Founder Stories

How Sexism Almost Derailed My Floral Startup

We built our company hoping to source from U.S. farms. It turns out, many wouldn’t work with a woman founder.

Christina Stembel
Published in
13 min readSep 9, 2019
A portrait photo of Christina Stembel, CEO of Farmgirl Flowers, in a white blazer.
Christina Stembel, CEO of Farmgirl Flowers. Courtesy of Farmgirl Flowers

ItIt was 2015 and I had been successfully bootstrapping my e-commerce floral delivery company, Farmgirl Flowers, for five years. I’d started with a clear mission — to support domestic flower farms and use their product to create unique daily arrangements that we’d eventually ship nationally. However, that goal was starting to feel increasingly impossible. As a founder, I was running into just about every startup obstacle — some anticipated, some unexpected. But there was one I never would have seen coming, nor would I have believed had I been warned: gender discrimination.

Now, if I were to share all the instances my gender has affected my ability to run, scale, and source for Farmgirl, I would have enough material to write a book. For now, I’m going to talk about just one situation. A situation that is representative of dozens of such instances, all of which had the potential to stop my company in its tracks.

Let’s start back in 2013. We were trying to source flowers from one of the largest, and better known, farms in Northern California. I’d blindly reached out several times requesting to buy from them, and hadn’t received any response for months. Finally, I received a curt reply via email stating that the farm did not sell directly to retail florists like Farmgirl.

About a year later, I was able to get a connection with the grower through a mutual acquaintance who had relationships with many California farms. This acquaintance asked if we were purchasing directly from any farms, and specifically any of those within his network. When I told him I’d reached out to several but had never heard back, he’d mentioned this particular farm as an important contact for me to have as I continued to grow Farmgirl Flowers. He reached out to the grower personally to set up a visit.

As it turns out, he had much better luck at convincing the grower to meet with me than I had. Soon, I found myself driving a few hundred miles to meet the farmer with this mutual contact to discuss a direct sales relationship. The tour of the farm and…