Hello Christina! We have been inspired by your story as a go-getter, innovator and entrepreneur for quite some time (not to mention, THE FLOWERS!)... You are one busy woman! Thank you for taking part in our Muse Series, we’re so happy to finally have an opportunity to catch up.
On your career...
WILL YOU PLEASE TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR CAREER PATH AND HOW IT LED TO CREATING FARMGIRL FLOWERS?
I’d always been a hard worker and set a high bar for myself. Early on this was because I was dead set on getting out of the two-stoplight town I was raised in back in Indiana. I come from two hard working, “salt of the earth” type parents - they’d literally give you the shirt off their back - but my upbringing was incredibly religious and traditional in terms of gender roles that just never fit for me. I always wanted something different, but I didn’t really know what different felt or looked like until that move to San Francisco and I caught the entrepreneur bug.
It would take almost ten years and probably at least five hundred business ideas later for me to take the giant leap off the cliff and quit my job to start my most recent and what I thought to be my most viable business idea, Farmgirl Flowers. Farmgirl was the first business I’d come up with that checked all the boxes - something with enough market cap to allow me to scale it to a big business even if I only ever achieved a small fraction of the overall market, something I could bootstrap (because with only a high school diploma I knew I wasn’t about to walk into an office on Sand Hill Road and come out with a big check), something that solved a real problem in a truly innovative (and not a just rip someone off type of way), and something that could do some good in the world.
I designed the Farmgirl model (with a little inspo from In-n-Out) to simplify the options - one daily arrangement filled with the best of the best I could find from the local growers at the San Francisco flower market. Fewer, better sounds anything but revolutionary now but back then? And especially in the e-commerce flower space? It was a game changer.
ALSO, WE'RE SURE EVERYONE ASKS...HOW DID THE NAME FARMGIRL COME ABOUT?
From that two-stoplight town back in Indiana.
I grew up on a corn and soybean farm and grew up having to clean not just my bedroom but actual barns for my chores - and that was just for starters. But, I will say, the true farm girl is my mom. I have both my parents to thank for my work ethic, but my mom especially feels like the person you’d see a picture of if you opened up the dictionary to look up the word grit.
HAVING BOOTSTRAPPED YOUR OWN BUSINESS AND REMAINING TOTALLY HANDS ON WITH GETTING THINGS DONE TO WHERE YOU ARE NOW, HOW DO YOU THINK THINGS STAND TODAY REGARDING FEMALE ENTREPRENEURSHIP COMPARED TO HOW THEY WERE WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED?
Farmgirl did over $65M in annual revenue in 2020 - over $30M in 2019 - and until then we’ve always surpassed at least 49% year over year growth. And yet, during that same ten years of business, I’ve received over 100 no’s from venture capital and private equity firms when I pitched for investment. So much has changed in the decade since I started my company getting access to growth capital for female founders, especially solo female founders without a pedigree or network - and even more especially for female founders who are also women of color, is still a major obstacle.
Now that I’ve bootstrapped a business to this size, I know firsthand there are other paths to success that don’t include funding, but I also know the road my team and I traveled was more difficult, and more by-the-skin-of-our-teeth than it would have been had we been funded.
Something not talked about often though (probably because of the hate mail it always seems to solicit) is that in addition to capital, also challenging is the lower level of respect I believe to be shown to females as opposed to males in CEO (and probably other senior leadership) positions. I’ve found it time and time again from vendors, peers, and even team members. What’s interesting is to see the respect level males on my team receive who report to me in both internal and external meetings. And this isn’t just from men, but also women just as often.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT YOU DO WHAT BRINGS YOU JOIE?
I’m a product CEO - 100%.
As Farmgirl has gotten bigger I think one of the hardest lessons has been that your job as CEO rarely, if ever, looks like what you thought it would when you started the business. I pretty much live in spreadsheets or on conference calls and spend way too many late night hours at my whiteboard strategizing solutions for the newest obstacle my team and I are tackling.
But what brings me the most happiness, what brings me Joie, is product design. Putting together palettes, helping to design a new holiday line up, dreaming up new product lines - those are the parts of my job that I truly love. I wish it comprised a far higher percentage of my time, but I’ll take every minute of it that I can get!
WHEN YOU AREN'T WORKING, HOW DO YOU LIKE TO SPEND YOUR TIME?
I work a lot, so I probably have less time than most outside of “office hours.” But when I’m not doing Farmgirl things I’m getting in a Peloton ride (I’m a night owl so I usually ride between 10p and 1a). My previous usual answer to this is that when I need a break I go to the ocean, however since moving to Seattle, and away from my beloved northern California beach, that hasn’t been an option, so I’ve been substituting that with gardening. It’s definitely not as fulfilling as long walks at the ocean, and due to my travel schedule, I haven’t been great at keeping my plant babies alive, but just getting my hands in dirt and off my keyboard provides a much needed mental break from time to time.
I SUPPOSE THE OBVIOUS QUESTION HERE IS, ARE YOU OR ARE YOU NOT OBSESSED WITH FLORAL PATTERNS? IF YES, PLEASE SHARE WITH US HOW MANY FLORAL PIECES YOU OWN (NO JUDGEMENT) ;)
Yes - 100%. Actually, one of my favorite and earliest worktops was a floral print Joie blouse (more on that below!). I wore it until it was threadbare and not so work appropriate anymore :)
Today it’s a little hard to get a count - I have a pretty constant rotation in my closet. I’m an avid, avid user of The Real Real and like to upcycle my wardrobe pretty frequently. I’d say I have at least 25 floral pieces right now at a minimum though. I also love color, pattern, and texture in general - neons, sequins, tweeds, chambray, knits and so much more. I tend to have one part of an outfit that has something bold or interesting about it - a blazer with paillette details, a neon top, or a shoe with floral embroidery - and then keep the rest streamlined. I also like to mix hard with soft which I love that Joie does so well. A floral silk dress paired with a motorcycle jacket is just so easy and good. I don’t think I’ve ever shied away from pattern - the bolder the better really which is something I’ve always gravitated to Joie for as you’ve always done that so well - especially with florals! I’d love to collab with you all on a floral print someday so that I could justify buying every single piece!
