In The Room with Ajay Kori

Many of you may have received flowers or other treats from loved one’s this past weekend. In honor of Valentine’s day, The Room interviewed Ajay Kori, co-founder and former CEO of UrbanStems, an direct-to-consumer flower delivery service. Ajay shares a few of his learnings about customer satisfaction and the best way to ensure the longevity of new customers. We can almost picture him in that tiny closet after their first Valentine’s day, laying on a floor full of petals, asking “how is this going to work?” Early trials and growing pains did not deter him, or the team, for revolutionizing flower delivery. Today, Ajay has handed over the CEO reins of UrbanStems and is working on his fourth business, Allay Lamp, which has the potential to help millions of people find relief from migraines. Read on for some key lessons and themes we took away from our colorful conversation.

Key Theme 1: Why the Customer is Always Right

Out of Harvard Business school, Ajay joined Marc Lore at Quidsi to launch the company into the pet pharmaceutical space. As a mentor to Ajay in the two years he was with Quidsi, Marc instilled into him a key e-commerce philosophy: if you create the best experience for your customers, you will always win. The two most important things about e-commerce is the cost it takes to obtain a customer and how much value that customer then provides over a lifetime. Creating the best possible experience for customers will ultimately lead to the lowest cost of customer acquisition.This has worked out well for both Ajay and Marc, Ajay with Urban Stems and of course, Marc with Jet.com. Rumor has it, Marc has another imminent start up that may change the face of restaurants. We look forward to it’s reveal.

Key Theme 2: How to Scale an Operationally Complex Business

It might be hard to believe now but UrbanStems’s first Valentine’s Day was making and delivering 150 deliveries out of a rat-infested closet. As they continued to grow and scale, UrbanStems faced intricate supply chain challenges given the combination of perishable goods and market-by-market growth. Today, they ship nationwide and run massive fulfillment centers, not just in urban centers. The turning point for the scale was actually a Valentine’s Day catastrophe in 2017 when the company’s organizational structure could not keep up with the surge in consumers. It’s a great reminder that sometimes your moments of failures bring innovation.

Key Theme 3: Being a zero to one Founder

After the 2017 Valentine’s Day crisis, Ajay and the Urban Stems team brought in Seth Goldman, the former US CEO of HelloFresh, as the new COO. Seth built a scalable warehouse infrastructure that solved for many of the operational challenges the company faced. Ajay realized his greatest asset as a founder was helping bring a company from the “zero” (zero customers, zero revenue etc) to “one” phase. This personal ah-ha moment brought on through self-reflection and core mentors resulted in Ajay transitioning to chairman of the board and Seth becoming CEO. Ajay shared on the Room that this transition was “one of the best decisions he could have made for the company and for himself.” Today, Ajay is back at that zero stage building his newest venture, Allay Lamp, a migraine reliever discovered by Harvard Medical School’s Professor Rami Burstein. Ajay’s story highlights the importance of self-awareness and flexibility in the founder journey.

As always, thank you so much for listening to The Room and see you next week when we talk to Jane Metcalfe, co-founder of WIRED Magazine and Neo.life.

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