One City, Two Flower Delivery Startups

I’ve always thought that flower delivery service such as 1-800-flowers was a marketing trick. Why should i pay so much more money for something i can grow in my backyard? Occasionally (once a year maybe?) I will buy a bouquet of sun flowers from the farmer’s market or trader joe’s for $5.99. Sometimes on Mother’s Day, ZM would buy me roses from those lone latino vendors wondering the Mission street a couple of blocks from our house.

All these changed when i got this little bundle from my co-workers last month while i was home recovering from a nasty pneumonia.

bloomthat_1

There were roses (white, pink, and champagne), peony, ranunculus, anemone, snapdragons, and freesia. The container is a paint can wrapped in burlap strings. The arrangement was so beautiful that I couldn’t stop myself from snapping photos of it left and right. Further more, I could take some of the flowers from the bouquet and make my own single or double rose arrangement for other places in my house.

It was from a San Francisco based startup company called bloomthat. Their specialty was any day of the week between 8-7, your flowers can be delivered within 90 minutes of your on-line order submission.

I fell in love with their specialty arrangement in the paint can (bloomthat calls this style “the shortie”).
shortie

After the flowers wilted, i reused the paint can and made a little herb arrangement using what i have from my backyard.
IMG_20150408_111957949_HDR
While browsing yelp, i found out their actual claim to fame is actually normal bouquet of flowers wrapped in burlap (donated by a local coffee roaster). “Cute presentation!” not sure how many happy customers said that in their review.

So i got one burlap wrapped bouquet for myself today. It was $20 cheaper than the bouquet shortie my co-worker got me earlier. But it still has roses, tulips and ranunculus. I definitely like it better than the traditional dozen roses. How could i not? not only it was wrapped in recycled coffee burlap, but also came with a kale!
bloomthat

Today I saw someone posted a bouquet that was even more pretty, also wrapped in burlap, but it came from a different company. I thought, “what the heck. Everyone is wrapping flowers in burlaps now? I thought bloomthat was original!”

So i looked up the new company “farmgirlflowers“. It was also SF based! So i wanted to find out the difference between the two.

1. Variety
bloomthat has a limited design (three long flower bouquets in burlaps, and two shortie arrangements), they refresh them every month.
Farm Girl had a very different approach. Their flowers arrangement changes everyday depends on the flower supply from their local farmers. But they will only have one design a day, and customer won’t know what it is beforehand. They sell them in different sizes (S, M, L). They also has flowers come with vases instead of burlaps (also three sizes, S, M, L). They guarantee the number of flowers included into each size and they guarantee they look great. Customer can browse their sites for arrangements from the past. For special occasions such as V Day, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, they will design one special arrangement.

Here are some of Farm Girls’ past arrangements.
Desktop
For large, impressive arrangement or creativity of each day’s creation Farm Girl wins hands down. For personal small token of joy and predicability bloomthat.

2. Delivery
bloomthat focus on speed, they deliver everyday of the week, and guarantee 90 minutes delivery within order. But bloomthat is expanding city by city. Right now they have San Francisco, quite a few cities on the peninsula, and LA.
farmgirl currently delivery to the entire state of California. But only same day delivery in SF (provided the order is received before noon), next day delivery for the rest of California including bay area outside of the City. SF delivery was done by bicycle messengers.

bloomthat is definitely faster.

3. Price
bloomthat flowers starts at $48 and no delivery fee.
Farm Girl starts at $30 but charge a $15 delivery (for SF at least, not sure for the other areas)
So for SF residence, the price is about the same.

4. Burlap wrapping
bloomthat’s burlap was donated by a Marine Coffee roaster.
Farm Girl got their burlap from four different coffee houses in SF. As an exchange, Farm Girl provided free flower arrangement to the coffee houses each week.
This was the most interesting part. Who started the burlap trend? Apparently Farm Girl. Since they were ~ two years ahead of bloomthat in existence. After bloomthat came along and stole their wrapping idea, Farm Girl was mad. So mad that they first applied for “burlap-wrapped bouquet” as a trademark in 2013 (same year when bloomthat came into existence). And filed a lawsuit against bloomthat end of year 2014, shortly after their trademark was approved.

In the lawsuit, Farm Girl claimed that bloomthat having burlap wrapped flowers confused many customers who thought bloomthat and Farm Girl were from the same company. And that bloomthat’s lower quality damaged Farm Girl’s brand. Some of the comments i saw on line also claimed Farm Girls’ flowers were more fresh and lasted longer than Bloomthat. That piqued my interest since the two deliveries i got from bloomthat were gorgeous, but i did notice some flowers were damaged in both instances. and they barely lasted a week.

