Intro: (00:00:00) Hey guys, welcome to Asian Hustle Network Podcast my name is Bryan and my name is Maggie. We interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asians to pursue their dreams and goals. We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.
Maggie: (00:00:00) Today we have a very special guest with us today. Her name is Wendy Wen and she is the co-founder and COO of Senreve a luxury handbag company that marries beauty with versatility. Wendy welcome to the show!
Wendy: (00:00:21) Thank you so much for having me.
Bryan: (00:00:23) Wendy, can you tell us a little bit about your upbringing? We want to learn about how you became the person that you are today.
Wendy: (00:00:33) A really deep question,I was born in China in Chengdu. My parents were both scientists my dad was a molecular biologist and my mom radiologist very scientific family and I moved to us when I was four and a half because my dad was pursuing his Ph.D. at USC, a very academic science, biology, driven family, my grandparents were all academics in the biology field, my grandma was a doctor. And so, they encouraged me to pursue medicine and their rationale was number one. You make a lot of money and number two, it’s a staple job. You’re always going to need doctors, no matter what the economy was like their logic.
I grew up in Southern California after moving there when I was four and a half and then my parents had a second child. My brother, he’s eight years younger than me. We’re close and then my grandparents moved from China to live with us. We were a big family and sometimes four sets of grandparents are all under one roof.
Sometimes they would move around with my aunts but it was a really lovely childhood. I think one thing that’s stood out to me growing up was my parents didn’t have very much, but they were very conscious of giving me every opportunity I had any money they had, they allowed me to go to piano lessons, ballet lessons, any interests in events they would try to maximize.
And so really like fortunate and blessed in that regard and I think my journey to entrepreneurship is very searched circuitous. I would say earlier on my initial goal was just to make a lot of money because my parents were poor. You know, as a Ph.D. student, my dad was making me $30k to $40k a year.
My mom was helping do protein science at the lab at USC. So also making like $30k to $40k. My dad became an associate professor and it’s still, it’s not a high-paying job and my mom now does protein science work at Hampton. She never got her medical license in the US because she didn’t have time.
She was also taking care of me. And so short story is finances were always very, very tight in my family growing up I remember as a little girl, I wanted a little Teddy bear at Mervyn’s and my mom said it’s $16. It’s way too expensive. Sorry, we can’t afford it. And I just remember thinking, man, like I wish I had money.
I wish I had unlimited money and my mom would say, hey, if you want a lot of money, study hard, go to a top school here in the west and you’ll be able to make a lot of money. So that was my framework. I always thought, okay. I just got to go to school and make a lot of money on that path. Led me to a place where I was l deeply unhappy, so, okay.
That was like the starting driver and then as I studied and did well at school, I started to feed my identity with this view that I needed to have external accolades to prove that I was smart or high achieving. I needed to have the highest score on a test. I needed to get into the best college I needed to get the best job.
I started to require external accolades to show myself that I was good. Originally it was a path to get into college, to make money, but then soon as I was growing up, it became part of my ego. It’s because I am a good person. If I am considered smart and high achieving that fueled me, right. That kind of insecurity and the need to feed my ego fueled me.
I ended up going to MIT initially studying medicine and cognitive sciences going down that path, like being a doctor making money. But then I quickly discovered that if you want to make money, you should go into being a doctor is not the quickest way to make a buck and so I switched my major to business and I remember thinking I was such an extrovert as well.
Growing up being stuck in a lab doing research was just not going to maximize my extroverted tendencies and in business would utilize my interpersonal skills a lot more. So, I was excited about pursuing finance and business ended up working in investment banking, and was miserable.
I think that experience taught me that chasing after money doesn’t make you happy. So, this is sort of part of that journey, right. So, I realized very quickly that I would much rather have less, you know, zeros in my bank account, weekends off and autonomy and work that had a purpose and so kind of once I realized that I knew I needed to, I knew I needed to make a pivot and I always wanted to go to business school. I remember thinking when I was younger that you need a higher, this probably came from my father. You need a higher graduate degree, no matter what you do. I think it’s because he’s a Ph.D. and they’re all doctors.
He’s, you need to get an MBA. So, I think even as a little girl, I always thought, okay, no matter what I did, I wanted to graduate degree in business school seemed perfect. It was two years for you to just figure out what you wanted to do. So, I ended up doing two years of investment banking because, in banking, you recruit so quickly for private equity.
I ended up doing it tomorrow private equity, Blackstone, private equity, and TPG and in this whole time, I was just thinking, I need to figure out what I want to do with my life. And I had this hypothesis that I want to be an entrepreneur because it sounded fun, right? You get to be your boss.
You can run your own business; you can create something but truthfully, I was very insecure about my ability to do it. I had all these doubts. I wrote my Stanford GSB essay about a way to start an e-commerce company in the fashion space and I didn’t believe it. I remember writing it, thinking this is a dream.
This is ideally what I would love to do, but I don’t think I’m cut out for that. You know, I do not risk enough. I’m not creative enough. I’m not strong enough. I don’t know how to be a leader. I had all these like self-doubts, in my mind but they helped me get into Stanford. So, I got in, so I spent two years trying to kind of figure out what I want to do with my life.
