Steven Dyme has a confident tone of voice as he recounts the life events that led him to the entrepreneurial path. Watching his body language, it’s evident that he’s accumulated wisdom and business sense beyond his years.
Dyme is the 24 year old co-founder and CEO of local Chicago business, Flowers for Dreams, a “social conscious flower delivery service” that has already experienced a great deal of success in its first three years of operation. In addition to sourcing, arranging, and delivering flowers, Flowers for Dreams also donates one quarter of their net profit to local Chicago charities.
I interviewed him this past Sunday to get insight into what drove him to create this business, what inspires him, and what advice he has for budding entrepreneurs.
Tell us about the path that led you to create Flowers for Dreams:
While in college, I started a seasonal flower business. We were a niche event florist. It was birthed as a way to make some extra cash during summers between school. I got the idea from a buddy of mine in Boston who literally would just sell flowers outside of commencement ceremonies. We’d buy them for $5 and sell them for $30 to $40. It was a brilliant idea, and I wanted to take it to Chicago.
The money you make as a college kid is so alluring, and so the summer after my freshman year of college I got a legion of my buddies together for the summer. We got a bunch of bouquets and roamed around all these commencement ceremonies in Chicagoland and hawked flowers outside of them.
During these summers, we started to realize how terrible the existing options were for buying flowers. We were constantly connecting people to local florists or online florists or saying “just go to the grocery store.” Whatever it was, it just felt like nothing was equally as inspiring or accessible as it should be.
So I had a business class where we wrote a business plan, and I said “Hey, why not write it about flowers?” And the focus now was flower delivery. We knew how much flowers cost because we had bought them for our business. We knew they didn’t need to be marked up so insanely high, so we asked ourselves if we could figure out a way to avoid that.
It started out as generic as “Let’s make great flowers for good prices.” And that was the simple concept. Our business still really is very simple.
How were you guys able to differentiate your business from other competitors?
Our business just combined the best attributes of the existing three options for buying flowers: local, online, grocery.
Flowers for Dreams sells locally crafted flowers for fair and honest prices with free delivery. It’s not about being cheap; it’s an honest price. It’s $35 at the beginning and $35 at the end. AND every bouquet benefits an amazing local charity. That’s the sell.
A lot of people think that we are able to defer a lot of cost because we don’t have a storefront. And that’s part of it. But the reality is we figured out a way to limit spoilage. That was the ticket to success. The average spoilage rate for local florists is 35%. We knew that was the reason there was such a considerable markup. That’s the source of all anguish in the flower game. So we asked ourselves, “How are we going to get rid of it?”
What was good about our disposition was that we had never been florists before. We weren’t floral designers, we were coming at it with no baggage so we had to come at it with a completely different model and approach. So that’s what we did.
We offer a really consolidated menu of options. There’s six different options, and the specific flowers in those options will vary. In addition to keeping cost down, it allows us to keep our inventory from spoiling. We also buy every day at local markets. Every morning one of our designers is going, and we are getting a huge swath of product, whatever’s available.
Did you always aspire to be an entrepreneur? Or did this business idea develop more organically and grow into what it is now?
I think the latter. I definitely didn’t always aspire to an entrepreneur which is interesting because I’ve been very exposed to entrepreneurship from a young age. My dad is a really successful entrepreneur— he started a business from nothing and created a great business and it sustained our family. But I never looked at him as an entrepreneur; I looked at him as a business professional.
But I think that was almost a good thing. Society nowadays glamorizes entrepreneurship, and there’s a lot of negatives to that.
So I don’t know if I ever wanted to be an entrepreneur per se, but I saw an opportunity and I was like “Boy, this is the ultimate path to freedom— creating your own business which in turn creates wealth which then gives you financial freedom etc. etc.” And I took it.
When did you guys decide to integrate the business with giving back to the community?
Right at the outset, before there was a “Flowers for Dreams.”
(Back in college), we had a business name that was called “Lakeshore Roses.” And, we made a decision to start approaching schools formally rather than just hawking flowers outside of them impermissibly. It (integrating community outreach) was started as a way to attract schools into contracting with us.
We told the schools, “Hey, this is what we’re going to do: we’re going to set up our flower booth inside your commencement, we’ll provide you a cut of the sales as a fundraiser mechanism, AND for every bouquet we sell we’ll donate a backpack with school supplies to a local student in need.”
We used to say, “One parent’s congratulations could mean another student’s opportunity.”
And we donated a heck ton of backpacks; the total was around 10,000 backpacks when we began.
We still do that as a part of our business. And that model evolved and grew. Making charity fundamental to our business is such a powerful tool of giving. You’re creating a sustainable way to give. And now we pick the causes that we are passionate about.
What was your biggest learning moment?
I was 21 when I started the business, and that is a huge crutch to be so young and try to either raise money or sell business or hire other people that are older than you. I learned pretty quickly that rather than run away from my age, if I embraced it as a badge of innovation and differentiation, then people would be more attracted to it.
If you can appreciate your own intelligence and appreciate your own ability to solve problems that everybody else is trying to solve, you can talk as an equal rather than whimper in conversations.
What advice do you have those considering entrepreneurship?
You’ve got to be ready to clean the toilets. You’ve got to be ready to close the biggest deals. You’ve got to be ready to do everything you hate on top of everything you love.
So if you’re getting into business because you think, “I’m going to go to work every day and it’s going to be thrilling, don’t.”
For me, if I’m waking up three out of every five days in the work week, and I’m super stoked to go to work, that’s in the money.
The reality is it’s not always that glamorous; it’s a tough business. Flowers are a tough business, startups are a tough business. And if you get into it, you’ve got to have the stomach for the partner breakups, the huge amount of risk, the forfeiting your 401k, everything like that.
Imagine starting a flower shop from your parents basement. It was kind of a joke at first; but I believed in it. If you’ve got the stomach for the tough times, then the rest is about persistence, intelligence, and most of all being passionate.