“To see people believe in what you’re doing, not just professionally but on a personal level, gives you self-worth.” #P2P Vol. 9: David Daneshgar


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Maybe you’ve heard of David Daneshgar — he won the 2008 World Series of Poker at the age of 26.  Over the years, he’s used his success at poker to pave the way for his professional success as a businessman.

Now at 32 years old, David’s a dangerously ambitious combination of hustler and entrepreneur — leading to the creation of his own start-up company called BloomNation in Los Angeles. He’s looking to redefine the business of connecting florists to their consumers, making that relationship more organic so that those ordering flowers get the most bang for their buck. It’s about giving back to the community, ensuring that customers get quality products while florists have the opportunity for return business.

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Breaking through the dirt.

What is BloomNation?
“It’s a marketplace that allows florists from all over the country to sell directly to a customer. You as a customer can actually see their real prices, what they really offer and their reviews.”

D006How does that differ from something like 1-800 Flowers?
“So, whereas with 1-800 Flowers, FTD and Telefora you spend $100 and the florist only ends up getting $50, you have no idea what to expect. They can do anything. You don’t know what you’re going to get. Most of the money is gone in the process, and the florist doesn’t know who you are so they know they’re not getting repeat business.”

What does that mean for the product someone buys through 1-800 Flowers?
“The florists don’t really care to send you amazing flowers, so they send you dying or dead inventory.”

Oh, that makes sense. 
“We were wondering why there wasn’t a better solution. The only solution is to go to a florist directly through Yelp or Google, but it’s pretty hard to find good florists. So we wondered why there isn’t an Etsy or some marketplace for florists to post on? You can see their real pictures, their real products, their real products — that was the idea, and that’s what BloomNation continues to be.”

So this explains the controversy 1-800 Flowers saw over Valentine’s Day this year.
“Every Valentine’s Day, every Mother’s Day, the same problem happens. The problem here is that you don’t know who you’re buying from, or what you’re buying. It’s kind of gambling, like roulette — hopefully it falls on the right number. That’s not how it should be.”

D008How would you say BloomNation is different, and the better choice?
“How we’re different is that the key to this is transparency. Since you know who the florists are with BloomNation, if they don’t deliver you can go on Yelp and rip their asses apart. You can ruin their business. But if they do a good job, you can go on and tell everyone in the world how amazing they are. They don’t view you as an order, they view you as a customer.”

And with 1-800 Flowers, you’re just an order?
“Exactly. They see orders running in with no repercussions. With BloomNation, they view you as a customer — they see your name, you see theirs. On Valentine’s Day, how many of those mishaps happened with conveyor belt employees versus people who actually ordered directly from florists and were their customers? You’d see a huge discrepancy.  That’s one side of BloomNation, which is the B2C.”

What’s the other side?
“Another way we’re getting revenue is B2B. Florists are not really great at making their own websites, or designing them, or doing the SEO and the marketing. We give them tools to do that. It’s kind of a all-in-one solution. That’s what BloomNation is.”

Sowing the seeds.

How did you get started?
“It all started with poker.”

D004What do you mean?
“I grew up in West Lake Village, a suburb of Los Angeles. It was a tight knit community and I was able to not just meet people from my culture, but all walks of life. It was very diverse. But also, it wasn’t the most entertaining city so I got involved in gambling. When I graduated, I went to UC Berkley and I was given the opportunity to teach a student-run class  on the politics and statistics of gaming. It was a legalized gambling class. I developed a bigger interest in poker, and when I graduated I decided to take the jump to professional poker playing.”

That’s pretty cool. How’s your family take that?
“My parents were saying ‘Go play poker, whatever’ because they didn’t think I’d do that well. They told me to take the chance, which was nice of them, but I actually did very well. I knew I wanted to do what I wanted to do. I started doing very well, was ranked as one of the top poker players in the entire world. And in 2008, I won the World Series of Poker.”

That sounds amazing!
“It was amazing. I was doing what I wanted to do, it was kind of a dream. Essentially, I decided I wanted to do something else. So I talked to Jim Buss, the owner of the Lakers who was my friend at the time, and I was hoping he would make me like the Lakers GM. He told me I should go to business school and he’d write me a letter of recommendation. I applied for best business schools in the country, and I ended up getting accepted into Chicago Booth — which is now one of the top business schools in the nation. That was cool, because I had the opportunity to change the direction of my life.”

To move in a business direction instead of poker?
“Right. At that time, my two partners — Farbod and Gregg — started brainstorming. Farbod came to use and said ‘My aunt’s a local florist, and she’s getting crushed by these 1-800 Flowers companies. You’re a poker player, a hustler and you’re good at sales, so why don’t we try this idea out?’ And the rest is kind of history.”

D009So, that’s where BloomNation got started?
“We got a small office this summer between my first and second year of business school, and rather than taking an internship at a big bank, we just walked to 100 different flower shops. The idea was born. They were all saying ‘This is a real problem.’ When I came back to business school, I changed all my classes and stopped taking finance classes — I started taking entrepreneurship classes.”

Where did you get the money to start the business?
“A lot of the investors I have came from the connections we met at business school. There was a competition there called the New Venture Challenge, and a lot of big companies were there. They really vet your idea, and they said we had one of the better ideas. With their support, we started meeting investors and more importantly we started believing in the idea more.”