I would definitely try Farm Girl when i want flowers the next time, and see for myself whether there is a difference in quality.

Meanwhile, i’m super interested in the outcome of the lawsuit. I wonder how each of the two startups will fair in the long run. They each has their own specialty: bloomthat’s speed of delivery, Farm Girl’s brand new design every day with local sourced flowers. Will both of them survive? Will they be able to disrupt the big guys in the industry?

When I first fell in love with the bloomthat bouquet a month ago, i definitely didn’t expect finding out about a lawsuit behind those gorgeous flowers. What a fascinating time to be a San Franciscan!

“Wolf Hall” Reading Notes (1)

Half way through “Wolf Hall”. In love with Mantel’s writing.

In the Paris Review article, Mantel told the interviewer that when she was a teenager, for a while, she used to compose in her head the perfect paragraph for that day’s weather. She would work on it silently all day until she got it right. Now i read “Wolf Hall” and thought back to that teenager Mantel. No kidding. She could convey so much with so little and with such precision and beauty.

A wash of sunlight lies over the river, pale as the flesh of a lemon.

Rafe’s smile flickers, the wind pulls the torch flame into a rainy blur.

Katherine: he likes to see her moving about the royal palaces, as wide as she is high, stitched into gowns so bristling with gemstones that they look as if they are designed less for beauty than to withstand blows from a sword.

He would like her to shorten her account, but he understands her need to tell it over, moment by moment, to say it out loud. It is like a package of words she is making, to hand to him: this is yours now.

He took a linen towel and gently blotted from his face the journey just passed.

…the room felt so empty it was empty even of him.

It is a wan morning, low unbroken cloud; the light, filtering sparely through glass, is the colour of tarnished pewter. How brightly coloured the king is, like the king in a new pack of cards: how small his flat blue eye.

At Austin Friars, there is little chance to be alone,…Every letter of the alphabet watches you.

The light is fading around them while he talks, and his voice, each murmur, each hesitation, trails away into the dusk.

It was snowing at dawn on the day of the raid of Lion’s Quay, but soon a wintery sun was up, scouring windowpanes and casting the panelled rooms of city houses into sharp relief, ravines of shadows and cold floods of light.

More, Tyndale, they deserve each other, these mules that pass for men.

Lord Chancellor respects neither ignorance nor innocence.

The day is too mild for a fire. The hour is too early for a candle.In lieu of burning, he tears up Tyndale’s message. Marlinspike, his ears pricked, chews a fragment of it. ‘Brother cat,’he says. ‘He ever loved the scriptures.’

Pearls of Roman laughter unfurled into the Roman night.

The sun has declined; birdsong is hushed; the scent of the herb beds rises through the open window.

Also came across this article by Mantel in the Guardian on Cardinal Wolsey.
The other king“Hilary Mantel was researching Thomas Cromwell for her new novel when she opened a biography of Cardinal Wolsey and fell in love with the haughty charmer at the ‘golden centre’ of Henry VIII’s court.“
If you don’t have patience to try out “Wolf Hall” yet, then try this short article by Mantel first.

Sometimes you buy a book, powerfully drawn to it, but then it just sits on the shelf. Maybe you flick through it, the ghost of your original purpose at your elbow, but it’s not so much rereading as re-dusting. Then one day you pick it up, take notice of the contents; your inner life realigns. This is how I came to George Cavendish’s book Thomas Wolsey, Late Cardinal, His Life and Death.

I knew whose career I would like to follow – Henry VIII’s minister Thomas Cromwell. I couldn’t resist a man who was at the heart of the most dramatic events of Henry’s reign, but appeared in fiction and drama – if he appeared at all – as a pantomime villain. What attracted me to Cromwell was that he came from nowhere. He was the son of a Putney brewer and blacksmith, a family not very poor but very obscure; how, in a stratified, hierarchal society, did he rise to be Earl of Essex?

I needed to know Wolsey to understand Cromwell. But what was Wolsey? A great scarlet beast, I thought, a pre-Reformation priest who belonged to the old world, not the fierce, striving, dislocated society I wanted to write about. I thought of him as a means to an end; I imagined I would dispose of him quickly to get to the meat of the plot. Then the day came when I opened Cavendish’s Life; the author leaned out of the text and touched my arm, keen to impart the story of the man whose astonishing career he saw at first-hand: “Truth it is, Cardinal Wolsey, sometimes Archbishop of York, was an honest poor man’s son … ”

It is fascinating to know that in such an hierarchal society as England , one could rise from nowhere like Cardinal Wolsey, or Thomas Cromwell to be “the other king” or the King’s most powerful minister.

