New York

Talent shortage pushes Netflix-for-flowers startup to launch its own training college

flowers universityLike many startups, H.Bloom‘s biggest challenge is hiring and retaining staff to keep pace with its accelerated growth rate.

The New York-based flower-delivery company unveiled a university-like program today that offers business and leadership training to junior-level employees in three core areas: sales, operations, and management.

This program, which CEO Bryan Burkhart refers to as “H.Bloom University,” is an expansion of the company’s Start-up Education and Entrepreneurial Development (SEED — geddit?) training initiative.

Professional development programs like these are common within large corporations, but are a surprising move for an early-stage startup. It appears to be paying off. Zach Brown, a graduate of the SEED program who was tasked with running the Chicago brunch, is set to pull in over $1 million in revenue.

Education is broken up into six-month cycles. During that time, employees can expect interactive training modules covering business and leadership topics. Just like college, each module is led by an expert from within the organization and consists of case readings, class lectures, group discussions, and skills assessments. Employees will start the first training modules this December and will graduate next May.

With its focus on cutting-edge technology and talent development, H.Bloom is not your average flower-delivery company. It operates in five metro areas — New York City, Chicago, the District of Columbia, San Francisco, and Dallas — and plans to expand to 25 new markets in the next five years. Its users purchase the luxury floral arrangements on a one-time-only or subscription basis — the company is often described as the Netflix for flowers.

Since launching in 2010, it has raised over $18 million in angel and venture capital. It now serves approximately 500 corporate customers, which accounts for the lions share of its revenue. Burkhart is looking to local leaders who can run operations and manage staff as they expand into new markets. He said the program’s participants are college-educated but typically do not have much managerial experience. I followed up with questions about the new university:

Bryan Headshot

Above: Bryan Burkhart, H Bloom’s CEO

VentureBeat: How is this different from a training program at a large corporation, Goldman Sachs, for example?
Bryan Burkhart: It’s funny that you should use Goldman. One thing that makes it very different is that while formal training programs and leadership development classes have always been available at the largest firms that started 100 years ago, it really isn’t the case with young companies. Yes, we’re a startup, but we’re thinking long-term.

VentureBeat: Does this idea stem from personal experience?
Burkhart: Right out of college, I went to work for a company called Trilogy in Austin, Tx. The CEO, a Stanford dropout, had a similar focus on providing tremendous learning opportunities. I think back on that time fondly.

VentureBeat: You’re starting with sales and marketing training — what’s next?
Burkhart: Next year, we’ll expand it further to our floral designers. These are typically people that do not have a traditional four year college degrees. Before coming to H.Bloom, they didn’t have a full time salary and were typically paid an hourly wage. We pay them a full salary with benefits. There’s also an opportunity to move up the ladder.

VentureBeat: You launched a SEED program for training junior-level staff. What were your takeaways from that experience?
Burkhart: Well, one piece of feedback we got is that participants were surprised by the hours. I would schedule classroom trainings for 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning. The reason I did that isn’t because I scientifically thought that was the best time for people to retain information. Rather, it gave me the opportunity to assess commitment. We are developing the future leaders of H.Bloom. So there is an emotional and dedication grading too.

VentureBeat: How has this impacted the culture of the company?
Burkhart: It’s unusual for a startup to say on the first day of your new job that one of its goals is to help you develop skills so you can become the very best person you can be. We continue to grow fast, and we hope to keep your interest as a person and worker. What we realize is that at some point our interests might diverse and you do something else. My goal is that if employees leave, they will have more skills then they did when they started. That the company cares about every individual getting better has been a big deal.

Related: Read about how the company was able to outlast the U.S. postal service by delivering flowers during Hurricane Sandy.

Top image via Gina Smith // Shutterstock