As a part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’ we had the pleasure of interviewing Murali K. Nethi.
Murali K. Nethi is the founder and CEO of SnapBlooms.com, an online florist marketplace that provides hand-delivered, high-quality flowers to customers by connecting them with local florists. Murali’s background in computer science and 24+ years spent delivering enterprise IT programs, combined with his rich experience running small businesses, have allowed him to explore innovative business solutions in the floral industry.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
A little before 2010, my wife and I decided to start a floral business. We were inexperienced in the retail world and weren’t used to managing teams, with a background in computer science and a corporate work environment.
However, as we dove deep into our business endeavors, we successfully executed a marketing strategy to attract new customers. We created a high demand for our products but quickly faced inefficiencies in our manual logistic processes. We just couldn’t deliver on time.
I distinctly remember drivers outside of our shop with no printed orders, waiting for a shipping address. The rush and stress pushed us to stay overnight and somehow manage to ship our orders. At the end of the day, we laid down on the floor of our store, and I felt we had hit rock bottom. There just had to be a better way of running a shop.
We quickly identified the need for software or an IT solution to help floral shops run smoothly and efficiently. We understood these pain points from first-hand experience and noticed the huge opportunity to help flower shops get their name out there and market themselves. Aside from logistic issues, small businesses were gobbled up by large companies, making florists and retailers struggle to make their ends meet and work extra long hours.
With the help of technology and the right communication, our goal was to help flower shop owners run their business without having their business run over them.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Venturing into the floral industry was no simple task since our client base was reluctant to use technology in their daily operations and was entirely new to computer management.
Simple gadgets we use in our day-to-day life, such as smartphones, weren’t as popular in the floral industry when they first came out. I introduced the mobile use in the floral industry before Amazon, when I did it, it didn’t click. I was ahead of my time. I tried to let everyone understand that customers would appreciate pictures of products. Yet, the industry was pretty much set in their old, traditional ways.
The interesting part of the story is that now everyone has a smartphone, now it’s a huge success. The technologic solution plays a vital role in attracting clientele, but the timing dictates whether the offering is a success or not. Many leaders tend to be ahead of their time, but it all comes down to patience. The solution is available, but the penetration and customer timing needs to click. Bottom line — timing is everything in the business world.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
We once had a potential client praising our product, and sending us references for about one and a half years. But somehow the prospect wouldn’t sign the dotted line to start using our services and become an actual client. We would spend several hours on calls and he would always say that he would sign with us as soon as we’d hang up.
After more than a year of this pursuit, we hired a new salesperson, who had over 30 years of experience in the industry, and told him all about our prospect. To our surprise, within five minutes of giving our salesperson the rundown, the client signed a contract with us. He was able to quickly build rapport with the client and a sense of trust through his deep industry knowledge. This personal connection was strong enough to completely convince the client to join us and trust our business to be the solution he was seeking.
We realized just how important relationships, trust, confidence, and approachability are in the floral industry. As a result, our team generally speaks to 15–20 clients each week to build strong relationships as part of our company culture. Our reviews speak for themselves; this hard work pays off.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
When I first started my business, I looked for potential clients without even having my platform launched. My first ever client, Phil Frederic, owned a flower shop passed on from generation to generation and was kind enough to listen to my sales pitch.
In a huge leap of faith, he told me to finish developing my solution and sign him up. He even paid for my services before we even started fully operating. I will never forget how Phil inspired me to improve my business continuously and how he believed in me.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
It not only makes ethical and moral sense to ensure equal opportunity cutting across race and diversity, but based on our experience, it is vital to help businesses grow. A diverse group of individuals with different personal backgrounds, outlooks, and ideas coming together to foster creativity and innovation is an undeniable advantage in this day and age. It brings a certain X factor to the table that benefits the businesses in many unquantifiable and unknown ways.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
There are two main approaches I took as part of my everyday life to embrace inclusion and equality:
Tolerance of diversity no longer cuts it; there is a negative tenor to it. Acceptance and celebration of diversity should be the guiding principle in society, taking a step further into accepting other ways of life and cultures.
There is a growing tendency to highlight humanity’s bad and ugly side in an increasingly digital world. This breeds fear and a distorted view of reality about communities, cultures, and race. If people make a conscious effort to refrain from forming cliches about alien communities and actually interact and cultivate relationships, the world would be a much better place.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
I think the most defining difference is strategic, vision, and global thinking. The business’s entire journey, its alacrity to opportunity, and its ability to react quickly to changing market conditions depend largely on the CEO’s vision and global thinking.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
One of the biggest myths out there is that you’re your own boss — this is never the case in real life. Although you’re not reporting to a superior daily, your client ultimately becomes your boss because you’re constantly catering to their needs.
