Ex-SIA Stewardess Blossoming In The Floral Industry: Q&A with Hazel Kweh, Founder of BloomBack

BloomBack is founded with the mission of providing marginalised communities, especially women, with specialised skills in floral arrangement to become florists and thus creating income opportunities.

They desire to provide these potential floral artisans confidence to showcase their creation, build a sustainable online store, and run their dream business.

LadyBoss spoke to Hazel on the inspiration behind BloomBack.

Q: How does Bloomback work? 

A: BloomBack utilises an online ecosystem to bring together florists, consumers as well as beneficiaries on a single platform for unique, quality floral products and services.

It was founded with the purpose of providing marginalised communities, especially women, with specialized skills in floral arrangement to become florists and thus creating income opportunities. With a leverage on the flexibility of working hours permitted in the floral industry, marginalised women can use our platform to earn extra income to supplement their full-time jobs. We desire to provide these potential floral artisans confidence to showcase their creation, build a sustainable online store, and run their dream business.

There are thousands of marginalised women in Asia, including Singapore, with limited skillset and insufficient qualifications, making it a struggle to find suitable employment opportunities. Such women include low income earning single mothers, abused housewives, elderly women and ex-convicts. Their experience from social and economic exclusion has resulted in a lack of self-confidence, that has also caused them to live in fear and insecurity. Bloomback aspires to turn that around, one woman at a time.

Q: Tell us more about your business model, your team and how long you’ve been doing this?

A: There are two key components to Bloomback, Bloomback Platform, BBP and Bloomback Academy, BBA. BBP operates an e-commerce business which sells flowers to support BBA in the conduct of floral arrangement sessions to train marginalized women.

During such sessions, BBA connects florists to the marginalised women to teach them basic floral arrangement skills. The floral products created based on their collective effort will then be listed on the BBP E-commerce platform. Through the training, marginalised women equipped with the floral arrangement skillset will be able to accept ad hoc jobs during peak periods such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, in addition to their full-time employment.

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Through my years of working at MNCs such as Singapore Airlines and Prudential, I have gained valuable life skills that have paved the way for me to begin my entrepreneurship journey. I led a high-performance team as an Agency Leader in Prudential where I was inducted into the prestigious Million Dollar Round Table, but I made the decision to give up my comfortable career to dive into the establishment of BloomBack in late 2016 as I felt that it was my calling to do something for the society. I envisioned that I could contribute and achieve a lot more as an entrepreneur by honing my management, leadership and servant-ship skills, all whilst living my dream.

BloomBack is made up of a balanced team that comprises of an experienced co-founder whose other role is a CTO of the company, a mentor, a marginalised woman, and a fresh graduate who wants to make a difference in society. The founder and CEO of SGX-listed Secura Group Limited is BloomBack’s mentor and strategic advisor.

A passionate fresh graduate who is willing to accept a lower pay to contribute to society, and a partially disabled lady make up the company’s other two members. I wanted to ensure that BloomBack walks the talk of employing and helping marginalised women.

BloomBack CTO’s mother has over 30 years of experience in the floral industry and has trained more than 500 florists over the years. She actively helps and guides Bloomback through her experience and skills.

Products of a social enterprise in fact, should be of better quality or possess an appealing unique attribute that will allow the business to remain competitive in the market and be able to generate sales to support its social intentions.

Q: What is your inspiration behind a sustainable business like Bloomback, and working with marginalised women and patients?  

A: I grew up in a low income single parent family with my partially disabled sister and a brother. Understanding how difficult it was for my mother to raise us up single-handedly and knowing how my sister struggled to find a job given her disabilities, I told myself that I should do my part for those with similar difficulties.

Q: Share with us how your flying career with SIA helped you in Bloomback?

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A: As Daniel Pink, author of the book “To Sell Is Human” suggests, every one of us is in the “business of selling something”. The public relation skills I have acquired from SIA has enabled me to build good relationships with people around me, and to “sell” my ideas more effectively to the intended audience.

SIA trains us to take care of the elderly and handicapped passengers. Many of them get very uncomfortable through the long-haul flight and I always try my best to assure and check on them in regular periods. My direct contact with them allowed me to be able to understand their situation and feelings much better, and I have become more empathetic towards people in need. This has benefited my role in BloomBack by helping me understand and feel what marginalised women are experiencing, thus enabling me to better relate to them.

