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Blooming good business sense with SA Florist

Nicholas Wallander and Fraser Black are founders of SA Florist, the successful start-up that recently wowed crowds at Tech4Africa with their Dragons' Den South Africa success story...
Their story recently wowed crowds at Tech4Africa, keeping attendees enthralled, especially on how SA Florist has managed to marry the traditional local, neighbourhood florist concept with world-class technology.

It's a tale that starts with Wallander's flailing family flower shop, features Black's digital prowess and an all-in Dragons' Den SA pitch - yes, all five dragons wanted in - and, thanks to that investment and strong sense of family, leads to an innovative e-commerce marketplace that's managed to stand out from the rest by offering hand-made flower arrangements and artisanal gifts from local traders. SA Florist delivers a range of gifts, food hampers and flower arrangements across South Africa, representing more than 180 local florists and gift shops.

Who better to tell us about the effect of the internet on e-commerce and bricks-and-mortar businesses alike than Wallander and Black?

Fraser Black and Nick Wallander

1. Let's start with the highlight: Tell us about you pitch to SA Dragon's Den?

Wallander and Black: We presented a pitch that got the dragons talking. The business was interrogated from every angle by each of the 'dragons', with Vinny Lingham firing a series of both technical and financial questions at us. Fortunately, we were well prepared and able to confidently answer most of the questions. Then, after the second longest pitch in Dragon's Den history globally, lasting 1 hour and 48 minutes, SA Florist received the biggest investment of the Series at R3,600,000, with all 5 Dragons involved.


2. Congrats, that's impressive. How did their investment change the face of your digital business?

Wallander: Well, one of the conditions of the investment was that I resign from my job as Director of Client Development at Visa Inc. in order to focus full time on SA Florist. I quickly set about securing the best development resource in town and the team soon grew to six, with two developers, one digital marketer, one UI/UX Designer, and an administrator who had been with the company for a year. The team quickly got to work, optimising the existing platform, but focussing on a complete redesign in the medium term. The evolution from a retail platform to a decentralised, geo-located marketplace, was high on the list of priorities.

Ultimately, the Dragons' investment allowed me to begin realising many of the plans and ideas the company simply wasn't able to, pre-investment.


3. Let's look at the ever-increasing effect of internet on business - e-commerce and bricks-and-mortar alike.

Wallander and Black: The internet has allowed many businesses to get to customers that were previously unreachable. No longer being bound by the confines of their stores and surrounding communities, many companies thrived as they embraced technology and the rewards it brought. Unfortunately though, for many artisanal businesses with owners that are more artists than technology entrepreneurs, the first and second waves of e-commerce left them wondering where all the customers went. Not having the knowledge or resources to capitalise of the opportunities that online shopping presented, many florists battled to survive as bigger operators grew from strength to strength.


4. Dive deeper: Talk us through the three waves of internet business.

Wallander and Black: The first wave of the internet happened around 1990, when about a billion people were first exposed to the internet, mainly through their desktop computers at the office, connected via corporate LANs. The internet was largely a novelty and a source of information at that stage.

The second wave broke in the late 1990s, when an additional 4 billion people and devices were connected to the internet via their mobile phones and laptops. Online shopping first appeared during this wave and, while intrigued by the ability to shop online, customers were wary of security and very protective of their credit cards. They would shop, but only with websites and brands that they trusted. This resulted in the creation of very large companies like Amazon, e-Bay and, in South Africa, Kalahari led the charge.

The third wave has now broken all over the developed world and in many developing countries like SA. While our internet penetration is not nearly as extensive as that of first world countries, we do have some of the most mature online shoppers around. There are now an incalculable number of devices connected to the internet. Shoppers are very comfortable shopping on any site that ticks the security boxes of SSL certification, HTTPS domains, and recognised payment gateways. As a result, shoppers are becoming increasingly conscious about who they support and where they choose to shop. They no longer accept being bound by the restrictions of the centralised e-commerce and distribution models. They want to support the small guy, the artisan, the neighbourhood business, but simply didn't have access to them online - until now. SA florist champions this theory of connecting the conscious online shopper with exactly the type of businesses they would prefer to deal with, if given the opportunity.


5. It's such a clever idea, asking customers where the product is going and immediately geo-locating their nearest florists - explain the resulting impact of this simplification.

Wallander and Black: It's quite a departure from the normal way of shopping online and, to be honest, I think what we've seen so far is just the tip of the iceberg. At first, customers were a little confused, but we are finding they love the choices that geo-location is offering them. They get to see hundreds of totally unique products they know are hand-crafted by career florists who put their heart and soul into what they do.
It also allows us to get products to customers a lot faster. Because it's often coming from less than a kilometer or two from the destination, it can often be delivered within an hour. In doing so, we're saying goodbye to 12 o'clock cut-offs for "same day delivery", as our model allows us to offer "same day, all day TM".

Inspiring stuff. For more on SA Florist you can click through to this article on VentureBurn, visit the SA Florist website or follow them on Twitter.

About Leigh Andrews

Leigh Andrews AKA the #MilkshakeQueen, is former Editor-in-Chief: Marketing & Media at, with a passion for issues of diversity, inclusion and equality, and of course, gourmet food and drinks! She can be reached on Twitter at @Leigh_Andrews.

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