Hilary Mantel and Her “Wolf Hall”

I read New Yorker’s profile of Hilary Mantel in 2012 after she became the first female writer to win two Man Booker Prize. I was very intrigued by Mantel then, and put “Wolf Hall” on my to-read list. But never got around to do so.

BBC’s 6 episode “Wolf Hall” mini TV series was out earlier this year and i heard lots of praise. It is said that the screenwriter adapted Mantel’s work very nicely and captured the essence of the book.

PBS started broadcasting this series last Sunday.

I fell in love with it after watching Episode one.

The custom, setting, lighting were so well done, every frame looked like a painting.

wh-gk-8-7-14-04229-e1421516932904
wolfhall3
Ep3

The acting was marvelous as well. Even though most of them were not familiar to the US audience. But supposedly all of the main characters were seasoned stage actors in England, and it showed.

Some interesting comparison between the actors in the TV series and their actual portrait from the 16th century. Mostly by Hans Holbein the Younger, who was the official painter for the court of Henry VIII.

Cardinal Wolsey (Jonathan Pryce)
Wolsey_actorCardinal_Wolsey_Christ_Church

Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
Cromwell_actor640px-Cromwell,Thomas(1EEssex)01

Thomas More (Anton Lesser)
more_actorHans_Holbein,_the_Younger_-_Sir_Thomas_More_-_Google_Art_Project

Henry VIII (Damian Lewis)
HenryVIII_actor640px-Hans_Holbein,_the_Younger,_Around_1497-1543_-_Portrait_of_Henry_VIII_of_England_-_Google_Art_Project

Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy)
anneboleyn_actorAnneboleyn2

Jane Seymour (Kate Phillips)
janeseymour_actor640px-Hans_Holbein_the_Younger_-_Jane_Seymour,_Queen_of_England_-_Google_Art_Project

Apparently the soundtrack of the TV series was also a hit in Britain. Too early to tell how it will fair in the US. I myself really loved the music.

The Guardian had episode by episode explanation of the story line, it was very helpful for people who is not familiar with the Tudor history (such as myself), which was pretty complicated.

I went back and re-read the New Yorker profile of Mantel and was mesmerized once again. She is such a fascinating author! So the main character Cromwell had always been depicted as an evil man in most of historian’s record. Mantel thought otherwise.

Before she began to write, she spent a long time learning about Cromwell and reading deeply in the period. She had always been intrigued by Cromwell’s villainous reputation. Among both his contemporaries and historians, he was widely thought of as practically a sixteenth-century Himmler, and previous literary depictions—Robert Bolt’s 1960 play “A Man for All Seasons,” Ford Madox Ford’s “The Fifth Queen”—had taken this view. Even his own biographer hated him. But, beginning in the nineteen-fifties, Geoffrey Elton, a historian at Cambridge, had argued that Cromwell was a farseeing modern statesman who had transformed the English government from a personal fiefdom of the king to a bureaucratic parliamentary structure that could survive royal incompetence and enact reforms through legislation rather than through fiat. In so doing, he helped to bring about the English Reformation without the kind of bloodshed or descent into absolutism that took place in much of the rest of Europe. By the time she began to read about Cromwell, academic fashion had moved on and a new generation hated him again, but she found Elton’s arguments persuasive.

Despite all the hatred, very little information was known about Cromwell. Historian had still not determined his birth year. So Mantel had to do lots of research and to fill in lots of blanks. Even though Cromwell Trilogy(“Wolf Hall”, “Bring up the Bodies” and the upcoming “The Mirror and the Light”) had been labeled as historic fiction, Mantel said all characters (hundreds of them) but one servant of Wolsey were real, she didn’t like to make things up.

She couldn’t always be sure that a character was in the place she said he was in at the time she put him there, but she spent endless hours making sure that he wasn’t definitely somewhere else.

Some other interesting quotes from the New Yorker article:

One of Cromwell’s advantages at court was that he did not underestimate women—neither their usefulness as informants nor their cunning as enemies.

Lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning, and when you come back that night he’ll be sitting on a plush cushion eating larks’ tongues, and all the jailers will owe him money.

She believes that there are no great characters without a great time; ordinary times breed ordinary people (of the sort—dull, trapped, despairing—who inhabit modern novels).

