Hannah Spilva and Verity Tuck are the co-founders of LVLY, an astonishingly fast-growing company that is disrupting the flower and gift markets in Australia. Both pre-and during the pandemic, theirs is an impressive story of determination and entrepreneurship.
I caught up with Hannah to find out more about how they had achieved huge success in the flower and gift market in such a short space of time.
Hannah Spilva CEO
Hannah Spilva and Verity Tuck are the co-founders of LVLY, an astonishingly fast-growing company that is disrupting the gift and flower markets in Australia. Both pre-and during the pandemic, theirs is an impressive story of determination and entrepreneurship.
I caught up with Hannah to find out more about how they had achieved it.
Hannah grew up in Cheshire, UK. She always felt like a square peg in a round hole at school, not classically academic and preferring learning by doing than by listening. She remembers being made to feel she wasn’t good enough at what was a very academic school.
Her dad was a serial entrepreneur, so she witnessed both the successes and inevitable failures that come with that. It taught Hannah that entrepreneurship was hard, with high failure rates, but she also realized she had a strong work ethic and wanted to create something for herself. She saw it as a problem-solving process and a way of being master of her destiny.
At 14, she told her parents she wanted to be an entrepreneur and live in Australia. They were a little perplexed by Australia, but for Hannah, someone who loves extremes and wanted to travel, going to the place that was furthest away made sense.
With problem solving and creativity in her strategic plan, she studied marketing at the University of Strathclyde. She found a position with McCann Erickson, part of IPG, choosing a global agency deliberately with her sights set on relocation. After three years, she moved to Australia and became strategy director of the digital experience agency, Isobar Australia, where she met Verity.
They loved working together and shared a flat briefly, too. Living in Sydney away from their families, they were always struggling for both big presents and small gestures that are so vital to share with those close, celebrating a success, or just a “thinking of you” type of gift. They realized many Australians also have family thousands of miles across the massive continent or in other countries.
Hannah and Verity decided there was a real gap in the market for an affordable flower and gift delivery service and that this was the perfect opportunity.
LVLY flowers and gifts
They are the only national flower and gift service that offers personalization in Australia. But LVLY provides more than that. Even a quick visit to their website will make you smile.
They offer beautiful combinations of gifts and flowers, from set selections or curated. The selection of the flowers varies slightly from area to area because they use locally sourced flowers from sustainable suppliers cutting both pesticides and Airmiles.
They have fresh and dried flowers, food, alcohol, pampering, or spa experiences at highly affordable prices. But it is the branding that makes the gifts so unique. Who could not smile on receipt of one of their “you are awesome” packages?
In addition to individual gifts, they also cater to the corporate market, making a point of supporting small Australian suppliers. They also now supply flowers for weddings and events.
Deliveries are same-day in many major cities if ordered before 2 pm as part of the service they pride themselves on.
LVLY’s start-up years
They started, in December 2015, in Verity’s kitchen. But it became impractical fast, and they moved into a co-working space. They both did a flower arranging course.
They built a website using Squarespace with just a few flowers and gifts to start. They funded it from their savings and didn’t look for outside investment, remaining determinedly bootstrapped.
They used social media and word of mouth for initial marketing and a little PR. Building a community of highly engaged followers proved critical to their growth. Early on, both Thank you and Uber suggest collaboration which immediately put things on a different scale.
Both Verity and Hannah had their first children while growing the flower and gift company in the early years. They are champions of flexible working. They started in Melbourne and have since opened offices in Sydney, Brisbane, and Adelaide to service their rapid growth.
LVLY was one of only eight Australian companies selected to join the Silicon-Valley-backed Springboard program in 2019. In addition to being a Springboard Enterprises Tech Alumni, awards followed, including B&T Women in Media Best Entrepreneur 2019 and Inside Small Business Top 50 Leaders 2019. It was a great start, but more was to follow.
Hannah believes that you should never leave culture to chance but be intentional and have a clear purpose to get you all out of bed in the morning and come together to solve problems. For them, it was never about the profit but about making people happy. Flowers and gifts are a facilitator to do that.
In addition to being intentional and having a clear purpose, it is crucial to have a set of values that the whole team can live and breathe. Many companies talk about values when their team does not even know what those values are. They wanted meaningful values on what kind of culture and company it would be, so even when they only had around seven people, they brainstormed what those values would be. Hannah says they probably should have been concentrating on making money at that point, but it seemed massively important.