And during the time I was in finance, I kind of, realized quickly that I didn’t love investing because in my free time, instead of reading the wall street journal or Bloomberg, I was online shopping, reading, and purse log. I was going on guilt every day. I knew to see what deals were like if I was planning out my next designer luxury purchase and I think another thing I was always very passionate about, especially working in finance was just female empowerment and feminism because as a minority female, working in an industry that’s a predominantly white male, I felt inherent biases against just women in general, I saw mentors who were women quit after they have babies, just because of work-life balance did not sort of encouraging like family, right and so at Stanford, during my two years, I said to myself, I’m going to spend two years to figure out what I want to do and I want to explore number one, feminism and female empowerment, number two, retail and fashion, and then number three, entrepreneurship.
Even though I wasn’t confident enough to be an entrepreneur, I was very curious. So, I did a lot of what you guys are doing now, which is talking to different entrepreneurs. I took classes for entrepreneurs who would come and tell us about their journey. I took a class that was like an incubator.
A lean launchpad, where you start with an idea and a team and you have to like to make, a minimal viable product by the end of that course, they kind of break down the steps of starting a company step by step so that kind of scratched my entrepreneurial edge and actually, that experience helped me realize, oh my gosh, there’s not a big difference between me and other successful entrepreneurs.
And by the way, success shouldn’t be defined by external accolades and you can define it yourself. There are a lot of different definitions of success for entrepreneurship. I used to think that a successful entrepreneur looked like mark Zuckerberg. Somebody who had been coding in his basement since he was five, and his success is like a multi-billion-dollar super unicorn.
That’s not the case, at Stanford, I encountered many entrepreneurs who had varying levels of success and they defined it themselves. I was incredibly inspired by this one woman who started this flex work network kind of like Upwork, but for women who were stay-at-home moms, she didn’t raise any VC money.
It was, she generates, you know, three, $400,000 of cash every year for herself and I’m, that’s a great type of success and so I ended up realizing quickly that I could be an entrepreneur too. So that’s one, two fashion so, I, it was part of the retail club and we led these trips to Paris and Milan to visit the C-level executives that Chanel or Mez Prada, Louis Vuitton.
And I just loved that whole experience. I ended up getting an internship at Chanel between my first and second years of business school and through that experience, I just, I was, oh my gosh, first of all, I learned a lot about branding and how these brands have been able to stay so relevant despite being so old.
And then number two, I just learned how many opportunities there were because they were so scared of digital, so scared of digital. And so, I’m scared to move and change and innovate. And also, they have to, that’s another interesting thing about luxury is they can stay exactly the way they are and people will still buy them because of a brand.
I was like, hmm, this is interesting. There are a lot of opportunities because luxury incumbents are not yet sorted of grasping onto the power of digital and how consumer needs are evolving and then the last piece of feminism, I was the co-president of women and management. I just did all these. I did this too. I interviewed various women who were in leadership positions and they inspired me to create.
Take the leap of faith and do something old. So, when I was graduating from the GSB, I started talking to my co-founder coral. She’s a GSB alum who we had connected through mutual friends. And I just, I was, I don’t want to start. I don’t want to get a job. it just doesn’t feel right.
There’s no job out there. That’s that exciting for me. And she’s, I have this idea to start a handbag company. Do you want to join me? And I jumped at that opportunity because I kind of everything I just told you, right? I was already doing retail club expiration. I loved, you know, I love the idea of like trying something new.
And I think going through the Stanford experience and seeing other entrepreneurs helped me get over my fears and insecurities and myself, and so ended up starting Senrev, with coral at the end, and we’re working on it from the end of 2015 to October 2018. I graduated in June 2015, started it started working full-time in October 2015, and then we launched the company in, November 2016. I just rambled on for a long time.
Maggie: (00:13:24) Wow. That was amazing,I feel like your kind of just provided a film or a movie of your life.
Bryan: (00:13:32) It was extremely insightful, you’re upbringing, what you currently value and that relates a lot to me at least, just growing up without much money.
And then for me again, to real estate, because I wanted to make a lot of money. And when you did it, it wasn’t that exciting anymore. And I don’t want to sound condescending in any way, but once you hit like financial freedom, you’re just like. What else is there? What else am I capable of doing? You start asking you guys, start asking yourself these questions, you know only you can answer, you can make yourself happy.
So, what makes you happy? And I can kind of see that in your journey already. I think for you it’s things that, I feel like, with you, it’s like you, your motivation comes from your insecurity in a way where you’re maybe I’m not good to do this. I’m kind of curious, but at the same time, you have so many accolades to back up what you want to do.
Hey, I’ve been a really good student. I’ve been an investment naked. I got the best jobs out there. Why can’t I compete with the best? You know, I think that’s the mentality that separates you from the rest. It’s once you realize that these people that you look up to are just like you, and they’re no smarter than you.
That’s when you start in my service are switching. If you start with that’s when you get things open up and it’s crazy when that happens too because when you open it up when you open up your subconscious mind, you can spot opportunities out there that you didn’t see before because now, you know yourself a lot better and I admire that story that he’s told.
One thing I’m curious about too, is you went to great schools, you got a great job, you meet a lot of money, and then to have that conversation with your parents and be like, hey, I’m not happy right now, what kind of, what was that conversation like? And how did you talk to me about supporting yourself in being an entrepreneur?
