So Long, 2021

Jan 01, 2022

So Long, 2021

Hey There,

If you’ve been here for a while you know that it’s not a (Farmgirl) new year without the prerequisite, could-be-a-novella email from yours truly. My team has officially coined these LAEs (that’s long-ass emails - sorry, Mom) and that pretty much says it all. Every year I spend time reflecting on the previous year - the good, bad, and even ugly, and set goals and intentions for the year to come. And I like to share that with you all, as I feel like we’re all on this crazy journey together.

Before I get into it though - and on the subject of LAEs - I know not everyone opens their inbox wanting to read a thousand + words by me on anything from the PPP to the who/what/where/when/why on all things Farmgirl. For those of you that do open those emails and scroll, scroll, scroll - thank you. I don’t come here to write what I write because I have somehow mistaken our mailing list for a diary. I do it because ever since my first LAE back in 2017 when I explained why I had to make the very difficult decision to change our sourcing model to include international growers, your responses told me that you were here for it, and wanted a glimpse behind the curtain and to know the real Farmgirl story.

I still remember to this day being so nervous when hitting send on that email – wondering if you’d still believe in Farmgirl if we abandoned the all-American grown “dream” that I’d started the company with? I was so incredibly relieved by the response. I got so many thank yous and amazing notes that talked about how while change was expected, transparency was not. The fact that I’d taken the time out to explain that who/what/where/when/why made all the difference to so many of you.

So that’s my (overly wordy) way of saying that transparency has kept bringing me back here ever since then. I want you all to know that not if, but when we have to make the big moves that have helped keep us in business for over a decade, there are important, and usually really hard, reasons driving them. All this to say - if you’re here for the context behind those moves or just a few too many words on whatever is important to Team Farmgirl at the moment, I want to make it easy for you to find it. And for the folks who just want to get to the flowers? I want to make that easy for you too.
For the LAE camp, I invite you to sign up for my new newsletter. It’ll mean (fingers crossed!) semi-regular updates from me on all things Farmgirl - part business, part inspiration, part small to medium-sized business politics, and, of course, part flowers. My goal is to try for once a month and if I can somehow tack a 25th hour onto every sixth day or so, twice. We’ll see!

And for the flowers-only camp, I promise that we’ll keep the non-floral updates here short, sweet, and to the point. You’ll still get all of the things you (and I!) come for - sales, new launches, Gilmore-isms - without the occasional side of exposition by yours truly.
I hope it’s the best of both worlds for everyone involved.

OK - onto 2022. Well, almost.

Because I can’t get onto next year without diving into this year. And 2021 was quite a year.

When I sat down to write this I (ironically) made a goal for next year that when I was sitting down to write the next version of this letter that it would be all sunshine and rainbows and puppy dogs. That the year would have gone as expected - or at the very least that everything had worked out - and that I was (or, will be) ending the year on a high note. Pop the champagne! End scene.

I can’t wait to write that email. But today I’m not quite there - not yet, anyway.
Because 2021 was another really hard year. Which is weird to say after 2020, right? We all kind of collectively muddled and grieved and put one foot in front of the other through that year together. At best, some people made a lot of sourdough or finished Netflix, or figured out how to work out and work and eat and sleep and live a life - all without leaving their own four walls. And at worst? Eating too much sourdough or not having anything new to watch or crawling up our four walls because they were your new home/office/gym/(insert communal public space of your choice) was the least of our worries.

Personally, I was grieving and moving on from a failed marriage. I was living on my own for the first time in over a decade. I got COVID. Bad COVID - long COVID. French fries, chocolate, peanut butter (and the list goes on) still aren’t palatable. And these are the smallest of small, can-barely-be-called-an-inconvenience when so many have lost so much more. I also moved to a city where I knew exactly two people in the middle of a pandemic with exactly zero opportunities to add to that tally (pro tip: that’s not exactly a recipe for social success).

I also fought like hell (again, sorry, Mom) to make Farmgirl work. And watched my team fight like hell to do the same. I was up early and up even later, driving to Watsonville and Miami (yep, still driving from CA) and working and training and designing and shipping and driving home. Then spreadsheeting and spreadsheeting and spreadsheeting to see if the pivots I was plotting on those long drives passed muster in Excel. My cheeks were permanently pink from stress, my eyes were always overtired from staring at a bright computer screen in my dark living room until the wee hours, and my body was so. incredibly. worn. out.