The LVLY team have these:
- Make someone’s day: Hannah says this is an attitude. Most companies have a customer service department. With LVLY, every single person, whatever the department, aims to do something every day to make someone’s day. Customer happiness isn’t a department; it is the reason they exist.
- Wanting one dream: Hannah says that they are a group of individuals who are passionate and ambitious, but unless everyone is willing to step outside their expected roles day and help each other problem solve and do a good job, then they are never going to achieve our full potential. It is always about what the team can achieve.
- Work hungry, hustle hard: Bring you’re A-game to the table every day. Of course, everyone has off days, but they need to want to be there and to make a positive impact. This is what they need to do as a company because they are continually packing above their weight and budgets. Hannah believes in “where there is a will, there is a way” and that we can manifest what we aim for.
- Be a good egg: When Hannah was growing up, this provided a moral compass. It is about kindness and making a culture where people are both authentic and respectful, not just to their colleagues but to everyone they come into contact with.
- Own your impact: Hannah feels this is especially important in a company with a high percentage of women. It is data proven that women are not great at owning their strengths. For example, when interviewing for jobs, a man will tell you how they are the perfect person for the role. The female will apologize for something they didn’t do at the start and then talk themselves out of the position. Hannah explains that this value means they encourage everyone to write down what they achieve, then share it, and everyone celebrates it.
The Gifting and Flower Market during COVID
LVLY achieved the 500% growth they had planned to happen over three years in under 12 months in COVID. It won Hannah the prestigious Telstra Women’s Business Awards victory for 2020.
While the company always was on a path to scale, Hannah immediately saw that COVID meant massive growth potential. People craved connection and cheer and needed their service more than ever before.
It was a considerable challenge. With inter-state supply chains hit, their local supply chains and flower growers were under pressure from offers from other companies who had previously used national suppliers.
They hired 50 casual staff. Tripling their warehousing was essential but needed to be COVID friendly and socially distanced. Hannah spent her evenings planning new operational models, writing up new duty of care and COVID policies, setting up contactless delivery services for gifts and flowers, and training both drivers and the customers what contactless meant.
They split into two teams, Blue Sky and Sunshine, and worked one week in the office and one week at home, so if someone did get COVID, only half the team would ever be affected.
Important events still happen at weekends, and with no in-person contact, customers suddenly wanted a seven-day-a-week service. With demand skyrocketing, the last thing the company needed was extended rostering for a team already stretched from COVID. Nor did they need the operational changes required. It didn’t seem the right time.
However, Hannah argues that if you are a truly customer-centric company and your customers ask for something, you need to deliver it and make them happy. She believes it is also what sets them apart from other companies, who do not take those risks. To Hannah, those were signs it was the time to move and disrupt.
Hannah explains that this philosophy of going for it when others don’t is a big part of their success. Another is that they always set out to scale and be an industry disruptor. From day one, she has not been scared of breaking and regrouping, of scaling or risks.
Hannah sees growing companies introduce more procedures and processes and become embedded into these ways of operating. The more embedded they are, the more they become afraid of change and start to play it safe. Hannah goes the other way, thriving on breaking and re-forming better, loving the chaos, and going into the unknown. It is all about attitude and appetite.
Hannah now has two young children, remains CEO of LVLY with its continued ambitious plans, and has also found the time to take on a Board position with a social enterprise called Little Colossus, which offers consumer products to raise money to help the mental health in young Australians. Hannah agrees that combining motherhood and scaling a business is just about as “bloody tough” as it can get and thinks that we don’t talk about it enough.
There is no question in Hannah’s mind that they will expand LVLY overseas. She says it is a question of not “if but when.” They have a proven business model in Australia, despite the climate creating logistical challenges for flowers She feels if they can do it in Australia, they can do it anywhere.
Hannah is not a fan of the “unicorn syndrome” when huge investments and ten years of growth are needed for a business to generate a profit. Instead, she concentrates on profitable growth. . LVLY generated 10% of the entire profit in their category in Australia last year. The average EBIT for their category is around 6% whilst LVLY’s sits between 15 and 20% at scale. Hannah believes there is more profit to be generated in the Australian market, and she wants to concentrate on that and not be distracted by overseas expansion yet.
They plan to expand and look at enabling same-day service in every city in Australia plus expanding into New Zealand in 2021. But it won’t be too many years till the rest of the world has the pleasure of LVLY’s beautiful gifts and flowers.
If you are an aspiring or early-stage entrepreneur who is seeking funding for growth, you may be interested in the story of the founders of Blue Chilli, a Sydney-based accelerator with an unusual way of spotting winners.