Maggie: (00:15:39) I was going to be my next question too. And I’m curious, cause then your parents are in medicine and you were going to go that route too, right. And so, I’m sure it had some. To you, for you to go to that route, but medicine, you felt like it wasn’t for yourself and you switched to finance and investment banking, what was the whole perception of that?
And then for you to go from investment banking to entrepreneurship and it’s very tied to Asian culture, a lot of Asian parents want us to become doctors or go to the medicine route or become lawyers or something very safe because a lot of them immigrated here. It just wants us to have a bright future having a safe job and it’ll be very stable, but yeah, I’m very curious how do they take that?
Wendy: (00:16:27) There was the point when I asked when I called my dad as a sophomore in college and said, hey dad, I’m not going to be pre-med anymore. Switching over to finance. And I gave him my reasoning. I said you told me that doctors make money. Well, I found that they don’t make that much money and investment banking, reason number one, reason number two, I was, I did this summer internship, And where my mom worked and I did lab work. And I was just so bored because it’s a lot of being an academic and research. And science requires a lot of patience. A lot of curiosity, your kind of putting together an experiment that has to be perfect.
I’m really bad at that. And then you wait four hours for it to incubate and then you check the results. And then sometimes the results are terrible. And you’re like, I don’t know if it’s caused my pipetting was bad or we’re not looking at the right part of the experiment. And so, it just wasn’t for me. And I explained that to him and he paused and then he said, you know what?
You should do what you love. And I think you’re really capable and you’ll be successful, whatever you do, I just won’t be able to help you. He’s well, I’m an immigrant. I don’t know much about this country. The only thing I do know is science. The only thing we know is science and medicine and biology.
And before we could help you, but now we can’t help you. I’m that’s fine dad, we’ll be fine they were very supportive. I would say overall, I’m very lucky. And my parents gave me a lot of trusts and they trusted my judgment. They trust my decision-making maybe because I’m the oldest. It’s not the same as the younger brother.
My parents were way more tiger parents to him but I was also more self-motivated cause I think I was an immigrant child. I came from China. I understood the need to kind of fend for myself. So that was the first touchpoint in the second one. When I decided to start a company after graduating from the GSC, instead of going into going back into finance, I had plenty of offers to go back into private equity.
They were also very understanding; my dad was very supportive. My mom and dad were just okay. Yeah, cool. I mean, it sounds hard, but go for it. And he admitted to me like a couple of weeks ago that he had for sure thought that I was just going to work on it for like a few months and then stop or that I was going to struggle along for many, many years before I saw success and that he’s been very surprised by how quickly Senrev has grown, my parents have all have been pretty good about both of those transitions and I think it’s because they trusted me as the older child.
Now my Chinese extended family. It’s so funny because when I go back to China and visit them, I remember like my great uncle and my grandfather’s father just like pulled me aside and was just so like so concerned. He’s like, Wendy, you went to MIT and now you’re peddling handbags and that’s such a big waste. I was just oh, I didn’t even know what to say. I just laughed. I was hey, I’m having fun. He’s just looking so conferred. I think in their minds, we have a marketplace shop for somewhere I’m like selling handbags.
Maggie: (00:20:04) I liked how you said that your father said he was very surprised and I think that that is like the Asian parent’s way of saying that they’re very proud of you, but they just want to say that because they don’t should be emotional.
Wendy: (00:20:20) They don’t go as far as saying that, but he does. He likes to share our articles. All of our, we chat. They’re very active on we chat and he’s, he did say he’s like surprised.
Bryan: (00:20:31) I think the biggest thing with Asian parents is that you have to show that you’re dependable. You’re trustworthy, that whatever choices you make parents are always, especially Asian parents that always theory down the path of being safe for them being safe with everything. That’s their version of success as you define it earlier
Wendy: (00:20:55) I think it was for me too and that’s why I didn’t have to admit I was kind of a brand for, trying to get the right school names on my resume, trying to get the right investment banks and private equity firms. And finally, I think I got to a point where I’m oh, I’ve collected enough of these resume builders.
I should feel confident in that’s now to take a leap of faith and even if I fail at this point, I have enough of like a cushion on my resume to help me find another job but I can remember thinking of pursuing that external set of validation, maybe deeply unhappy. I was deeply, deeply unhappy when I was working in private equity because I was constantly comparing myself to other people.
I was comparing myself to other people and analysts who might’ve gotten a higher rating. I’m comparing myself to another friend who already has another high-paying hedge fund or private equity job lined up. There was always another mountain or another peak that might be higher than mine. And I have an external pillar of success made my, made my day-to-day unhappy because I just never felt it was enough.
Even now I think sometimes I have to stop myself and not compare Senrev to other companies, but in a grander scheme, it’s harder to compare, right? Because every company is different. I’m carving out my path and try to remind myself today every single day that I am free. I don’t have to prove it to you is because of this incredible journey that I get to go on.
Right? There are three reasons why people start companies. One is to make a ton of money. Two is to build a great company. Three is to change the world. And the one that I weigh myself a heavily most heavily on is building something like thinking about building the team, building a product that didn’t exist before building the culture, building a marketing footprint, building our brand and so I try to focus on that and thinking about how I am bettering myself through those journey building, rather than focusing on our revenue or fundraising rounds. It’s hard. It’s super hard. I mean, I’m still, I still catch myself for not falling into like anxiety and insecurity and in my fear, a lot of fear and stress comes from that. But we’re aware of it now.
