Interview: #FemaleFounders - Steph Douglas, Don’t Buy Her Flowers
Take me back

#FemaleFounders – Steph Douglas, Don’t Buy Her Flowers

Thoughtful gifts perfectly tailored to suit the person you’re sending them to… sounds a lot better than a bouquet of flowers, right? 

For our latest #FemaleFounders interview, we caught up with Steph Douglas, Founder of Don’t Buy Her Flowers (DBHF) – a bespoke gift package organisation built around thoughtfulness. Since 2014, Don’t Buy Her Flowers has been sharing the perfect gifts to help you celebrate a special occasion, offer your commiserations or simply just show that you care – even when you can’t be there. 

Steph also hosts the Don’t Buy Her Flowers podcast where she invites guests to talk frankly about life – break-ups, love, friendships, sadness – and the ‘rush hour’ that many of us feel we’re living in. 

Join us as we talk to Steph about her experience of building DBHF and finding the company’s ‘new normal’ in a post-pandemic world. 

1. Which three skills would you say are crucial to being a founder?

  • Determination
  • Ability to adapt quickly
  • Curiosity

2. What is your favourite thing about being a business owner?

I feel really proud, actually. Not only of myself but of the team and brand we’ve built. It’s emerged that part of our workplace culture is seeing skills in people that they might not even recognise in themselves, and encouraging them in the business. Seeing other people feel energised to work at Don’t Buy Her Flowers (DBHF) is an awesome feeling!

3. What have you found challenging about starting your business?

The most challenging thing at the beginning was recognising that there is always more to do, something to finish or a new idea to develop. You will never be ‘done’.

If you don’t pause to reflect on what has been achieved or stop to enjoy the process, it starts to feel relentless and overwhelming. It also makes you think what is the point? I found that particularly hard at the start. But, having a family actually helps. At times, I have to stop – they demand it! It’s an ongoing process. In fact, as I’m answering these questions, it’s a Sunday morning and I’m in my pyjamas. So, it’s not always easy. 

4. What are the biggest barriers you face when it comes to growing your business?

We’ve grown steadily year on year since we launched in 2014 and we’ve chosen not to take investment up to now. That means we continually reinvest profits and grow in a deliberate, incremental way. If we had a big pot of money there would be a huge amount that we could do. The brand is strong, the business model has proven itself and it’s scalable, so for us, it’s just a case of reaching more people. The concept really does sell itself once people know what we do, and a high percentage of our customers return. 

Finance is probably the biggest barrier. But, this is how we’ve chosen to do things so far. I think the way that we’ve done things has meant that we’ve made fewer mistakes compared to if we would’ve tried to do things quickly. We’ve really had to make our budgets work, which has taught us a huge amount. 

We were incredibly fortunate to be one of the businesses that has seen huge growth during the pandemic.  Overnight, when the country went into lockdown, we rocketed and some months were 600% up on the previous year. Nearly two years on, we’re seeing orders settle but they’re still considerably higher than they were pre-pandemic and we’ve managed to sustain a substantial amount of that growth. 

I feel lucky to have offered people what they wanted at the right time and have been able to not only keep my team in work, but grow it too.

5. If you could learn more about one area of marketing, what would it be?

For us, it has to be digital marketing. PPC is a great driver for us, along with Facebook ads. We have a podcast and great PR and social media presence so that works really well for us with regard to brand. 

We’re looking at a couple of areas of digital marketing at the moment – we’re very much going to test and learn before investing significant amounts. That has served us well so far.

6. How did you recognise that you were an entrepreneurial person?

It wasn’t something that I ever thought I wanted to do. It was more a combination of an idea that I couldn’t shake and a realisation that juggling working in town – and trying to race back for nursery pick-ups/letting people down when we had a call to say one of the kids was unwell – just wasn’t going to work. 

I’ve always worked. I had three jobs when I was at school, stacking shelves, waitressing and cleaning, and I went straight from A levels to university and straight into work from university.  While lots of people I knew were travelling and taking a year out, I just wanted to get started. It was probably only when I was a year or two into Don’t Buy Her Flowers that I realised I was entrepreneurial. But looking back, perhaps it was always in me. I’m definitely a ‘do-er’.

7. How do you fight Impostor Syndrome?

I regularly worry about whether I’m good enough but, having people around you who’ll let you know you are is helpful. I don’t think it’s something that men talk about, so I think the first step is to stop talking about it!

8. If someone was struggling to start a business due to confidence, what would your advice be?

Ask yourself if you really believe in the idea. If you do, it might help to create a business plan. As you complete each area of the plan you might realise which are the bits causing you the most worry, or perhaps where you feel you’re lacking. Those would be the parts you need to spend more time on and find someone who can help increase your knowledge. Ultimately, self-belief is pretty crucial to starting your own business because there will be a lot of knocks.

9. If you could magically change one thing about your business now, what would it be?

We had phenomenal growth in 2020/21, as people turned to us for thoughtful gifts during the pandemic, and we’re just finding now what our new ‘normal’ is with regard to orders. We’ve been able to invest in a new improved website, a new stock management system, and we’ve grown the team. We’re prepped for additional growth and it’s exciting to see what’s next because we know that we can handle it. So, if more people could know about us, that would be great – we’re ready! 

However, everything that has happened has been a learning. Each step, whether that’s forward, backwards or trying to resolve an issue, is a learning. We tackle it as a team so I wouldn’t actually change it. The unknown can be stressful, but ultimately it makes it exciting. 

10. Tell us about another brilliant businesswoman that our readers should know about.

Yvonne Telford, the founder of Kemi Telford clothing. She has a brilliant story and, like us, she hasn’t taken investment but has grown her business one product at a time, gradually adding to her team, involving family. Things really took off for her in the pandemic and she was stocked in John Lewis last year, which was really exciting to watch. She is full of Nigerian wisdom, and sayings too, and is just brilliantly entertaining as well as being a great business person. 

The gift that keeps on giving

Want to keep discovering inspiring female-founded organisations? Check out our interviews with Serena Tabacchi, Founder of MoCDA and Olivia Hanlon, Founder of Girls in Marketing. To keep up to date with the latest news from Don’t Buy Her Flowers and their podcast, follow them on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.