Q: What was the experience like participating in the 2016 SIA App Challenge Hackathon?

A: Clinching the second prize was a bit of a surprise in all honesty! It was a real challenge juggling between work and preparing for Hackathon due to time commitment required.

Despite facing several obstacles, my team and I continued to put in the effort into this competition and it paid off well. In fact, Hackathon plays an important part in my success in entrepreneurship! At that time, I had been in the start-up scene for nearly two years and was stuck at the ideation stage for a long time, often feeling discouraged by my setbacks.

Achieving a prize from Hackathon was a stepping stone to the start of my full-time entrepreneurship journey. I gained more confidence and will always be grateful for the opportunity to participate in this challenge, contribute to SIA, and effectively improve the inflight shopping experience for passengers on-board SIA.

Q: Explain what are some of the misperceptions between a social enterprise and non-profit organisation?

A: #1 A social enterprise is a charitable organization

A social enterprise is not a charity, so the business model should not depend on government grants and charitable donations as its primary source of funding. It should have a clear strategy on how to be sustainable through earned revenue to fulfil its social mission.

#2 A social enterprise should not and cannot earn profits

On top of attaining our social goal to help marginalised women, BloomBack like any other commercial entity, aims to make a financial profit. Only with a profitable business can we afford to give back to society.

#3 Products from a social enterprise are of poorer quality

Products of a social enterprise in fact, should be of better quality or possess an appealing unique attribute that will allow the business to remain competitive in the market and be able to generate sales to support its social intentions.

Q: What were the challenges/obstacles of bringing in vendors to participate? 

A: Starting a marketplace business is hard. For one thing, you have two sets of customers – the buyers and sellers. Without a quality list of buyers, you cannot convince the sellers to get on board. In turn, without these sellers on your platform, buyers will have no incentive to use your service either.  

Just like any other new business, being new in the market will naturally put you in a disadvantaged position where vendors will doubt your credibility. It is also challenging to find potential partnerships with like-minded vendors to become a part of our floral family to provide quality service offerings to customers.

We will be expanding the brand into new regions. We are very pleased with the great reception of our offering in Singapore, and will be bringing our current concept to Kuala Lumpur at the end of this year.

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Q: What are some of the ways the public can contribute? 

A: Ecommerce & Workshop

Purchasing BloomBack products would play a part in the contribution of helping the non profit organisations whom we partner with. The floral products and services featured are created based on the collective efforts of the florist and marginalised women.

In order to sustain our business, BloomBack takes a cut for every product or service sold by our florist partners. We are contributing 100% of this cut to help sponsor marginalised woman for basic floristry training. This also helps to fund the operation costs such as site maintenance, packaging cost and marketing etc.

Volunteer

Florists who are interested to join in this floral movement are more than welcome to contribute as volunteers to teach and pass on floral arrangement skills to marginalised women. Likeminded volunteers can also take some time out to participate in our events such as giving away donated flowers to hospice patients or to low income families staying in rented apartment in Singapore.

Corporate event/gifts

Businesses can work with Bloomback as part of their Corporate Social Responsibilities efforts by creating awareness through their business channels, as well as through the purchase of corporate gifts.

Q: What’s the future holds for Bloomback? 

A: It is extremely important for BloomBack to achieve a good balance in hiring and helping marginalised women while keeping the business running so that we have jobs to give them in the first place.

We will be expanding the brand into new regions. We are very pleased with the great reception of our offering in Singapore, and will be bringing our current concept to Kuala Lumpur at the end of this year. With additional seed funding, we have plans to expand the team further and commence marketing activities in Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam.

Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality will also be adopted into BloomBack Platform website and mobile application to create new experiences for our users. This will help to simplify the selling and buying process. Our focus on the business side of things is on building an end-to-end ecosystem that process payments-to-product-guarantee of floral products sold in a reliable and scalable way.

We are also looking to run an accreditation program for BloomBack Academy to groom skilled marginalised women to a higher level, and reaching out to more beneficiaries.

Q: Ultimately, what is your vision for Bloomback?

A: BloomBack hopes to be a dominant player in the floral industry where people will associate flowers with doing good for the society. Building on a distinct brand and culture is the way to go. People can steal your idea but not your brand.

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