Bryan: (00:23:37) I think you do bring up a really good point too. I think that there’s so much about mental health that Asian cultures never really talked about the fact that you thought anxiety insecurity felt you weren’t good enough. Now all of this stems back to somewhat how we are raised and our upbringing too.
Now you kind of want to deviate from this conversation and talk a little more about mental health. You know I feel for most entrepreneurs, people look at your success as, you know, monetary things how many nice things you own, how big is your house, and how nice is your car. But I think the one people that, one thing that people, especially Asian entrepreneurs kind of neglect is mental health.
When you’re facing enormous stress and making really tough decisions almost daily, we could, we can only imagine all of the random decisions that you make on a split second or daily basis. How do you deal with this amount of stress and how do you keep yourself going and motivated every single day?
Maggie: (00:24:39) Yeah and going back to when you were feeling like you couldn’t start your own business, right? You weren’t that type of person, or it just wasn’t the right fit lifestyle for you, but then you shifted when you started seeing all of these characteristics that you have, you noticed that maybe I do have this entrepreneurial spirit inside of me. How were you able to make that shift too? Because that ties back to your mental health as well.
Bryan: (00:25:05) That’s something we want to highlight right now, a lot of people feel this way. Whether you’re anything in life you always get compared to your brother and sister, your cousin, your family, and friends, the list goes on. We just want to make sure that we can leverage your story to inspire others, to follow them, and see.
Wendy: (00:25:28) Tto answer your first question about my mental health and how I take care of that, I think it’s a journey. I think I’ve gotten better at it but at my darkest point, I was not sleeping. I would go 48 hours without sleep I could not fall asleep. The moment I lay in bed, I would be so tired during the day and at the moment I’m like wide awake and stressed. And then I start worrying about not sleeping and I’m just up all night. So, I struggled a lot from an insomnia perspective but I quickly took action to try to fix it. I think number one is getting therapy, getting coaching. So, I seek out those types of professional services and I find them to be incredibly helpful. I have a regular coach that I talked to a regular therapist leaned on my husband a little bit, but it also created tension in our marriage.
He shouldn’t be filling that role of a therapist. So, we started getting a marriage counselor I have a whole team, I have an acupuncturist who does a massage for me. Yeah, so I invested in service providers to help me get to a better place. Oh. I even worked with an asleep hypnotherapist and then do therapy with me. So now isn’t a much better place and I think it’s, it’s a combination of having the service providers and I think for me, it’s been really important to do number one, exercise, number two, meditate. Now I read atomic habits and I thought that thought changed my life. It’s all about, I love these little things.
I have a little habit, tracker, all these little things added up just make you a lot better and so I make sure I carve out time for exercise and meditation. And sleep is so, so powerful when I don’t sleep. I tend to be more pessimistic and more depressed but mindset-wise, I think the thing that I am forcing myself to constantly remind myself about is that this is just a job.
Like Senreve is still just a job. It’s not identity. It’s not my ego. It doesn’t, it’s not a measurement of how good I am. And if this job and this project won’t work out. I can always get another job, literally get another job or start another project. And so having that level of kind of objectivity is also in front of me.
A way I triaged is I always ask myself as a problem comes up. Number one, is someone going to die? Number two, is the company going to die because of this number three, is this important for me to handle right now? Number four, like who can I delegate to? So, I kind of triage everything that way and that’s also really helpful.
When coronavirus first hit, it was very stressful, right. But you know, I’m safe. I’m healthy. You know, no one in my family is going to die. The company is not going to die either. Yeah. Our sales are not going to grow as much this year as last year. And then it’s just a matter of thinking, figuring out how to triage our strategy and pivot.
Maggie: (00:29:01) I love how open you are about talking about therapy and marriage counseling. I feel that in a lot of areas, people have this bad connotation oh, I don’t need a therapist. I don’t need a life coach. I got everything on my own and people to have that ego there was a post in AHN where someone had admitted that they don’t feel they have that entrepreneurial.
How do you go about that and how do you overcome that, right? And a lot of people recommended, seeing a therapist, there are strengths within you. Everyone has their strengths. Everyone has their weaknesses and for you to realize your strength, that’s the power and for you to like see a therapist that shows strength because you want to improve on yourself, right? You want a better place, whether that be yourself or your significant other, that shows a lot of strength.
Bryan: (00:29:55) That’s your sense of awareness too. You are fully aware of what you’re good at, what you’re not good at. And you got in such a, I would say an entrepreneurial mindset that if you can delegate these things away, even if it’s like meditation or therapy or coaching, whatnot, you would have.
So that’s the best use of your time. And I can see them from an entrepreneur’s perspective. Do we have to stay in compartments throughout our day to exact seamlessly what can we delegate? What can we do? Is it, that we need to answer it right now? Yeah and that’s powerful. Your sense of awareness is great.
