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How to Successfully Brand a DNVB? An interview with the Founders of Colvin! 🌻

Siddharth Choksi
August 14, 2017

The Colvin Co. is a cut-to-order flower delivery company based in Barcelona. The platform was founded by Andrés, Sergi and Marc, recent alums from Barcelona’s prestigious ESADE Business School.

I had the pleasure of talking with two-thirds of Colvin’s founding team; Sergi Bastardas (an ex-Amazoner and Colvin’s COO) and Marc Olmedillo (formerly at GSK and currently Colvin’s CMO).

Sergi (left) and Marc (right) proudly radiating their floral spirit! ⚘

In our chat, we dug into the concept of branding, specifically for DNVBs, and the so-called ‘digitalisation’ of traditionally offline industries that the world is seeing today.

For those unfamiliar with the term ‘DNVB’, it’s an abbreviation for ‘Digitally Native Vertical Brand’. In a nutshell, the term refers to a brand born on the web who pays special attention on customer experience.

[Interviewer: Siddharth Choksi (SC) — Interviewees: Sergi Bastardas (SB) and Marc Olmedillo (MO)]

SC: How did you guys come up with Colvin? You were classmates at ESADE, but after graduation you all started your careers in different directions, so what brought you together to work jointly on this idea?

SB and MO: So, Colvin only became fully-operational around 7 months ago. But, we started analysing the market and the opportunity more than a year ago.

I’d say it had 2 inflection points:
1. We ran a small flower ‘business’ at university; we sold a couple of thousand bouquets once a year on St. Jordi (a very famous festivity in Cataluña).
2. On one of my trips back to Madrid, I bought a bouquet for my mother on the AVE [Spain’s high speed train] from one of the incumbent players, and the experience was very bad.

So, between this experience and the growing demand at university, we started talking, and that’s when we realised: ‘hey, maybe there’s an opportunity to disrupt the floral vertical’.

After analysing the sector, we realised a few things:
1. It’s much larger than we imagined; ±30 billion in Europe alone!
2. The market pains we saw were pertinent; the floral vertical (particularly online) is generally too expensive and lacks quality and service.

SC: How can DNVBs drive the (arguably inevitable) digitalisation process?

SB and MO :In the case of Colvin, when we started, we were trying to capture a slice of the pie in an already existing market; there was already some digital demand in the flower market, but the supply-side was far from being industry-standard.

DNVB’s play a key role in digitalising sectors, and, in fact, can offer a better value proposition than its offline counterparts.

When we take a look at major hubs like the US or the UK, we notice that the ones who are driving the digitalisation of the industries actually tend to be new players (like us), rather than incumbent players.

Our advice to entrepreneurs looking to build a DNVB would be to enter an already (partly) digitalised market. But, either way, if your value proposition works better online than offline, you can really play a vital role in the so-called ‘digitalisation process’.

SC: What would you say are the 3 Key ingredients one needs in order to build a strong DNVB?

SB and MO: For startups, and DNVB’s especially, a strong brand is definitely a core asset, which needs to built upon from day 1!

1. Have a Product that Customers Love:

You have to ensure that your value proposition is felt and that your customers love the product(s) you offer. Here at Colvin, we religiously measure our performance through our NPS, which allows us to validate our efforts and leverage what works to stimulate organic growth.

2. The Quality of Service:

To operate a successful DNVB, one must pay close attention to 2 key points:
1. You must be able to respond in an efficient and effective manner to customer feedback, especially in our case as we’re dealing with perishable goods.
2. Having strong policies is detrimental (i.e. refunds, re-shipments, etc.). This is something we’ve implemented from day 1; we’re confident enough in the quality of our products to be able to offer full refunds to unsatisfied customers.

3. Have Strong Organic Channels:

The bigger channels are getting more and more crowded, making it a lot harder for startups to get into that space. So, instead, it’s key to focus on the users online that are relevant to you; you must be interactive and make sure to immerse yourself in an environment of people that believe in what you do!

SC: How do you think DNVBs can position themselves in a market saturated with traditional, long-existing players?

SB and MO: Numerous incumbent players work as a marketplace with a lot of small, supply-side units [vendors], which doesn’t really give the customers the opportunity to buy products with a good price-quality ratio, because:

1. The price of the product is affected as both the platform and the individual vendors take a cut of the final selling price.
2. The quality of the product is affected (especially with perishables), as the goods tend to be shipped from the end of the supply chain after having gone through a variety of middle-men.
3. The goods are inconsistent because you have several thousand vendors that supply as per the orders come in, which, especially in the sector of perishables, takes a toll on the level of consistency they seek to maintain.

Today, with improved logistics and technologies, one has the potential to penetrate a market merely by undercutting the intermediaries, even if one doesn’t have immediate access to the goods, they can buy and supply from as close as possible to the source to ensure durability, quality, and price.

SC: In e-commerce, and especially for DNVBs, how important is flexibility?

SB and MO: For DNVBs to be able to meet their customer demands it’s really important to be flexible. Like we said before, if any problem arises, they need to be able to solve it in an efficient and effective manner!

In our case, there wasn’t really a brand out there in the floral vertical that was not commoditised, because practically everybody was offering the same thing, the only thing that was different was the name on their tags. This is where Colvin stepped in and sort of changed the rules of the game; we offer a better product and a better design.

At the end of the day, DNVBs have full control over their supply-chain, allowing them to offer a far more curated experience!

SC: How can DNVBs leverage their branding efforts to attract new customers and foster their relationships with their existing user base?

SB and MO: Bear in mind that we’re a young startup ourselves, but as we’ve recently been submersed in the world of branding, we’ve come up with a few pointers:

If we take a look at segmented industries (e.g. fashion), we see that companies tend to brand themselves differently according to the segment (e.g. millennials, children, etc.). In our case, the market isn’t that segmented, so we’ve built our brand on our competitive edge in i.a. price, quality, and experience.

Those are more of the tangible aspects of branding, right now we’re working on defining the intangibles of Colvin. For us it’s crucial to see what the customer values so that we can work backwards and deliver a loved product.

We quickly realised that the people who were buying customers (off- or online) before Colvin are the one’s who know the market, so they’re the one’s we should be targeting with our tangible cores. And now, after defining our intangibles [i.e. the Colvin brand], we can leverage it to get people unexposed to the floral market to get on board! We’re aiming to build a lifestyle.

Before, you had TV as a communication channel, which was rather unilateral. You were like “Hey, this is my brand. Buy it!” Nowadays, with the power of the Internet, everyone knows everything about you and pays special attention to what other customers say about you.

So, as a DNVB [or any business model for that matter], it’s crucial to foster your relationships with your customers. The best way to do this is to get a CRM. Be sure to be in touch with your customers, they need to feel that they’re properly taken care of.

And one last thing, never claim something you’re not; if you say it, do it! Unsurprisingly, it’s important to live up to your promises.

A huge thanks to Sergi and Marc for their time and insights on branding and advice for DNVBs, it’s much appreciated!

Colvin is taking the Southern European floral vertical by force, and we want to help them in becoming the market’s reference brand for cut-to-order flowers! So, the next time you think of flowers, think of Colvin 🌸


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