Confession: before I joined Vulcan Post, I could probably count the startups I'd used or even knew about on one hand.
One of those few was Happy Bunch.
Back then, their concept-a weekly, then daily curated bunch of flowers-was new, different, and most importantly, affordable.
"They're actually pretty, and giving them doesn't make you feel like a heartless cheapskate," said a colleague.
At RM42 (S$13) a bunch with free same-day delivery to most of Klang Valley, it's hard to disagree.
Happy Bunch just recently turned 3.
In that time, the two founders-Lee Yen and Joanne-transitioned from working on it part-time to completely focusing on their "baby".
"WE HAVENT'T STOPPED RUNNING IN THE LAST 3 YEARS."
The Happy Bunch journey started when the two primary schoolmates realised that there was a market for affordable yet beautiful bunches.
Both came from corporate backgrounds, and Lee Yen in particular sees it as an advantage.
"Having been in it for so many years has its benefits. That has helped us shape and structure some of the things we do. I do encourage people to gain corporate experience if they have the opportunity," she said.
Their corporate background also gave them a leg up in how they were perceived, as explained in a recent blogpost.
"We were told we were Double A entrepreneurs, i.e., had significant corporate experience, ran our own businesses and so we were quite bankable," began the paragraph.
"What rubbish. We hustle like everyone else, but we never expected anything less. The learning curve is crazy steep, not knowing all the tech lingo and its community."
Happy Bunch started with just RM20,000 for their capital, which came from both their savings.
They broke even very quickly, and Joanne shared what was their very first purchase.
"The first thing we did with our profit was to go out and buy a basic Nespresso machine-talk about priorities! We're both coffee people, so this was a wise decision in hindsight. It helped keep us sane, especially with 5AM starts on big occasion days, like Mother's Day or Valentine's Day."
According to Joanne, one of the initial challenges that they had to overcome was just dealing and working well with each other.
"We also have very different working styles-neither of which is better than the other, just vastly different-and that took adjusting," she said.
However, Lee Yen shared that she wouldn't change a thing about their 3-year journey so far.
"I don't regret anything I've done or any decision I've made in the last 3 years and I wouldn't really change anything if I had to do it again. If something didn't work out, I learn from it and modify it or make it better the next time," she said.
"IT TAKES A FAMILY TO RAISE A CHILD. AND OUT CHILD IS HAPPY BUNCH."
There are currently around 30 people on the team, many who came in as flower fairies-the Happy Bunch term for their florists.
The founders are strong believers of finding and growing talent from within. You may enter their company as a flower fairy, but when roles open up, the team looks internally to see if there's someone from the current pool to promote and coach to take up new roles.
"What we're both really proud of is the culture we've cultivated and the team that shares, lives and breathes that culture." - Joanne of Happy Bunch.
From the start, Happy Bunch has kept their offering simple-just one type of flower arrangement a day for RM42, with occasional Luxe bunches that cost a bit more.
When they first started out, their model was unique on the market, but now there are quite a few others operating in the same space.
The team sees that as a positive, and said, "The increase in players indicates that there is definitely a growing market for flowers. We're excited to see that growth and it's nice to know that we have a part to play in creating that demand."
"We disrupted the industry by changing the way people view flowers, where previously it was a bit of a luxury-purchased only for special occasions. Now, flowers are given frequently for any reason or no reason at all."
They explained that they're in a volume-driven business, and their challenge now will be to stay ahead of the game. Although they deliver over thousands of bunches a month, they still have tight margins because of the affordability of their bouquets.
Rather than offer even more options, the team is instead focused on improving the user experience. "We're going to go back-to-basics, do what we're already good at, but making sure we do it ten times better," said Joanne.
"WE WILL REPLICATE THE SAME MODEL IN A FEW OTHER KEY MARKETS WITHIN THE REGION."
The next stop for the team is Singapore, and they already have a skeletal team on the ground there.
Happy Bunch Singapore's offerings go at SGD35, and the team are also looking to strengthen their tech strategy to optimise productivity and bring them even closer to their customers.
Back in Malaysia, they're trying out a new popup store format, with the first being located in Village Grocer, Avenue K.
"We wanted to see how we could have some on-ground presence and expand the convenience arm of our business model," said Joanne.
This also allows them weekend sales (as the office usually only runs on weekdays) and doubles up as a quick way for customers to buy Happy Bunches on the spot, if they're in the area.
However, with the growth and even welcoming a new investor on board, their end objective has remained unchanged from day one.
"Our mission to make it simple for anyone to send flowers and delightful for anyone to receive them is something we take very seriously. Every initiative or enhancement we adopt will contribute towards making that happen," said Joanne.