We can kind of tell already that, even though you keep saying, hey, look, I’m going to have a plan B plan C you’re not going to need that. The greatest successful people that we talked to on the podcast are people like yourself, but with a great sense of awareness. They know when to push when to take a step back when to delegate because you don’t know these things, you’re going to fail so hard, because one person can’t,
Wendy: (00:30:57) Yeah, let me be clear. I’m not good at it. I didn’t have the best managerial idols to look up to you because I’m finding, that everybody’s a micromanager so I’m far from being good at delegating and being a great leader and being a manager. But I see that as a channel, this is a really important skill to develop as part of life, and whatever I do next, this is important. So, I’m going to figure out ways to be better at triaging delegating, and letting go.
Bryan: (00:31:36) It’s amazing, I mean, we’re all here to learn together and you said before, there’s no one there out there, especially within the Asian community, you can look up to hear stuff like this, you know, and the fact you’re still open and talking about it. People are going to look up to you. You want to hear these things.
Wendy: (00:31:53)I remember listening to a lot of entrepreneurs. Cause I mentioned, I was inspired by listening to entrepreneurs. And the thing that made me feel insecure was hearing all of them say that they don’t sleep.
I listened to this Tory Burch interview and she said she sleeps four to five hours a day and I need seven hours. I do. If I get less than seven, I just can’t function. I can do a few nights of less than seven, but consistently it would destroy me but so I wish more entrepreneurs talked about how much they value sleep and how much they need sleep. Because I, so now I need to talk about that. And people don’t talk about how hard entrepreneurship is.
Bryan: (00:32:39) It’s extremely difficult and we kind of want to pivot more towards your entrepreneur journey. How’s the money-raising process for Senrev? What kind of hurdles did you face? Did you face a lot of discrimination, and racism as you’re raising money?
Maggie: (00:32:57) Yeah and I know that you guys went through you and Carol went through a series funding congratulations and there’s this whole story about, you know, you being led by Sonya Brown as more west venture partners and I know that there was this underlying reason because they care about women, entrepreneurship, women empowerment, and she’s a woman herself talk a little bit about that experience of why you wanted to partner with this individual specifically.
Wendy: (00:33:28)I mean, let me again, be honest, it’s a brutal game on raising you emailed or reached out and talk to 31 different firms and got rejected. So, we had only three-term sheets at the end, but thankfully I think it’s very serendipitous who ends up working out and who doesn’t. I think with us there was no overt discrimination that I felt, but the things that I heard again, and again, would be like, oh my wife didn’t like your bags.
So, we’re going to pass. We had an investor who was intrigued by our pitch and our numbers and our traction. And then he, his wife went and bought one of our bags and he was I don’t like it. And then he passed, you know? So, it’s kind of she’s one person, one data point, and you’re going to let your wife speak for all of the women?
It’s such a big market, right? You can’t just trust. I think that the challenge isn’t so much over discrimination, it’s more. With investors all, a lot of times they need to have a gut instinct about a bit, especially at the series stage, right when it’s still really young and when the investor hit himself is not a target customer and can’t understand the value proposition of the end product.
It’s really hard for them to have that natural gut instinct because most of the time it’s very emotional. It’s emotional and I think what worked with Sonya and Katherine from Norwest, like Catherine’s she was the girl who sourced the, that the deal is that they kind of got it immediately, even in us initial pitches and conversations, they were just like throwing out ideas that were totally at one point they had what did a lot of tech companies in the luxury space and the consumer space that they just knew the business and they knew the space well some of the previous investors who rejected us, they would ask me questions. Why would anyone spend over a thousand dollars online on a bag? That’s crazy now there are examples out there and they just weren’t familiar enough with it and I think having this, you know, having Norwest who just understood and got it was helpful. I will say I am. So, I can’t be happier with them as our partners, after, our first board meeting, we all went to me, Cora, my co-founder Sonia, Catherine.
We went to a bar across the street and then talked about our fertility journeys. How many kids did you have? Oh my God, he has four. What was that like? How is pregnancy, how is giving birth? Where do you see that in Silicon Valley? Where the board member and the entrepreneur go and talk about fertility. So, I’m proud and grateful for the partners that we ended up with, but frankly, there weren’t any, there weren’t very many female partners that we pitched. Most of them just happened to be male.
Bryan: (00:36:59) That’s a huge lesson for everyone out there who is fundraising right now to know a lot of us don’t retake rejection very well and we think one or two rejections is our ideas not validated. We’re not good enough. It’s not true at all because this is where it tests is your passion. How passionate are you about this idea and this product? Continue pushing because when you go out there and fundraise money, typically you want to have people invest in you because they believe in you. Not because you’re profitable or anything like that. They want them to believe in you. And honestly, you only need one.
Wendy: (00:37:37) You just need to sneak one, right? Oftentimes it’s not about you. It’s about them. It’s about, so we’ve had people pass because they’re oh, I invested in a fashion company before.
I just stay away from fashion altogether. That is not a reflection of you or your business because fashion companies are all created differently you can’t assume one fashion company is the same as the next but they are scarred by their experience and so we’re going to pass. So, it’s important to not take it personally and to just send out 10 more emails get one rejection. Okay, great. Let me see, let me look at my network on LinkedIn. Who else do I know? Who else can I talk to?
