The Stella Women Series: Hannah Spilva, Co-Founder of LVLY

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Gifting flowers is a tried and tested way to make someone’s day. But up until challenger brand LVLY entered the market, the process of ordering a flower delivery was slow, clunky and hard to do online.

On a mission to make people’s day, LVLY takes a cheeky and playful approach to gifting. Operating entirely digitally, LVLY makes last-minute gifting easy and fast with same-day delivery across Australia’s major capital cities (including Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide).

Over the past 8 years, LVLY has expanded beyond bouquets to offer a branded range of gifts from booze to candles and everything in between. The brand has had so much success that it was recently acquired for an impressive $35 million by a south-east Asian e-commerce firm.

We had the pleasure of chatting with Hannah Spilva, Co-Founder of LVLY, about the rise of this iconic flower delivery startup, her decision to step down as CEO and what’s next for her career in 2022 (and beyond).

Can you take us all the way back to 2014: what inspired you and your co-founder, Verity, to launch LVLY?

“It was a combination of many things, mainly boredom, luck and ambition! A bit of boredom had set in from a career point of view, we got lucky stumbling across a category that was in dire need of reinvention and we had the ambition to build a world-class brand.

LVLY was a brand-led idea at heart – we wanted to connect loved ones and make people’s day. It’s having that core purpose baked into the DNA of the business that helped us achieve what we have.

So we quit our jobs, built a website, learned some floristry skills and started a business from the kitchen. It was a baptism of fire because we had no experience in flowers or logistics which in hindsight was a massive advantage and why we ended up challenging so many industry norms.”

When did you know you were onto a winning idea with LVLY? What signs made you realise this would be a hugely successful business?

“We really believed in what we were building and we got momentum pretty quickly in terms of product market fit – we were selling out of flowers daily, we earned great PR and people loved LVLY from the get-go.

Success takes many forms and one of the early ‘how f*cking cool is this?!’ moments was when Thankyou approached us to do their corporate gifting and later to collaborate. It was meaningful because we’d brainstormed a list of epic brands that we’d like to work with one day and Thankyou was top of this list. So when they approached us, not the other way around, it was a high five moment.

But don’t get me wrong,  we made countless mistakes along the way: it took us ages to get our pricing strategy right, same-day logistics was difficult to make work, and operationally we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into with a perishable product and same-day delivery.

So although we believed in the business we always knew we had a long road ahead of us to make it scalable and profitable on a national and global scale. We definitely had glimpses of how successful it could be but it wasn’t until years 5 and 6 that we truly nailed the model.”

You recently spoke about how you coped with a 500% increase in business during the first 4 weeks of COVID lockdowns. Why do you think demand surged for your offering during this time?

“The global pandemic, especially the lockdowns, was a really crappy, lonely and anxious time for people. We were separated from loved ones, living a new reality that left everyone looking for new ways to stay connected with people they cared about.

We couldn’t celebrate special occasions in person, we couldn’t be there to hug one another so people naturally turned to businesses like LVLY to send thoughtful gestures to remind people they were loved.

We felt pretty privileged and humbled that we could play that role for people. It was incredible to see how quickly demand increased and the whole team worked day and night to make it happen. There’s no doubt it helped accelerate our business growth.

But we didn’t sit back and just take sales, we continued to innovate and develop new products. At the height of the pandemic when demand peaked we extended our same-day delivery to 7 days a week, we pushed our order cut-off back to 5 pm, we launched in new cities and increased our flower range. So you could say we were suckers for punishment.

I was pregnant with my second child during this time and I’ve never worked harder or longer hours, I worked right up to the weekend she was born by an emergency C-section and was back on emails and calls before I left the hospital. It takes a village to raise babies and to build a business, I’m lucky to have amazing support both at work and at home.”

Earlier this year, you sold LVLY for a whopping $35 million and brought on a new CEO. How did you know now was the right time to step away and let someone else take the reigns?

“I always wanted to create a situation where I could eventually step away from being CEO but still be involved in shaping the business. I spent 7 years not being satisfied with where LVLY was at, I had that restless agitation that you hear founders talk about. I always wanted the business to be more, I had a vision of what it should be and could be and was on a relentless mission to get there.

I loved being CEO during these years, I loved the hustle, I loved the constant problem solving, I loved building the business model and the obsession with financial performance.

By 2021 we’d really hit our straps, we were growing at breakneck speed, we had smashed all industry norms for profitability, we were lucky enough to get a golden run of high-profile awards and most importantly we had created an unbelievably loyal and committed team.

It was a natural inflection point to stand back and feel like I’d accomplished my personal mission. I felt an urge to loosen my grip, to hand the reins over whilst the business was flying. For the first time, I felt like I’d earned the right to step back and that the business would be ok without me.

It felt natural to appoint Dave, the new CEO,  given he’s been along for the ride on our advisory board and knows the business intimately. I’m really grateful to stop compromising on family life for a while and to kick back and enjoy some of the success we created.

It’s 30 degrees in the Greek Islands right now, I’m enjoying drinking ice-cold Mythos and chasing my kids around the beach. I’m appreciating the moment because I know these moments are rare, life is full of curveballs, highs and lows.”

What’s next for your career journey in 2022  (and beyond)?

“I’m still emotionally and financially invested in LVLY and one of the reasons we agreed to the deal with Limitless Technology was it gave me the flexibility to stay involved at the board level – it’s a dream scenario being asked for opinions and ideas but not having the CEO title to deliver them all!

But in all seriousness, my perspective on work has changed a fair bit since building a business. It’s not about finding a job or climbing a career ladder, it’s about finding a mission you really care about. LVLY was a mission to make people’s day and to build an iconic brand and I’ve realised that’s probably my playbook or my ‘why’.

I want to help build businesses and brands that make people’s lives better, happier and more fun. All whilst treading as lightly as possible on the earth. But the bottom line is if it’s not going to be fun, I’m not gonna do it!

I’ve recently become involved with RealVC, a new fund for early-stage ventures which gives me the opportunity to help other founders which is something I’m passionate about doing.”

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