-founder and chairman Spencer Rascoff is an investor in Route.)
Though online sales aren’t growing like they were at the height of coronavirus lockdown restrictions, Route has continued to benefit from the overall trend towards ecommerce. According to Forbes, its annual revenues more than doubled in 2021, to around $80 million.
Though Route’s package-tracking app is free for consumers, the startup makes money by selling shipping, insurance and marketing software to online retailers. Founded in 2018, the company has attracted more than 11,000 merchant clients and tracked more than 175 million packages.
Of Route’s roughly 450-person staff, approximately 40 are based out of its Santa Monica office. Walker said the firm is looking to ramp up its recruiting of tech talent on the West Coast, while a Route spokesperson told dot.LA that it “plans to grow pretty rapidly throughout this year across all departments.”