Did you get all of your money from that competition?
“We won like $10-20K in the competition which gave us a little bit of money, but not enough. So, when I got back to the west coast, we played a poker tournament and I won the rest. We used that money to pay our first outsource developer money to get a proof of concept website, which wasn’t enough but it got us enough traction to actually start raising a small realm together. It’s allowed us to get florists on board.”

Growing tall.

When did you decide this was the next step for you instead of poker?
“Well, the money is much bigger than that. What I mean is your wins can be in the hundreds of millions, but you don’t get all of that because the investors come in and they dilute you. The real answer is I’m from a Persian family; at some point I want to have a family. Can you imagine going to smoke-filled casino to smoke-filled casino trying to hustle your way back home to feed your kid?”

D005I see your point.
“Someone who is pretty educated like myself, I viewed poker as a means to get capital to take on the next chapter of my life. I’ll never leave poker. I still play once a week to get my mind off, but now I don’t have the same pressure to pay the bills.”

You let poker get you started on the money you needed to take your next step?
“It wasn’t just about money. It gave me these characteristics that I think have helped. First of all, the funding was great and it helped us raise money for BloomNation. It’s an interesting story. We’re not just the same as everyone else. But on top of that, poker gave me the backbone to be strong — not worry about risk, make crucial decisions, don’t care about how opponents try to intimidate you. It helped me learn to read people and make the next move, so when I go to a florist or investor, I can read them and understand them to help make the best decision. These are all things I got out of poker. It wasn’t just monetary. I think it was one of the most invaluable experiences that I’ve had.”

It helped you become a better businessman?
“Yeah. I’m obviously very good at math, but poker is about psychology. Understanding someone’s next move and reacting to it, but understanding how they will react to your move so you can think several levels ahead. So whether it’s advertising, or selling to a florist, I think you become very good at analysis and you start to think of things very strategically.”

D001Is there anything you wish you would have done differently?
“I would never change it, I had a good time. But it’s not like it just ended. Those skills have made me very good at business development and sales, helping to build our brand. A lot of that came from being different, not like the corporate experience everyone has, but the real world experience — when you talk to someone and you connect with them, you understand them. It’s real world theoretical experience.”

So, essentially it’s the street smarts and the book smarts?
“Yeah, exactly.”

Growing together.

Is it important to you to help other local businesses?
“Yeah, definitely. When I was playing poker, I didn’t have that experience. I had the experience of being singular in my profession and taking money from other people. One thing I like about this is that I’m actually helping local businesses and we’re all a team. Not just the team of BloomNation, but all of the florists we work with. That’s a unique experience I didn’t have before.”

D003Does that contribute to an overall impact on the community?
“Going local, really going local, means other florists want to jump on board. In terms of the community, I think the reality is any local commerce is good for the community. It’s not just jobs, it’s morale.”

What do you mean?
“If you see the local flower shop close down, then you as a business owner get deterred.”

That’s very true. So, you’re helping keep that spirit alive in the different communities you work in?
“Essentially. I think it’s awesome. I’ve never done anything on this front before. The most important thing is to see how much florists actually love what we’re doing. When I say this is awesome, it’s not just the feeling I get but it gives me this proof that this might actually happen — we might actually change consumer behavior.”

D007Why is it important to you to do something like this?
“It was personal satisfaction. There was a game to poker that said if I win money, someone else had to lose money. I had to take from someone to win. Now, with BloomNation, not only can we win but so can our vendors.  In the end, secretly, I’m hoping the people that don’t win are the services hurting the industry.”

It’s important for you to feel like you’re not robbing others in order for you to win?
“Well, what’s important to me personally is the relationships. I chat with the vendors all the time, I have dinner with them, not just for business but because they believe in us. To see people believe in what you’re doing, not just professionally but on a personal level, gives you self-worth.”

Random thoughts.

D002On the pressure of a new business venture.
“You have two different objectives: you want to see how you’re helping, but you have to hit quantitative metrics so that your investors can give you money to see that through. We want to grow the company because we need millions of dollars in funding. If we get that funding, we can continue to help people. So you’re helping people, but at the same there’s pressure too. If you don’t hit metrics, you can’t help.”

On supporting small business.
“In the end, you root for the little guy. It’s David vs. Goliath. I support the idea of innovation. For us in the beginning, it was difficult to get those first 100 florists. But the more and more you get, the more support you get.”

On why some entrepreneurs get in over their heads.
“I think that’s one thing that a lot of more entrepreneurs lose on —  you have to stay focused on one idea. As you become better, other entrepreneurs come to you for advice and therefore you have better access to deals. People can see real numbers and think ‘Why shouldn’t I invest?’ The biggest thing right now is growing the business and growing the team.”

Final thoughts.

D010What’s your next step?
“We want to continue to get more florists.  For me, i’ts about finding people who I think are really passionate and engaged, but also entrepreneurial in nature. I think rather than building a new business, we should go international and help other businesses with the same model. That’s where I want to go. And that’s something I learned with poker: you don’t think year to year, you think month to month.”

David’s story is a part of #P2P, a recently launched blog series that profiles the choices, risks and lifestyles of influential people I come across. For more on my personal journey with #P2P, subscribe to my blog, follow me on Twitter or subscribe to me on Facebook.

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