Another myth is that you’ll have more free time since there’s no set schedule. Running your business means working 24/7 — you’re too busy to take time off, especially when starting a new project. However, this doesn’t mean that your effort won’t pay off in the long run.
One final myth I’d like to address is that the CEO has all the answers. This can’t be further from the truth. A CEO can leverage a team’s abilities efficiently, use their network, and constantly study the market to help guide the company towards a more sustainable and viable direction.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
As a software provider, I thought that offering a high quality tech solution would be an automatic success. I learned that other key aspects, such as your client’s willingness to change their processes and how they run their businesses, must be aligned with your solution to help you grow. And last but not least, I learned about the importance of providing impeccable customer service and how this can give your business a competitive edge.
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
I believe that a CEO must have the following four main traits:
- Objectivity: Setting aside their own emotions and arriving at a decision based on facts and information, analyzing all possible outcomes.
- Integrity: Ensuring that teams and clients can count on you and trust you.
- Hardworking: Consistent, persistent, and motivational work ethic to help inspire teams and keep them on course.
- Ability to handle stress and ambiguity: Many of the above traits stem from one ability which is about being able to hold your own under stress and be very comfortable operating in a fluid ambiguous environment with many possible end results.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
It is a learning process and I cannot advise but I can only share what I think helped us in our journey if it is useful for others. The following characteristics helped shape our work culture predominantly:
- Humor: Retaining a sense of humor during stressful / difficult situations fostered great camaraderie and team building.
- Respect: Not only respecting individuals but conveying genuine appreciation and respect for each person’s contribution to your team goes a long way.
- Availability: Communication, transparency, availability, and reception of feedback lead to mutually beneficial relationships and success.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Apart from contributing to different charities and social causes, I believe a successful entrepreneur can motivate and build a better world by encouraging employees to pursue their dream, realize their true potential, and promote their well-being.
Fantastic. Here is the primary question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Listen: During team meetings and while seeking fresh ideas, I learned the hard way that it is important to keep your opinions to yourself as a leader to ensure a free exchange of views and opinions. I usually spend most of my time listening during strategy and feedback sessions and only tend to speak at the very end and share my opinions. This ensures everyone gets to speak freely and without having to confirm my opinion.
2. Honest feedback: Even if not entirely palatable, honest feedback is imperative to grow businesses and is also a clear indicator of respect towards the team.
3. Always expect the unexpected as a start-up: No matter how much you plan, there will always be unforeseen obstacles, as building a start-up from the ground up is hard work.
4. Your team is everything: No matter how much hard work you put in and how much vision you bring to the table, ultimately, your team has to buy into your idea and share your passion.
5. Take a much-needed break: It is necessary to unwind and recharge to work at high productivity levels. You owe it to yourself, your body, and of course, to your company.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
If I could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most people, it would be to change how we approach life. I would build programs, training sessions, and retreats to help individuals and young adults to take time to contemplate life, who they are, and the genesis of life.
Reflective thinking or approach to life is about consciously allotting time, calming things down, and reflecting on what’s vital for one’s life. Many people spend their days facing everyday life challenges, fire fighting, and running life’s rat race.
A contemplative approach to life cultivated at an early stage, in my opinion, will dramatically reduce the stress, tension, hatred, and general negativity from life. This approach is something which is practiced and recommended by Plato and by Buddhists, and several eastern civilizations. I also think it qualifies as a worthy cause to add on curricula in schools and universities.
While there are no clear answers for existence and the eternal “who are you?” question,
Simply thinking about the questions of existence will dramatically affect the human experience and largely reduce mindless violence and hatred in many parts of the world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is Mahatma Gandhi’s “My life is my message.”
While he led his life trying to be in complete harmony with his inner self, mind, and thoughts, he had the confidence and self-belief in saying, “my life is my message.”
The primary lesson is to live one’s life as much in harmony as possible with your conscience. Even if nobody else, your immediate family, spouse, and children will take inspiration from the same.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
Manoj Bhargava, CEO of 5-Hour energy, is someone I appreciate for his general approach to business and strategy. He is the common-sense billionaire and aims to make large impacts in social, economic, and environmental fronts, away from MBA-type endless analysis, presentation, planning, which can sometimes prolong and complicate processes. His focus on simplicity and logic breeds innovation and inspires those around him to make revolutionary findings and execute these projects, truly changing the world.