Ever wondered how successful entrepreneurs turn their dreams into reality? What drives them to push the envelope, create change and advance their industries? We had the opportunity to ask Canadian small business owners how they transformed their ideas, goals and passions into reality.
Callia Flowers does flowers differently. Born out of the Canadian prairies and proudly female-founded, Callia is a tech company committed to creating special moments and meaningful connections. Founder Catherine Metrycki shares how excellence in operations, scalable technology and an amazing team have helped her cultivate her start-up into a thriving cross-Canada company.
Q:What motivated you to start Callia Flowers?
Metrycki: A few years ago, I wanted to send flowers to my best friend for getting a promotion, and I didn’t have an easy way to do it. I had to either go in person or call a florist. In the end, I didn’t send her anything, I just sent her a text message, which felt horrible! That was my light bulb moment. Back in 2016, Callia started just in Winnipeg. Since then, we have been able to expand across the country.
Q: How did you move from an idea to a full-scale business?
Metrycki: Early on, I was running the business on the side. I had a full time marketing job, and started Callia as a side hobby, figuring it out as I went. About six months in, I realized couldn’t just do it on the side anymore. I joined an accelerator program, which was very supportive. We set milestones, launched an minimum viable product, and started to expand. By about year one, I realized I needed more than just me, and hired a team.
Q: Why do you describe Callia Flowers as a tech company, not a flower company?
Metrycki: The demand for excellence in operations is really high — if you mess up someone’s pizza delivery or send the wrong size shoes, you can replace them. But if you’re talking about flowers for your Grandma’s 80th birthday, you can’t replace them if they don’t arrive on time.
The flower industry is challenging: It’s a perishable product that has to be delivered in very sensitive temperatures, particularly since this is Canada where temperatures can range from -40 to +40.
Because of these challenges, we needed to build a system that worked perfectly — and often that comes down to simplicity.
Q: Callia carries only a few kinds of bouquets at a time. How do you apply the concepts of simplicity to other areas?
Metrycki: We follow a model of operational simplicity too.
We originally did customized bouquets. If someone wanted their bouquet to be more yellow or more pink, we accommodated for that. This works when you do it one time, but when you try to do it 10 times or 100 times, you start to mess up. We had to focus on making processes that work at 1,000 and 10,000 bouquets.
The main reason behind only having a few choices goes back to the Paradox of Choice, which was explored in a study about jams (published by Columbia and Stanford in 2000). In the study, psychologists revealed that if a person is presented with too many choices, he or she is actually less likely to buy.
Q: How has pitching Callia Flowers on Dragon’s Den and landing a $500,000 investment from Manjit Minhas helped?
Metrycki: Dragon’s Den was an important step to see if we could raise investment and get exposure. It has been a great experience for us, and I have really liked working with Manjit.
I knew Toronto was going to be a good market, and we have been able to expand there and elsewhere in the East as a result. It’s been exciting to see how all of Canada has reacted to the press that we’ve received, and we are so happy to be able to serve the rest of Canada now.
Q: How did you decide on your expansion plan?
Metrycki: A lot of our expansion was done by necessity. We started in Winnipeg and began looking for next target. We chose Edmonton because it felt like Winnipeg — that was a quick and easy decision.
It’s really important to us to serve customers in all places they care about people. We would have people telling us, “I live in Winnipeg but my Grandma is in Toronto, when can you be there?” We hated sending customers away — we wanted to be able to serve them.
We were fortunate to appear on Dragon’s Den, and the investment we received tipped our hand. We’re now opened all across the East except for Quebec — and we did that in 10 weeks.
Q: What about hiring staff? How do you find amazing people to represent your brand?
Metrycki: Callia has always been people first — that applies to our customers and our entire team. Our culture is that we go above and beyond for our customers and our people. I once delivered flowers at midnight for a customer because we messed up and had to make it right.
And we have such an amazing team; we cover each other. From new grads to career changers, they are all such incredible people who are high achievers and dedicated to delivering the same experience to our customers.
There’s a lot of pressure to grow really fast and build fast — for us it’s been investing in the people that has enabled us to deliver that amazing experience. If people are just doing a job, we’re not able to deliver that experience. We had to build culture of awesome.
Q: Who are some of the people who have supported you on your journey?
Metrycki: The community has been the most important. I’ve heard that it takes a village to raise a child, but a community to raise a start up. Our tech accelerator, the startup business community, RBC, the whole Callia Flowers team and their families … it probably adds up to hundreds or thousands of people. We have such a good community who have contributed to our success.
Q: Who is your hero? Are there any strong role models in your life?
Metrycki: I’m very fortunate to have many, many strong role models and mentors, who give a ton of their time and selves to help me and Callia grow. They range from former colleagues, to random acquaintances, to formal mentors, but they’re all incredible: strong, successful and generous, with a selfless desire to help others — and who understand that people are always the most important part of any business. Those are the models I am keen to emulate as much as I can!
Q: Why are you so proud to be from Winnipeg?
Metrycki: The people are special in the prairies. They are really genuine and hard working.
Winnipeg also has a high percentage of family owned businesses. Some say it’s because of the cold, but beyond that there is a strong entrepreneurial spirit here. I have been fortunate to be part of an ecosystem looking for startups to support.
A couple of years ago, there weren’t a lot of success stories. Skip the Dishes (which started in Winnipeg and has their headquarters here) paved the way for that. Now there are a lot of people looking to champion entrepreneurship — there is a lot of support across the prairies.
Q: Anything you would have done differently?
Metrycki: We have made so many mistakes! But we’ve learned more from our failures than from our successes. On our very first Valentine’s Day I was really bullish about how much we were going to sell. I had ordered a couple of hundred of bouquets but I was too aggressive. On the 15th of February I packed bouquets in the car and stopped at intersections, asking people if they would buy bouquets for $20. We have become much smarter about forecasting since then.
So, I wouldn’t necessarily do anything differently. Trying and failing is so important.
Q: Beyond the Dragons’ Den investment, how have you funded the start and growth of Callia?
Metrycki: We have been working with RBC since the beginning, using a combination of taking debt and raising investment, which has allowed us to grow quickly.
Early on, we got to be part of RBC’s Knowledge Based Industries (KBI) group, and there are so many people at RBC supporting us. We’ve been part of their Ventures program, and Kim Ulmer, the Regional President, has been an important mentor for me. It’s been great to see how RBC has lived the values of supporting the community — on both an individual and corporate level.
Q: What’s next for Callia?
Metrycki: We want to be coast to coast across Canada, and plan to lock that down by Mother’s Day. We have also just launched a houseplant business in Winnipeg, called Ivie. We will see how that goes.
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