From the moment Lauren Bercier emerges from her new office in the Oil Center, it's clear this is not your stereotypical startup headquarters. Most obviously, there's a distinct absence of Y chromosomes. In place of laptop docking stations, rows upon rows of silk flower bouquets are meticulously arranged on plastic shelves. In fact, there's only one computer in plain sight, and it's softly streaming Shania Twain's "That Don't Impress Me Much." Hear that, Silicon Valley?
Wearing a crisp blue button-down with a flower embroidered over her heart, 32-year-old Bercier simultaneously projects a sense of warmth and unfaltering confidence. And rightly so. The company she co-founded, Something Borrowed Blooms, was recently named Startup of The Year by Junior Achievement of Acadiana. Bercier took a quick breather from the daily entrepreneurial grind to explain how she found her niche in the sharing economy and how she plans to grow a new kind of global business in Lafayette.
An online reviewer called your company, "the ultimate wedding hack." How did you come up with the idea?
My cousin, Laken, is the co-founder, and she and I came up with the concept a few years ago. We kept talking about how Rent The Runway had such a cool business model. You can get these beautiful, expensive dresses, use them for the weekend, pay a fraction of the cost and send them back. We thought the wedding industry was a market we could tap into. She had the idea of using silk wedding flowers, and my first reaction was, "I don't know? You mean like Hobby Lobby flowers? If we do this, they have to look really good."
We started doing research, and we booked flights to New York City to look around the floral market. We happened to find one little store — you wouldn't know how to find it unless you were there — small, but jam-packed full of silk flowers. They were really pretty, and they were at a good price point, so we started pulling. We had ideas for the collections we wanted to start with. We made one of each. Then, I started a website and put it out there. That was October of 2015. Our first wedding was in December of that year.
How has your business evolved since that first wedding?
We started with the website I built, and you had to call us or email us to make an order. It was a lot of back and forth. I quickly realized in order to make this something unique and different and special, the mobile/online-based part of it needed to be super streamlined and easy. Millennials, they want to place an order on their phone and have it show up like Amazon. So, we did some research and launched a new website in April of last year, and our sales quickly spiked, we're up about 600 percent from last year.
You were recently named startup of the year. What did it mean to you as an innovator, both in the wedding space and also as a new kind of business in Lafayette?
I think it shows Lafayette is really cultivating businesses that are tech-based and focused on a national scale. And it's really cool that as a female [-run business] we got that award, especially in the tech industry. It was validating that other business entrepreneurs could see the potential of our business to really grow.
Fortune reported that female founders got only 2 percent of venture capital dollars in 2017. What has your experience been as a woman entrepreneur?
We made an initial investment ourselves — we bootstrapped the whole thing. We haven't taken on any outside investment yet. It's been profitable from early on. We have no debt, which I'm really proud of. I met with the Opportunity Machine yesterday, which is this great community that we have here in Lafayette. They put me in touch with some other IT people I needed to talk with and suggested that I meet with the Acadiana Angels, which is an angel investment group. I haven't done it before, but it's something that I've considered. He did also mention a lot of those guys are oil and gas guys, so I'm thinking "OK, so how's that going to go? Here's a little blonde girl talking about wedding flowers, you know?"
Are there entrepreneurs you've gone to for advice along the way?
My husband is an entrepreneur. I'm always bouncing ideas off of him. He's been my No. 1 supporter and cheerleader. Catherine Guidry is a well-known photographer who has a podcast, "Mistakes Make Magic." She and I worked together for photography for our business, but she's always been a big supporter of the idea and the business strategy that we've taken. She's really creative and business savvy, so I appreciate her suggestions and value the relationship we've had.
Why did you choose to base your business in Lafayette?
I've lived here since 2004, our house is here, my family is here. Laken lives outside of New Orleans. At one point, we were thinking, "What if we had something there, what if we had something in Baton Rouge?" I pushed for having it here. There's a sense of community here, that I know if I need something, I can stretch my arm out and someone will be there to grab it. I don't think I'd feel the same way in another city.
Weddings are typically such a traditional part of our culture. Does your business represent a shift in what brides are looking for?
The thought behind what a wedding should be and should be focused on is changing. In the past decade or so, brides were under so much pressure to spend a lot of money and make a really big show of this particular day. Now, I'm seeing that couples are getting married older, and it's not necessarily the parents paying for everything. This generation is, like, "I'm not going to go into debt just to prove something and to make this big event happen." It's going back to the basics, and in my opinion, it's for the best. It's really about two people who are in love committing themselves to each other. And that should be the focus. Florals for your wedding are very traditional, but for us to be able to provide that for a cost that's 70 percent less expensive or more, is a huge savings and the pressure is off. Millennials, especially, are much more willing to save money for things that are important, like their first home, and not as likely to go blow $7,000 on flowers. Recently a girl posted on our Instagram, "Thanks to SBB, my husband and I were able to go on the honeymoon of our dreams because we didn't have to spend so much money on flowers." That plays into what millennials value — experiences over items being consumed and disposed of.
As a startup, do you have a different kind of business culture?
For sure. We're able to support each other and be much more casual. We're able to schedule things that work with our schedules. It's not like we work for a corporation where we have to be in at 8 and can't leave until 5. The woman who handles our production has two kids. If she can't come in because she needs to do things at home, it's fine with me. Because I'm a mom, I totally get it.
How are you involved with the tech community in Lafayette?
Opportunity Machine has these round table discussions coming up. I'll be attending those and getting involved. I really like having those resource locally, to be able to go in the middle of the day and get to talk to other entrepreneurs in the area who are doing cool things — it's great.