Maggie: (00:38:23) Yeah, that’s a great point and that’s it, you know, all the articles about you and Carol getting serious aid funding, those articles don’t talk about how many times you guys have tried and all the hard work that you guys put into it. People don’t see the behind-the-scenes, so it’s very,
Wendy: (00:38:39) I talked to a lot of entrepreneur’s friends when I was getting twice for the fundraising process and it’s all the same story. There’d be I got 40 rejections.
The last one who happened to say yes was Sequoia so it’s very, it’s very serendipitous and you just, it’s several saying, we just have to go out and pound the pavement and talk to everybody and be ready for rejection and in grow and improve. After every single pitch, we would write down all the questions they had asked us and then incorporate those questions into it so that the next pitch was even better. And the next pitch was even better. So, every time we were going out, we were getting better and better.
Maggie: (00:39:21)That’s great advice. So, when you and Carol had started Senrev, I’m sure you had, you know, some people talking about the market is too saturated. The handbag market is way too saturated. There are way too many brands, but when Bryan and I went to Senrev for the speaking panel a couple of months ago, I saw the bags for the first time. And I thought they were beautiful. They looked like the quality of saline, you know, but at a way, more affordable price, and I feel like you guys disrupted the market.
So, in terms of people saying stuff oh the market is way too saturated. You guys weren’t going to get anywhere with another handbag brand. How are you all able to respond to those types of comments?
Wendy: (00:40:05) Very great question and we got that all the time, we answer that the handbags, first of all, again handbag space is big. It’s a $2 billion global market and luxury handbags. And it’s an expandable market. Handbag is a category, unlike Uber or Facebook, where it’s not winner takes all. If you convince a woman that this brand or this product is desirable, she can add to our collection, you know, she can chop long sharp coach Louis Vuitton, Chanel, she can own all of those brands.
So, the challenge is on you to develop your unique value proposition and your unique brand value, such that a woman feels she needs it. So that’s point number one, that the market is unique in that it can be saturated and you can build a billion-dollar business. If you’re a coach, you can also build a billion-dollar business.
If your Chanel or Hermes. Secondly, for us, we have a unique value proposition that we’ve identified, which is this gap in the market between something really beautiful. High-end made in Italy, like the salines and fenders. That’s a world and something that you can work and use day to day, right?
Like you can bring it to work, you can put a laptop, right now women tend to have to make the trade-off between those two. So that was our initial, differentiation. It wasn’t something that kind of allowed you to have both and it wanted to kind of get at, and that is the pillar of our brand too.
We’re all about this woman, this modern woman who is not only a fashionista, but she might be a CEO, a mom, you know, she’s, she’s not boxed into one role in her life. She is a multifaceted woman and our handbags and our products reflect that modern luxury. And we think there are a lot of legs for this customer because her needs are changing so much compared to the traditional luxury brands and the larger brands can move fast enough to reach her needs, she needs versatility.
She cares about brand and quality, but not logos. She is traveling all the time. She cares about the mission and sustainability. She’s Omnichannel. She’s not uniquely offline or uniquely online. She’s everywhere. She discovers things through influencers in online magazines and Instagram, and not necessarily through the Vogue fashion fund. And for us, we have that unique insight about our customers. So, we believe we can serve her better than some of the existing companies.
Bryan: (00:42:44) What everything you just says as far, you know, like the brand quality, like the mission of your product. It reminds me of the early days of like Rolex’s and Nike, you know, back then.
Rolex is considered for the everyday working man and over time it evolved into a luxury brand that you can, not have once you get. It’s the same thing with Nike too, when they first came out, it was David versus Goliath against Adidas, you know? Yeah. They can’t imagine that people can’t imagine now that Nike is so much smaller than Adidas and improve my two brothers, Nike brothers, I mean, Puma and Adidas were brothers in Germany.
Then Nike started competing saying that they’re creating an everyday product that for best performance uses that cool like everyday athlete uses our product. Not that a lot reminds me of your product. And they were super excited to see where you’ll be 10 years from now. It’s 20 years from now.
Wendy: (00:43:49) It’s like the best compliment you can pay me because I love Shoe Dogs. That book. Yes. My favorite. Oh, good. It is very feminist and of Senrev and everything he talked about, I was like, oh my gosh, this resonates with me. And so, yeah, I feel if Nike could do it, we could do it.
Bryan: (00:44:10) I just have to believe in, keep on innovating, you know, so you have to keep on doing times will always changing. And even five, 10 years, 20 years now, people are going to forget that Senrev was started for this mission. Now, they are still at the same caliber as a coach is needed. For all the luxury brands it just takes time for us for consumers to see it as a luxury. That’s, that’s all it takes. And that kind of brings us back to the point. What kind of marketing strategy did you use to get your brand out there?
Wendy: (00:44:41) We had the insight. Well, first of all, it all comes from that customer, right? Who is our customer? How does she discover new brands? And we had done a ton of customer interviews in the very beginning, even before we started developing our products.
We knew that women liked saline. We knew they liked we knew that they were tired of like Louis Vuitton monogram. So, we kind of incorporated all of that into our design but with regards to how we marketed it, we also thought about her discovery journey.
How does she decide to spend a thousand dollars on a new brand? And it’s usually through word-of-mouth people that she trusts. It might be through an online publication that she reads like a refinery 29, or, you know, goop those types of publications. It might be through normal class, like the New York times wall street journal.
