Planting happiness in the city, one bouquet at a time

If there’s one thing that Jeff Sheely and his team at WeWork Wonder Bread Factory have down pat, it’s how to send happiness. As cofounder of the D.C.- and New York-based startup UrbanStems, he uses his marketing skills and his co-founder Ajay Kori’s business mindset to create an on-demand flower delivery service.

“Our mission can really be summarized in a hashtag: #sendhappy,” explains Sheely, who started this first venture with his college mate Ajay Kori. “We really believe that flowers should be about everyday gifting. It’s a powerful feeling to be able to better someone’s day in just a few clicks.”

The blooming startup was conceived when Kori sent flowers to his girlfriend, but to his dismay, the flowers never arrived. Sheely shares that he’s had his own flower delivery woes because of the “lack of transparency” in the process: “You never really know if the delivery was good or not. As my bad flower experiences got worse, it really hit home with me.”

He commiserated with Kori, and they quickly found themselves getting into the flower business with no prior background in the industry — Kori did have e-commerce experience from working at Quidsi prior to UrbanStems, but they were determined to turn around people’s perceptions of ordering flowers. They were able to learn the inner workings of the industry and did everything themselves.

UrbanStems 2“We very much subscribe to the Lean Startup theory, so we literally tested and iterated everything since Day One,” says Sheely. “From the design of the flowers to the look of the website, operations process, everything has been a series of tests.”

UrbanStems launched the day before Valentine’s Day last year in D.C. during a snowstorm, and both cofounders did everything themselves.

“Ajay and I hopped into a friend’s SUV running around town doing all the deliveries by hand,” says Sheely, recalling the inches of snow they had to trek through to make sure all their orders were fulfilled. “Every time we showed up with flowers, customers’ initial reactions were usually, ‘How did you do that? Why are you here? This is amazing.’”

The duo weathered the storm, and the UrbanStems launch was considered a success.

In rain or shine, UrbanStems is determined to spread happiness with affordable prices and stylish bouquets with flowers sourced from eco-certified South American farms. Here’s how ordering from them works: Once you choose one of their curated seasonal bouquets and include a message, one of the team members will handwrite a note, attach it to the bouquet that’s ready to be sent from their distribution center, and give it to one of the bike couriers. The courier will zip it across town within an hour and take a photo of the bouquet in front of the recipient’s address. UrbanStems will email that photo to the sender to make sure the delivery got sent and that it’s exactly what was ordered.

Now UrbanStems has been expanding into new markets like New York City and recently announced their $1.5 million in seed funding. Sheely recalls that it was a great opportunity for him and his cofounder to make a lot of connections and to spread the word about their business.

At the end of the day, they consider themselves a tech company, and they believe that capturing data is a huge part of the process. “For us, the biggest thing we’re finding is that it’s about everyday gifting,” explains Sheely. They found that the majority of their customers are female, and it’s not always about romantic gestures.

“We’re going to do everything we can to help people find out what we’re doing, because once they try it out, they will want to keep spreading a lot more happiness,” says Sheely.

Photo credit:  Foster White – Tuckernuck (

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