But if 2020 was a marathon (and maybe a better analogy is a marathon I decided to run with no training, two hours of sleep, and a single, stale gummy bear for dinner), 2021 was a mental marathon. A hay bale maze where someone forgot to plan an exit. A 10,000-piece puzzle with one piece hiding in the couch cushions. Even giving it absolutely everything I had (and then some) the pieces just never fit.

There are a lot of reasons, from the devastatingly big to the annoyingly small, that 2021 is another year I need to turn the page on. And here is where I would usually go into more detail about those reasons. They have kept me up at night this year, looping over and over and over in my head like a tilt-o-whirl of the greatest (no, worst) hits of the past twelve months. Normally I would think that releasing them to this page would (maybe) help me finally get off the ride and (maybe not) finally get to sleep. But I’m not going to do that.

Yes, 2021 was another bad year. There’s no changing that. But something happened this year that, while it could not (and did not) change the general nature of the adjectives I’ll use to describe these past twelve months, means that 2022 is already on track to wrap up with that everything's coming up roses end of year email I’ve been dreaming about come December.

So what’s the silver lining? Put simply, it’s people.

I’ve talked about Team Farmgirl before. We’re the workhorses in the sea of unicorns. Grab two ventis to go, roll up your sleeves, and leave work with your hands unrecognizably covered in eucalyptus sap types. The get up early and get it done types. And I’ve always been proud of that, and will always be proud of it - at least parts of it. The first part of the story of Farmgirl was written in that eucalyptus sap, fueled by too much Starbucks, and well-worn chambray and late nights and early mornings.
But after we closed the cooler and shipped the last box and swept the floor I would drive home and start my second shift. Paying bills, reworking the financial model to ensure there was actually a path to profitability, figuring out how to put out whatever fire was raging that day, or strategizing the next product launch. And yes, I did have a team. And that team had some wonderful people on it. But the absolute hardest thing I learned this year, the most put-on-your-CEO-hat-and-eat-the-frog thing, was that the team that you write the first part of the story with will probably not be the ones you finish the book with. And on those long nights where I was spreadsheeting until the sun came up, only to fall asleep, computer in hand, and startle awake when my alarm went off, just to do it all over again? I was a team of one - an I when I needed to be a we. I just didn’t (want to) know it yet.

It sounds personal - and, trust me, it has felt personal. But at the end of the day, I think people, regardless of the team they’re on, are still people. We change. We grow - and sometimes we don’t. Or we can’t fast enough. We fall together and fall apart. And the bit of magic that makes a good team work can change too, or sometimes even disappear. And I think, specifically to Farmgirl, the people, processes, attitude, and everything else that get a business to $1M in annual revenue, or $10M in revenue, or even $30M in revenue just might not be the right ones to carry the company to $50M or $100M - or beyond.

I never believed in that phrase - more money, more problems - until I started Farmgirl. And then I remember watching the bills, and the problems just keep getting bigger the company grew. And the tool kit and the team needed to tackle those once-a-mole-hill-now-a-mountain obstacles? We just weren’t that team anymore.
I struggled with this for a long time. I think, like my work ethic that I inherited from my parents - loyalty is something I’ve always put above almost everything else. If someone puts years into a company, my company, a logical (at least to me) reward feels like more years. More opportunities. And, in general, I believe this. But this year we hit a tipping point. A perfect storm of lingering COVID-19 supply chain challenges and transportation issues and operational band-aids we slapped on in the early days of the shelter-in-place order mixed with the beginning (I’m still hoping) of the end of the pandemic and changing customer behavior. Suddenly we all went from nesting at home to nesting in whatever faraway locale a plane would take us to. And after a year where we quite literally were running to keep up with the demand for orders (and building a company to keep up with that demand) this sudden shift after Mother’s Day this year meant that we’d built bigger, and taller, and faster than this new business called for.