It might be for celebrities and influencers that she looks up to in style I’ve gone and so in the beginning, our challenge was to show up in these places where she seeks inspiration is there. We networked our way into getting our bags into the hands of celebrities and influencers for free. So, we would not work with their stylists and gift them a product.
And just hope that they’re seeing an ad about where the challenge was to make sure the product was attractive. On their own that the celebrity influencers would wear it for free. And they did that. And then it was networking. We were just selling our bags hand-to-hand combat like we would do trunk shows and get people to come over to our house.
We would sell our bags from our house. We would do trunk shows with our investors. Like it was, it was hustling in the beginning. So, we were able to get our bags purchased by partners like Goldman partners at McKinsey partners, bang partners at law firms, C level executives at tech firms like Lynn Jurich, who is the CEO and founder of Senrev carried our bags in this magazine interview that she had done.
Tthese women who were early adopters started influencing women within their organization. So, there are private equity firms where like all the female deal professionals carry a Senrev bag because the partner was so that was like the word of mouth and then we made sure to pitch all of this sort of early success to PR and to get into those articles that I was telling you about. And once they kind of build that foundation of the brand, such sentence, somebody searches on rev on Google, they’ll see for points, right. That’s how you kind of build a brand. It’s like other people talking about you, you were not talking about you only until we had that foundation we start to turn on, start turning on paid Facebook and Google ads.
Maggie: (00:47:35) Wow, that’s amazing. Yeah, I’ve seen, I saw some rev blow up in the last couple of years and you know, I keep seeing it on my Instagram on Facebook everywhere. And that’s so true, If I see a celebrity that I admire or a role model who’s wearing that brand or that handbag that’s automatic oh, I need to get that. So, we know that you have a flagship store in San Francisco and we were there too. What was that experience opening that store with Carol and where did your kind of hone in on San Francisco? Were you thinking of other locations?
Bryan: (00:48:15) I also want to ask one more follow-up question too. How’s it working at 4 0 2. How do you guys talk about my problems? You know, you can answer Maggie’s questions first then,
Wendy: (00:48:24) The store opening was an evolution, we started off working completely remotely when we were just three, like three people, it was like the oral on one first employee.
We would work from our apartments, from cafes, and then we’d get to a certain size. I think we were like six people who were okay, we should probably get an office. We might as well allow customers to come and see and feel and touch the bags or the first office slash showroom was actually in union square on the fourth floor.
On top of Hermes. It was like a sublet space that we converted into a nice showroom and we had a conference room that we used as an office to work out and the reason for that is, well, we needed a place to work and we might as well make some money out of it. So, we actually would make, you know, 10 times our rent per month, just from the sales, from the office, how we were thinking about subsidizing the rent.
And then we got to a certain size where we were outgrowing that office and that’s why we opened the flagship store on 441 Jackson street and it was a similar mentality. We worked out of the back. The back of it is, is an office for our team in front of it. It’s a store. And again, we come from this omnichannel perspective where we expect our customers to want to have offline touchpoints, right?
Like they need to do their research online, you know, season influencers with it, but they sometimes do want to see, feel, and touch and that’s the point of conversion. And so that was like a big reason why we decided to invest in a flagship like a four-level store is that we believe that this would help with our, in which it has.
And it gives us this opportunity to build a community. We can hold events like the one you attended. We can you know, do collaborations with other influencers and other brands. It’s just, that it’s a great way to build community. And the reason we’re in San Francisco is that we believe that having that tech and innovative DNA sets us apart from the companies that are in New York and LA And we think of ourselves. Want to be like Nike or like Teslas and apples of fashion, right? The way apple brought the design to the world of consumer electronics, they want to bring technology and versatility, and function to the world of high-end fashion design. And there’s no better place for that kind of entrepreneurial spirit than Silicon Valley.
But then to answer your question about the co-founder relationship, I mean, from the very beginning, I think it was really important for Carol and me to that each other. And I have to thank her for inviting me to join her as her co-founder. And she told me that for her the most important three things she’s looked at.
Number one is chemistry, number two, trust, and number three, vision. So, chemistry is just intangible. Either you work altogether or you don’t either you’re synergistic and you, your energies are, you know, right for each other or you’re not. And we happen to have incredible work chemistry and trust are, is, is deeper than just a level of like integrity.
It’s more that you trust the other person to speak on behalf of the company when you’re not in a rim, do you trust the person, you just have an instinct for the right decision and she felt, she felt like I had that. And then number three, vision it’s like, do we both believe in the same long-term vision for Senrev, which we do.
And the long-term vision is we want to be that next-generation luxury brand that is much bigger than just, you know, handbags that marries versatility with design. So, we want that Dane to kind of spread across all different categories just to start with handbags.
Bryan: (00:52:18) That’s amazing. I mean, everything you mentioned about working with a co-founder is it’s difficult, you know, essentially you are dating another person and the worst is with entrepreneurship could be pretty ugly.
Wendy: (00:52:36)I mean, we have disagreements and arguments all the time and sometimes we hash it out in front of our team and they get nervous because they sound very contentious. But I think what’s great about me and Coral is that we’re both. So, like logical and so we don’t take anything personally being yell at each other and hash out something, hash out a disagreement, and then we’ll be able to like go right back and focus on the vision.
