Cameron Hardesty is the CEO and Founder of Poppy, a vibrant marketplace unlike anything out there, connecting floral designers and flower growers with customers seeking wedding flowers.
You’d never imagine Cameron would land where she is today after you hear her fascinating journey working for Customs and Border Protection, and later, the White House, supporting communication efforts to combat the opioid crisis. Setting herself up with an apprenticeship at the White House flower shop sparked a passion for surrounding herself everyday with beauty and flowers.
You’re going to love every bit of this conversation with Cameron, and I have no doubt it’ll inspire you to follow your passion, take risks, and open up the world’s possibilities to yourself. Listen to Episode 38 of The Career Memos Podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher.
What it was like working at the White House
Cameron had a fascinating path in the lead up to launching Poppy and you’d never guess it began at the White House! The Office of Natural Drug Control Policy was where Cameron helped fight the opioid crisis, managing social media communication, speech writing, and even traveling around the country with the US Marshals. The role was exciting and dynamic, and over the course of her time there, they landed a front page profile in the New York Times.
Realizing drug policy wasn’t lighting her up anymore, she thought about surrounding herself with beauty and creativity and flowers. Floral design had been an occasional hobby she’d explore on weekends, but after getting the attention of the florist at the White House Flower Shop, she apprenticed there two nights a week and on weekends, learning and absorbing everything she could.
At the time, Cameron asked herself, “how do I combine my passion with staying in a corporate realm?”
The complexities of operating a floral business
A common complaint Cameron would hear from brides is just how expensive wedding flowers were. They’d be priced way out of their budgets, so Poppy aims to create the opposite: a full-service, accessible, and budget-friendly experience, in a business model unlike any others out there.
Connecting floral designers with flower growers, brides are able to bring a customers’ floral vision to life, all over the country.
But operating a flower business isn’t easy, especially given the perishable nature of the product. Cameron argues that it can be demanding and a tougher industry to break into. Flowers have been accidentally sent by the vendor to the wrong designer, flowers have arrived 12 hours late, and yet in this industry, there is no margin for error. Everything has to be flawless. You’re providing a service commensurate with the biggest day of someone’s life.
Cameron’s can-do attitude has gotten her far and she can’t imagine doing anything else. Having a background in crisis communication helps. Have backups upon backups upon backups, so you have more than just a Plan B, but also a Plan C, D, and E, too.
Know exactly what you want to get out of an accelerator before going into it.
Last year, Poppy got recruited into Techstars, an accelerator program and “bootcamp” for promising startups that teaches you how to scale and interact with VCs. You also have the opportunity to be connected with an incredible group of mentors. Being a part of the program led to Cameron meeting several investors, one of whom became the lead investor in Poppy’s seed round. Without Techstars, Cameron is certain the company wouldn’t be where it is today.
If you’re considering an accelerator, know what you want to get out of it first. It can be a really powerful tool, especially if you’re heading into a seed round. There is nothing better than investing in your own development and your network.
When Cameron initially got into the program, it was the early days of the pandemic and their business had turned upside down, to the point where they had to create a new revenue stream to keep themselves afloat.
Being part of this network helped de-risk fundraising for them, and she knew this was the path she wanted to take.
“Take the riskier thing, because whatever you learn in that role, you’re going to apply tenfold afterwards. Open up the world’s possibilities to yourself.”