Past Lives: Tonic Blooms Founder, Raphi Aronowicz

‘Past Lives’ is an ongoing column about the past careers of entrepreneurs and business leaders. The column recounts each person’s experience in various industries, from finance to sales, or simply, the nine-to-five grind. More than anything, ‘Past Lives’ is a story about how one person has reached their potential, and cut themselves loose from what was expected. 

Tonic Blooms founder Raphi Aronowicz explains why he left the trading floor for the flower delivery business after a terrible experience one Valentine’s Day. 

I graduated from McGill in economics at the height of the financial crisis in 2008. Finance has always been something I’ve naturally been drawn to ever since I began trading stocks at 13.

After graduation, I was able to get my dream job, an internship at a financial services company, where I started off on the trading desk. Not great timing, but the experience was amazing. I loved it right away. I was there for three years before I joined one of my mentors at a boutique asset managing firm he had started. There, I was a licensed portfolio manager running a few different strategies and that was a really amazing job. I had a lot of autonomy, and a lot of freedom.

One Valentine’s Day, I attempted to send flowers to my girlfriend. I used one of the big international online delivery services. I picked the flowers I wanted and I was given a delivery window between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. I ordered the flowers and started waiting around for the phone call from my girlfriend full of glee. Four p.m. rolls around and she still hasn’t called. It’s 4:30. At 5:00, I call her: “Are you at home yet? Have you left work?” She’s like, “Yeah, I’m done.” And that’s when I knew there was a problem with the delivery.

After that, I was on the phone with the company for hours. The experience was a terrible. They were really bogged down because it’s obviously a high-demand day. They tried to deliver the flowers at 7 p.m., but no one was around. It really felt like something so simple was so broken. In my mind, it was like the cliché, “There’s got to be a better way to do this.” I have no background in the flower industry whatsoever, but I would consider myself an entrepreneurial person. So when this this problem area caught my attention, I thought there was definitely a solution to be had in the space.

We started researching the flower industry; we put out a beta test where we created a very basic webpage where people could text us their order, and we’d have the flowers delivered within two hours. We wanted to see if there was a demand. Within one day, we started getting orders. We were literally flying by the seat of our pants. When we got orders, we’d go to the flower market, and whip it out as fast as we could. It was definitely a crazy launch for us. Business was booming. So we asked ourselves, “Is this something that could completely change our lives?”

A denim-wrapped bouquet from Tonic Blooms

With trading, you literally had an opportunity to make money at any second of the day – I was drawn to that fast-paced industry. As silly as it may sound, there’s many parallels with the on-demand flower business. Maybe loose parallels, but considering that we have a very short timeline to fulfill orders (two hours within the GTA), it’s a very fast-paced job.

One thing I learned when I was a portfolio manager was finding what we would call a business moat – something that would protect your business from competitors. At Tonic Blooms, we really try to differentiate our offering from other flower delivery services and florists in Toronto.

Our designs are modern, and wrapped in denim. We source the flowers ourselves. We do the design ourselves, and we manage the deliveries with our carefully selected courier partners. We also don’t have ground-level retail which eliminates inventory for walk-ins, and our selection of flowers is very curated. This keeps our waste levels to around two percent which allows for a much better experience and a much better price for the customer.