We’re both very much like we’re both trying to work towards the same vision. We might have different perspectives and it’s hard to hash out those perspectives as we come, we come to a better decision.
Bryan: (00:53:16) I think that’s, that’s a really good approach to solving problems too. I think that, whereas when corporate, if you kind of has the behavior is considered unprofessional, I think that’s, that’s not the most that is, I don’t think that’s the best way to solve a problem with your highly professional.
That means a lot of stuff gets swept under the rug nothing gets done. The problem that you have is I hate talking, blah, blah. And then it gets swept under the rug. I feel like the way that you structure it as a culture is very transparent. It’s very safe to express disagreements because disagreements are the things that kind of helped me grow as a business too.
You need to have these, I don’t want to, I don’t want to say often, but you need to have them. If you don’t talk about it, you never, you’re going to fix anything. And I liked the culture that you guys built already. It’s being transparent and safe to express your opinions. The danger,
Wendy: (00:54:16) It’s super, super important people on my team changed my mind all the time.
Maggie: (00:54:22) I will echo what Bryan said. I think to incorporate it’s like, it’s so easy to not speak up because it’s oh, the executives will take care of it. I’m just not going to say anything. If people are going to argue with me and if you’re an entrepreneur, you, if it’s your product and you have passion for it, it’s your baby of course you’re going to speak up.
Bryan: (00:54:43) It kind of reminds me of Ray Daleo in the way that he structured his company in that if everyone’s too polite and he has something wrong, he makes sure that everyone has the opportunity to criticize him in his business to improve I think that it’s really important to do something like that. And that’s how you’re going to improve. You have to listen to the ugly things you don’t like; it will hurt your self-esteem and that’s okay. Because your teams right there pick you back up and do it again.
Maggie: (00:55:10) Those arguments are always short-term. You know, you have to think about the long-term vision and it seems like you and quarrel are on the same page with that. So that’s inspiring.
Bryan: (00:55:19) Do you have any tips and advice for entrepreneurs right now, especially Asian entrepreneurs and female Asian entrepreneurs that want to get started a few of the same way you do? What kind of advice would you give to them and essentially yourself when you first started?
Wendy: (00:55:33) I think in the beginning I had a lot of doubts and I had Coral to thank for pulling me out. She’s very confident and I always have to try to adopt some of her confidence something that I would tell a woman or female Asian female is you tend to underestimate yourself versus a guy would tend to overestimate themselves.
So, you need to adjust your mental barometer to be slightly more arrogant, and then you’ll be normal. So, that’s something I see with my husband all the time. He always overestimates his capabilities and he calls out that he thinks I always underestimate my capabilities or my achievements and I think that’s just something women struggle with in general.
It’s we are, we’re naturally more focused on what we are doing wrong or what we could be doing better, or the downside scenario and not focusing on that 1% chance that it can be knocked down to the ballpark. And I remember Carol saying to me, she was just imagining like, if somebody else could do it, why can’t, why can’t we.
You should be confident enough in your ability that we are the ones to kind of make this potential come true. She was if you agree that this next generation can let your brand exist, let’s agree that that’s possible right. It’s hard to say that it’s impossible. It’s happened all over the decades, but in other categories, right.
And I was yeah, it’s possible. She was like, okay, if it’s possible, what makes you think that you can’t be the person to make this possibility into a reality? And I think it’s helpful to have that framework. So just always over, make sure that you’re not doubting yourself unnecessarily and then too. I think another thing I would tell my younger self is that every problem is fermentable. If you have time to figure it out. So, it’s a matter of making sure you have the right time, meaning either you have enough cash runway or, you know, you’re able to fundraise. But for example, if you fail with the first collection for a set of products, you could fold and the company can go under, or you can pivot and find another set of products, maybe handbags didn’t work.
Maybe we should go into beauty or skincare there’s always a possibility of being successful if you don’t give up and it’s, you don’t run out. So, successes, I think Vince Lombardi once said I’d never lost a game. Sometimes I just ran out of time. That applies to entrepreneurship too. You only fail if you give up.
Bryan: (00:58:29) I agree with that statement. You know, there are so many times in entrepreneurship where you just want to give up oh man, nothing’s going right. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel, but somehow you keep sticking with it. There’s always some sort of light that comes through you like, okay.
Wendy: (00:58:49) There was going to be a million of those barriers, those things where you feel like there’s no light at the tunnel, but if you look hard enough and if you’re creative, you can find a little sliver of light and just work towards that little sliver of light until it becomes bigger and bigger.
Maggie: (00:59:03) That’s beautiful advice and I appreciate your advice about women empowerment and women entrepreneurship. I do believe there are a lot of industries that are. Dominated by men but you know, we, every single industry, no matter what it is, it can be like fashion too, or like makeup. It could be anything, but we are just as capable, if not more and it’s all about your mindset.
Bryan: (00:59:29) We love hearing from you too because we are about women empowerment in the Asian Hustle Network and that has been our priority and our goal and we stated it over and over like LA times and whatnot. We want to empower Asian women to succeed.
Maggie: (01:00:05) I love it. The bags are beautiful.
Maggie: (01:00:34) Well, thank you so much for being on this podcast Wendy.