WE LOVE LEARNING THAT YOU HAD ONE "GO-TO" JOIE TOP YOU WOULD WEAR TO ALL YOUR BUSINESS MEETINGS EARLY ON IN YOUR CAREER! AND NOW, JUST TODAY, WE SEE THAT YOU ARE TOTING SUITCASES PACKED FOR ONE SINGLE TRIP WITH STOPS FROM SEATTLE TO SAN FRANCISCO, THEN ON TO MIAMI AND ECUADOR. HOW DOES SUCH A BUSY BUSINESSWOMAN PLAN HER WARDROBE (AND PACKING STRATEGY) TO COVER ALL HER BASES?
With a lot of careful packing. I’m normally the type that likes to get to the airport gate right as the plane is boarding - and maybe pack an hour before that - but with so many trips and climates to pack for I must be more strategic about what goes in my suitcase. A few things that have made it a lot easier: always having travel versions of my go to products (like toiletries and a set of travel hair rollers which are a must!) packed and ready to go and wearing a lot of black. I’ve never shied away from color but bringing a lot of dark colored basics makes it easy to re-wear pieces and make them feel new again with a different statement piece, like jewelry or a blazer. I also have a few staples that just always get packed. A black motorcycle jacket (always, and now it will be Joie’s new one which I LOVE!), a white, black, and gray tee in varying sleeve lengths, a couple favorite pairs of jeans, stretch pants, and sweaters, along with a pair of go-with-anything sneakers and black heeled ankle boots. It’s then easy to supplement each trip with whatever blazers, tops, and dresses I have on rotation at that moment for business meetings, dinners, or press events. I also leave things wherever I can, if it’s a place I go frequently. I keep duplicates of my staples at friends’ houses (thanks Mona!), in Ecuador at an apartment we keep there, and at our photo studio or office. So, I’m basically now leaving a trail of breadcrumbs wherever I go!
DO YOU THINK YOUR STYLE HAS EVOLVED ALONGSIDE YOUR CAREER CHOICES?
Definitely. But, out of necessity not choice. Growing up in a tiny farm town in northern Indiana, I was known for (and not in a good way but more a getting bullied for being different way) for my personal style choices. I have always loved fashion. I used to tear pages out of Vogue and other fashion magazines at the Bremen Public Library in Indiana and try to recreate the looks I coveted with thrift store finds. I literally DIY’d over the knee socks out of Amish stockings and created my own platforms by BOGO’ing two pairs of shoes from Payless and removing the soles from one pair only to glue them to the other.
Up until when I started Farmgirl, the lion share of my expendable income went to fashion. Shopping was my preferred sport, and my personal style was very important to me. But that had to change when I started the business. I dumped all of my savings into the company, so the entirety of my bank account needed to keep me and Farmgirl going - in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. to boot.
But as Farmgirl grew, and money became slightly less tight (or at least I could start paying myself a modest salary), I started to be able to revisit my old passion and found late night online shopping to be my form of self-care. Even when it wasn’t a huge budget, it brought me so much joy and allowed me to feel better about being able to show up looking much more put together to press events instead of hoping that the angle on the camera wasn’t going to pick up on the mended hold in my blouse or the pilling of my 5-year-old sweater. I remember one of our early publicists asking me to invest in some new pieces before a spot on the TODAY show. And while I really wanted to, I just couldn’t and make payroll so I had to watch myself on live national TV later with a well-worn, pilled sweater and try not to cringe too hard.
ANY FAVORITE PIECES FROM OUR SHOOT?
It’s hard to pick a favorite because there were so many great pieces, but if I have to narrow it down I’d say the black leather biker jacket (the gunmetal hardware is such a subtle but beautiful detail) and the floral pant which is definitely going to be a staple item I pack in the future as it’s just such an easy piece to dress up for a big meeting or press event or down when grabbing dinner with some team members.
Lastly, Back to Flowers...
IS YOUR HOUSE FILLED WITH FLORAL ARRANGEMENTS?
Absolutely. We’ve been working to stabilize a new distribution model so when I’m home I send at least one test arrangement from each location each week to keep a close eye on quality. I also like to get on the Farmgirl Instagram and do a live DIY tutorial once a week (when I’m not traveling) so I usually have that arrangement around my house, too. I really love having a few smaller bud vases to sprinkle around the house too as I’m a true believer that they do improve your mood - so I usually have one on my desk, one by my bed, and one in the kitchen too - so I can enjoy them wherever I am.
IF AN ADMIRER WERE TO SEND YOU THE PERFECT BOUQUET, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
My dream bouquet is actually one we made before at Farmgirl - I have a picture of this in my phone from when we sold it a few years back. It’s peonies, garden roses, fringed tulips, jasmine, pistachio, and protea wrapped in burlap because it’s Farmgirl. It’s the perfect mixture of petals and texture and pistachio is my all-time favorite fall green - it has lots of delicate leaves that turn orange and red as we get deeper into the season. All in all - it’s perfection to me. From our site right now, my favorites are the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo (with King Protea!), the First Blush Garden Roses, the Degrees of Cerise Anemones and Ranunculus mix, and the Mulled it Over Fall themed burlap wrapped bouquet. For fun I’d probably put them all together and make a giant, slightly garish, oversized arrangement just because it would bring me so much joy to design it and I love to see people’s reactions when you bring over a 20lb flower arrangement!