Introducing a special guest Lady Boss profile from the woman behind Floracracy, founder and CEO Sarah-Eva Marchese. Floracracy is the first online flower company that lets YOU design your OWN floral arrangements in a style that’s totally your own. Almost every online flower company is founded and run by men, despite women accounting for 80% of flower purchases and based on available research, no female founded online flower company has received outside funding until now Floracracy.
Get to know the woman poised to change the floral industry in this special extended #LadyBoss profile where she discusses the role of being a CEO, Cambridge and dinner with Abraham Lincoln.
Passionate, Hardworking, Strategic
1. We all have mentors or someone who has influenced us. Who/what do you identify as your strongest source of inspiration?
Deciding to create my own mastermind-like group was one of the most important decisions I’ve ever made in my business journey. These mentors are people I’ve met and ones that I only know through books. (For the uninitiated, Napoleon Hill discussed the concept of a mastermind group of individuals who, when working together, are more than the sum of their parts. Tony Robbins added the wrinkle of including imaginary people in the group. Don’t laugh, it works.)
My mastermind group includes (but is not limited to): Dame Stephanie Shirley (who created the first software company made up of women in the UK in the 1960s), Aimee Daniels (the mentor I had through Chicago Innovation’s Women Mentoring Co-op), Abraham Lincoln (mostly because he is my go-to reminder of why I should never send my first draft angry emails), my husband Nathan (to whom I must credit most of my success as he pushed me to be my best self), and my children (who think I’m building an Ice Castle, which is utterly, metaphorically true).
2. When was a pivotal moment that someone advocated for your career?
There were, in fact, quite a few, as I am blessed to have had amazing support throughout the life of our business.
A pivotal moment was something that came out of my involvement with Chicago Innovation’s Women Mentoring Co-op, which is an amazing program that I highly recommend. They connected me with one of their board members, Leslie Vickey. After learning more about our company, she offered to make an introduction to John Higginson, who was the former CTO of FTD—the company that for decades was the biggest player in the floral industry.
That introduction proved a pivotal turning point. It brought our company from being kind of on the outside of the industry into the center of it in terms of the technology talent and conversation. Even more important, we were ready for it. He liked what he heard and went on to advise us, invest in us, and join our board.
3. How do you stay motivated when you hit a speed bump or faced rejection during your journey?
This is a great question. Every entrepreneur knows that starting a business, especially something no one has ever done before, can be an emotional rollercoaster. When your life is as tied to your profession as it gets when starting something, it becomes very personal. The whole “it’s just business, nothing personal” platitude is, of course, ridiculous. Business is always personal. When your life and future is on the line it’s as personal as it gets.
Actually, for many years I would get derailed from my course for various reasons. I had serious upper limit issues. When I would get close to achieving a goal, I would sabotage myself. This notion would have been too bizarre for me to even relate to until I read The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks. It’s actually extremely common and it affected me bigtime.
One of my favorite passages is from The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. He writes that our greatest fear is not fear of failing or being broke: it’s a fear of success. It’s one of the wisest observations I’ve ever read, and I believe it is so true.
The biggest example was Cambridge. My dream was to go get a PhD there. I worked incredibly hard, got accepted to not one but two programs and colleges, was shortlisted for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship, and then I gave up and let it slip away. I had put together a number of grants to cover the cost over the course of the program, but Cambridge insisted I pay the entire tuition amount upfront. Unfortunately, that wasn’t how my grants were structured. In fact, I learned later that a lot of US students are able to work with UK universities to get around this problem. I am absolutely confident I could have. But I got cold feet and just gave up.
It was one of the best lessons, though. When I get scared, I remind myself that once such an opportunity has passed, it may be years before the nexts one comes. When I think I can’t get past the next hurdle, when I decide that what I am doing is dumb or not worth ten more years and hours away from my kids so I should just quit, I think about Cambridge. I recognize the pattern and remember the truth that kicks in after you give up: that that desire to move on is merely a reflection of how badly you had wanted whatever you had just given up. I ask myself what I want to do, and then I go do the opposite because that is what I really want to do.
4. If you could share any wisdom with the EvolveHer community, what would it be
As a CEO, it isn’t your job to be right. It’s your job to get the job done. Let your ego get in the way of that at your peril (and that of your company, your investors, and your product).
That’s the hardest thing I realized as a boss. I can’t tell you how often I have (and still do) want to send a long, defensive email explaining why I was right with lots of highly principled and acerbic truths to impress on them my veracity.
Against all intuition and instinct, it turns out that is not good leadership.
Through the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln would vent frustrations in letters to his generals he would never send. Mark Twain would similarly draft withering correspondence to those with whom he disagreed, only for his wife to retrieve them before they were sent. That’s wisdom.
As CEO, it’s not my job to “win” a decision or conversation. Probably about 100% of the time, that’s not the right move for the company. And that is always what my job is: to make the right move for the company.
5. What is your favorite hidden gem in Chicago?
My current favorite hidden gem is the children’s area at the Art Institute of Chicago. (Ahh, how life changes with parenthood!) It’s an activity area near the ticket office that is free for kids. It has crafts and interactive exhibits the kids love.
I absolutely love a Sunday afternoon at the the Art Institute. My children only last an hour or so, and the children’s area offers a way to “inspire” them to explore one more gallery with me before they become a danger to the art as well as just being a cool, quiet, and gentle place to enjoy some quality time.
6. How can we find you? Please list your Instagram handle, website, etc. so we can learn more!