By Benny Evangelista San Francisco Chronicle.
Just in time for Valentine's Day, two San Francisco startups hope to disrupt the business of love.
BloomThat promises to deliver a burlap-wrapped bouquet of flowers in just 90 minutes or less.
"We wanted to see how could we make sending flowers fun again," said BloomThat co-founder Matthew Schwab.
Meanwhile, L. International promises to deliver condoms within one hour, which could be handy if the flowers work.
"There's been a lack of innovation in the condom industry," said L. founder Talia Frenkel. "With the brands that exist, they seem really out of touch with the modern view of sexuality."
Both are betting that smartphone apps, algorithms and a network of bicycle messengers will help in the "Uberfication" of their respective industries.
BloomThat wants to challenge established giants like 1-800-Flowers.com, which last year reported $753.9 million in revenues, by offering floral bouquets in less time than it takes to watch a tedious movie like "Valentine's Day" (125 minutes, in case you were wondering).
Actor Ashton Kutcher, the star of "Valentine's Day," is backing BloomThat, along with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana and onetime Golden State Warriors guard Baron Davis. BloomThat recently landed a $2 million round of seed funding for future expansion.
The Y Combinator company is starting small, with service only available in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Mountain View and Sunnyvale.
In San Francisco, BloomThat works with five flower shops. Orders are sent to the shop nearest to the delivery address. The company contracts with a bike messenger service to deliver the flowers. The gifts come with notes written by hand, not printed out from a computer.
Co-founders Schwab, David Bladow and Chad Powell hope to expand by making it easier for men and women to send flowers at any time, not just on Valentine's Day or Mother's Day.
"We're opening up new opportunities where flowers can be considered for any moment of importance," Bladow said.
Customer Drew Hoolhorst said he loves flowers, but hated sending them. When he discovered BloomThat from a tweet shortly after the company launched in beta mode last year, he sent a bouquet to "get in the good graces" of his girlfriend, Myriah Zaytoun.
"It worked so magnificently," said Hoolhorst, 31. "It showed up the same day, it was personal, it was wildly different.
It's taken a lot of the cold consumerism out of what I hated about the (floral) industry and made it something warm again."
Since discovering BloomThat, Hoolhorst has sent nearly a dozen more orders to Zaytoun, "if she's having a bad day or if she's having a good day."
The flowers worked so well, Hoolhorst and Zaytoun are getting married in May.
"Flowers are (a) lovely thing to have in your house anyway, and it was such a cheap way to make her happy," he said. "Genuinely happy."
The company developed a predictive modeling program to forecast how many and what type of flowers will be ordered on any given day.
"It wasn't until December that we were able to nail this forecasting model down," Powell said. "Now we're to the point that on a normal day, we can predict within one to two units of accuracy."
Much like BloomThat and flowers, L. International founder Frenkel believes there's a growing demand for on-demand condoms.
The company launched in 2011 and sells its own L. Condom brand, but on Friday it will start using bike messengers to deliver throughout San Francisco and in Santa Monica and Venice Beach in Los Angeles County.
Condoms tend to be an impulse buy, but on a date, "often times you don't want to be presumptuous by purchasing condoms beforehand," Frenkel said. "We hope one-hour delivery will make it more accessible."
For a flat $5 fee, customers can order a box of 12 condoms, which come in a discreet black and white package. For Valentine's Day and for a limited time, L. is offering BloomThat flowers with a special "fun kit" that includes Tcho chocolates and six condoms.
L. plans to release a free mobile phone app this spring. For now, it relies on its website, www.thisisl.com.
A former photojournalist, Frenkel started the company with a loftier purpose -- L. partners with organizations that support women and HIV/AIDS prevention. And for every condom purchased, one is sent to a developing country.
"Our product is one we want everyone to be proud to carry," she said.