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Key Idea: Face Down the Establishment

Bill Tobin explains how hard it was to break into an established industry with a fresh idea.

Key Question:


Bill started his online florist shop before most florist had a computer in their shop.  He was way ahead of the industry so he had to hang tough until they came around to see the power of online ordering.

Forming partnerships is difficult for many reasons. All of the partners must have something extraordinary to gain, or, the effort is not worth the time. In this case, the FTD Florists were not interested in Bill's idea because they couldn't understand it, or, they may have felt threatened by it. The traditional "Mom and Pop" shop owner thinks locally, not globally.

Why was it so hard for Bill to convince the FTD florists to do business with him?

A: He never convinced them! He presented his proposal and was turned down flat. So, you've heard the old saying, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Bill bought some flower shops, joined the FTD association and became the biggest florist in the country in less than a year. Today, shops such as you saw on the tape, are dependent on the orders they fill for PC Flowers and Gifts. 

Think about it

Do you have an idea for a product or service that would unseat the established players?

Clip from: PC Flowers & Gifts

Stamford, Connecticut:  Bill Tobin has always risen to a challenge. He's always been an entrepreneur. When FTD Florist told him to go away, he began looking to find a way to take over. He said, "I had to do it. I had to do it. Everybody said it couldn't be done. Everybody said, `It won't work.' "

When this episode of the show was taped, Bill Tobin was selling more flowers than any one person in the world. He started PC Flowers and Gifts in 1989 and by 1996 he had become one of the most successful entrepreneurs in cyberspace. Though he sold the business to Figis, he continues to leverage his knowledge with strategic cyber partners throughout the world.  
Among other things Bill established over 2,700 co-branded web sites. In 2000, Bill was awarded a patent for web co-branding protocols. 

PC Flowers & Gifts

Bill Tobin, Founder

134 Davenport Circle
Stamford, CT 06902

Visit our web site:

Business Classification:
Internet Sales

Year Founded: 1989

Face Down the Establishment

BILL: ...I was going to do something I never did. I was going to take a vacation.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) After founding eight companies and experiencing great financial success, Bill decided to take off two years and sail around the world, but that never happened.

BILL: And while the boat was being readied, a very good friend of mine from college, Peter McMurray, who has owned some of the largest floral shops in the FTD network for 20-some-odd years, said, `You know, if you ever came into the florist industry and you brought your knowledge of technology and your ability to have large companies come in and do strategic alliances,' he said, `you could own the industry.' I said, `Flowers? I mean, give me a break.' He said, `Do you know how many cut flowers were sold in America last year?' I said, `How much?' And he told me at the time it was $13 billion. I said, `Billion dollars? Thirteen bi'--he said, `Absolutely.' He said, `It's huge, but,' he said, `it's still run like it did in 1955.'

HATTIE: Mom-and-pop shops on the corners of America everywhere.

BILL: Precisely. I thought at that time that interactive marketing was the wave of the future but threatened to remain so forever until somebody with a deep pocket and a commitment came along. And I honestly thought that IBM and Sears around the 1988-'89 time frame were that company.

HATTIE: With Prodigy.

BILL: So I went on the Prodigy network, examined it, looked at it, met the people and said, `I think I've come up with what I feel to be an excellent paradigm,' and we did a demographic search of the type of consumer that they were going after. And basically, that consumer was a perfect demographic overlay for PC Flowers. I came back to Prodigy and said, `Listen, I've got an idea for a service. I would like to develop a floral wire service on your network, but I want to own it. I want the exclusive rights to it and I'll fund it.' They said, `It's the greatest idea. We've already thought about it. Unfortunately, you got to use the FTD network, and they've already told us that it's the worst idea they've ever heard of and they don't want any part of it,' because FTD is a not-for-profit cooperative owned by the member florists. Anything that doesn't encourage the consumer to go into the front door of the flower shop's the enemy. I took my presentation, I flew down to Detroit and I made a presentation to the board of directors, which is 19 florists who are elected by their peer group, and I made a presentation to them and they summarily dismissed me and told me it was the worst idea in the world. I said, `However, listen. Look at my track record. You may not like my tie, you may not like I'm from New York, but I'm telling you, I am five to seven years ahead of everybody on everything I've ever done. It's just a knack that I have, and I'm telling you now, here in 1988, that your brick-and-mortar paradigm in the '90s is going to be in jeopardy because there are going to be many, many alternate means of ordering flowers. And electronic ordering is the--as far as I'm telling you right now, the electronic ordering is the wave of the future. And go by my track record, don't go by what you think of me,' and so forth.

They summarily dismissed me. So I just simply looked at the fact and said, `OK.' I bought a chain of florists. I digitized all the FTD selections and multiprotocol programming. I informed FTD I was going to be their new best friend and that I was going to, in fact, bring them kicking and screaming to the 21st century, I would apply by all the rules and abide by all the rules of the Mercury network. However, if they tried to stop me, `Check my track record. I've sued seven of the largest companies and three governments for antitrust, and I will have no problem coming after you for antitrust.' They just decided that they would let me dry up and blow away.

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