Some say the Tudors transcend this history, bloody and demonic as it is: that they descend from Brutus through the line of Constantine, son of St. Helena, who was a Briton. Arthur, High King of Britain, was Constantine’s grandson. He married up to three women, all called Guinevere, and his tomb is at Glastonbury, but you must understand that he is not really dead, only waiting his time to come again.

It is necessary to understand that the dead are real, and have power over the living. It is helpful to have encountered the dead firsthand, in the form of ghosts.

The most recent issue of The Paris Review (Spring 2015) had an interview with Mantel. But one would have to pay $20 to read more than just the excerpt. I couldn’t find The Paris Review from SF on-line Library catalog last night. So i dropped by a bookstore this morning to read it. Since her teenager years, she liked not only to read, but also to analyze the structure of writing and to figure out how the author “did it”. Mantel had some interesting thing to say about which authors she liked. Her favorite writing is “Kidnapped” by Robert Louis Stevenson, she thinks it is the absolute perfect piece of work. She liked “Jane Eyre” when she first read it as a teenager because Mantel believed herself was also “an very unchildlike child.” But later she couldn’t re-read “Jane Eyre” since she constantly tried to edit it. “Kidnapped”, on the other hand, could be re-read and re-read and remain perfect in Mantel’s eyes.
(Paris Review only keep the new issues from been published on their website. One year later, you can now read the interview at its entirety.)

Interviewer: Did you read Middlemarch?
Mantel: Not until I was grown up. I’m not fond of Eliot. And I’ve never made my way through a virginia Woolf book. I can’t. I can read her essays, and I can read about her, and I can read all around her. I can’t read her novels. You know, it sounds terribly disrespectful to Virginia, but I like books in which things happen.

I’ve started reading “Wolf Hall” the book, finally. I’ve picked up a copy of “Bring Up the Bodies” at the bookstore. Looking forward to the publishing of “The Mirror and the Light”.

Reading David Mitchell

So impressed with his latest novel “The Bone Clocks(2014)” that i’m in the process of reading all of David Mitchell’s past works. I read “Cloud Atlas(2004)” shortly after seeing the New Yorker article on the movie back in 2012. I’ve just finished reading his first novel “Ghostwritten(1999)” today.

Found a Paris Review interview with Mitchell that I really like.
The Art of Fiction No. 204, Summer 2010.

Also this little article on Mitchell by The Atlantic,
David Mitchell on How to Write: “Neglect Everything Else”, Sep. 2014.
It quoted Mitchell’s favorite Poem by James Wright.

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota
BY JAMES WRIGHT
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

Michael Crichton’s “Travels”

s4273393I first read Michael Crichton’s “Travels” shortly after college graduation. His adventurous travel held a strong appeal to me: climbing of Mt. Kilimanjaro, night diving, wreck diving, diving with sharks, living with the natives, safari in Africa, etc. For many years, this remained one of my favorite books.

Gui mentioned this book to me this weekend when we were discussing the medical profession. “Michael Crichton talked about his medical school days in his ‘Travels’.” I totally forgot about that part of the book!

I reread it again during the last couple of days. Crichton didn’t just go to any medical school. He graduated from Harvard Medical School! What’s more, he actually went to Harvard wanting to be a writer but kept on getting C for his writing. This episode was hilarious.

I had gone to college planning to become a writer, but early on a scientific tendency appeared. In the English department at Harvard, my writing style was severely criticized and I was receiving grades of C or C+ on my papers. At eighteen, I was vain about my writing and felt it was Harvard, and not I, that was in error, so I decided to make an experiment. The next assignment was a paper on Gulliver’s Travels, and I remembered an essay by George Orwell that might fit. With some hesitation, I retyped Orwell’s essay and submitted it as my own. I hesitated because if I were caught for plagiarism I would be expelled; but I was pretty sure that my instructor was not only wrong about writing styles, but poorly read as well. In any case, George Orwell got a B- at Harvard, which convinced me that the English department was too difficult for me.

So Crichton switched to pre-med instead and got in Harvard Medical school. He was writing thrillers to pay for med school. One of his earlier books got bought by Hollywood while he was doing clinical rotations in hospitals and he decided to quit Medicine and moved to Hollywood after graduating from Medical school.

The Medical School years weren’t the only ones i forgot that was in the book. Almost more than half of the book was on his experience with psychic and paranormal phenomenons, which I had also erased from my memory, i suspect i might not even bother to read most of those stories during the initial read.

It is interesting to re-read this book i used to love so much. I appreciate the medical school stories a lot more than before. The adventurous travel stories were still interesting, but less thrilling than when i first graduated. I could also sympathize with his psychic experience a bit more and less skeptical about them than before.