We were - I was - outclassed. Since we’ve been bootstrapped from day one, we’ve never been at a place where I thought I could afford a senior leadership team - something other founders and CEOS from peer groups I’m a part of warned me about time and time again. I’ve shared openly that I’m completely self-taught in all areas of business, from floral design to financial modeling and everything in between. Anything you can do, I can learn from Google, felt like an almost surefire motto for life. I’d learned the hard way that it didn’t apply to home plumbing or electricity projects (at least for me, those are jobs best left for the professionals) but until this year I felt like there wasn’t any obstacle I, and Team Farmgirl, couldn’t tackle - and conquer.

Especially on those second shift nights, hours into a spreadsheet with hours more to go before bed, I could always find the time, figure it out, shoestring, and paste something together that worked. It might not have always been the most elegant, by-the-book, or “business school” approach, but I had a decade of bootstrapping a business (and a perishable one, to boot) as proof that whatever I was doing was working. So when I looked at the unit economics of Farmgirl I was always ever so sure I couldn’t afford the higher level leadership every single one of my peers told me would be necessary for continued success. The perfect storm of 2021 - part transportation, part operation, part people without enough experience - taught me I couldn’t afford not to.

I had been, in short, really f’ing wrong (OK, last one, Mom - I promise). Not having a leadership team, a group of experts who’d been there, done that, somewhere that wasn’t Farmgirl put me, the entire team, and the company at risk this past year. We made it, yes, but in a by-the-skin-of-our-teeth sort of way. Everything I’d believed about being the workhorse, about hacking it with grit and determination and the interwebs at my fingertips wasn’t enough to get us through the growing pain of turning 11 in the second year of a global pandemic. And the team I’d worked hard to build just wasn’t enough for these new, bigger, badder challenges.

I needed help. And Farmgirl needed help. And so I made it my goal to do what I didn’t think I needed, or could afford to do, before: recruit and hire a full senior leadership team by the new year.

The extra hard part of this lesson was, looking back, if I’d done this whole thing earlier if I’d listened to those peer groups, I truly think we could have avoided the whole skin of our teeth thing. Because 2020, and then 2021, was hard enough. And before we made the move to bring these new leaders on, everyone on Team Farmgirl, myself included, had to work about five times harder than usual just to limp over the finish line. And don’t get me wrong - I’m incredibly proud that we made it, but I just keep going back to that loyalty thing. I was trying to do right by my team, by myself, by the company, by doing things the gritty way. But in the end, I was only rewarding my team’s hard work, my own hard work, with even more hard work. The only right thing I could have done, and should have done, was to bring in people who can do their jobs better than anyone on the team, myself included, could.

All this to say, yes, this year was hard. Way harder than I expected. And turns out, way harder than it needed to be. But still, in a lot of ways, I feel fortunate and, as I said, the closest I think I’ve ever felt to being able to write that sunshine and rainbow and puppy dog email come December. Because I hit that goal I made for myself. With the help of our incredible People + Culture team, we found and hired Farmgirl’s first C-Suite team before New Year’s Eve. We have our second virtual (thank you Omicron) exec meeting next week to get started on our 2022 goals. This is still blowing my mind because the only “executive meetings” I had before involved myself and so many whiteboards. So what a difference even a bad year makes.

OK - there you go. Another long ass email. And while it’s not quite hopeful, I hope it’s something close to it. Which feels sort of fitting for the year we’re heading into, right? I’m not one to sugarcoat things, and I’m not really sure how you could sugarcoat the years we’ve had, and the one I think we’re going into, anyway. Things have been hard and, based on how the news has been playing out the past few weeks, they’ll probably continue to be hard. We’re all going to have to continue making sacrifices and difficult decisions and try to find new versions of “normal” - whatever that is anymore. But, at least for me, the difference this year is I’m going in with my eyes open and with the right support network, personally (you all know who you are) and, for the first time, professionally, too. I’m wishing you all some of the same, too.

And before I wrap up, I also want to say thank you. I probably say it too much but never feel like that’s possible. Even and especially in the hard years, you all make this job and this company worth all the blood, sweat, and shower tears worth it. I’m so grateful to be even a small part of your lives because of Farmgirl - your new jobs, or new babies, or birthdays, or breakups, and even harder things. It’s a privilege, and one I will never take for granted. Thanks for being the best part of Farmgirl.

Here’s to 2022.


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