Wendy Wen // Ep 6 // Building Senreve and Disrupting the Luxury Handbag Industry

Welcome to Episode 6 of the Asian Hustle Network Podcast! We are extremely excited to have Wendy Wen, the co-founder and COO of Senreve.

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.

Check us out on Anchor, iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play Music, TuneIn, Spotify and more. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and leave us a positive 5-star review. This is our opportunity to use the voices of the Asian community and share these incredible stories with the world. We release a new episode every Wednesday, so stay tuned!

Wendy Wen is an entrepreneur and former finance professional.  Wendy is currently the Co-Founder and COO of SENREVE, a direct-to-consumer luxury brand that serves the modern professional woman by combining luxury design and quality with versatility and functionality. SENREVE recently raised $16.75M in Series A funding, led by Norwest Venture Partners.

SENREVE products are handcrafted in Florence, Italy, at a family-owned factory that creates products for leading luxury brands. SENREVE has been called an “it” bag brand by fashion/luxury publications and worn by celebrities, influencers, and top female executives.

Wendy started her career in finance/investing at The Blackstone Group, Goldman Sachs, TPG Growth and Anthos Capital, where she focused on growth equity investments in the technology and retail sectors.  During her time as an investor, she worked closely with several consumer and retail management teams to target areas for operational improvement, assess acquisition opportunities, and implement growth initiatives.

She was inspired to found SENREVE after interning at Chanel and receiving her MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.   Wendy also holds a dual BS from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Economics and Management Science where she was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.

Wendy currently lives in San Francisco with her husband Robbie and her rescue dog-son Poke.

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Transcript

Intro: [00:00:00] Hey guys! Welcome to the Asian Hustle Network podcast. My name is Bryan. And my name is Maggie. And 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: [00:00:24] Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Asian Hustle Network podcast. My name is Maggie.

Bryan: [00:00:28] My name is Bryan.

Maggie: [00:00:29] And 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: [00:00:44] Thank you so much for having me.

Bryan: [00:00:46] Definitely. Yeah, Wendy, can you tell us a little bit, a little bit about your upbringing? You know you want to learn about how you became the person that you are today?

Wendy: [00:00:54] It’s a really deep question. I was born in China, in Chendu actually. My parents were both scientists. My dad was a molecular biologist and my mom radiology oncologist. Okay. Very very like a scientific family. And I moved to the US when I was four and a half because my dad was pursuing his Ph.D. at USC. Academic science biology driven family. Like my grandparents were all academics in the biology field. My grandma, a doctor. And so they obviously 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 meet doctors no matter what the economy that was like the logic. And so 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 really close. And then my grandparents moved from China to live with us like we were a big family with, sometimes four sets of grandparents all under one roof. Sometimes they would move around and my aunts. But it was really like, 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, like in any money they had, they allowed me to go to piano lessons, ballet lessons, any interests 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 circuitous, I would say earlier on my initial goal was just to make a lot of money. Cause my parents were for, you know, as a Ph.D. student, my dad was making me 30 to $40,000 a year. My mom was helping to do protein science at a lab at USC. So also making like 30 to $40,000. And my dad became an associate professor and it’s still, it’s not like a high paying job. And my mom now does protein science work at Hampton. She never got her medical license in the US. 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 Mervyn’s and my mom said it’s $60. 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, you’ll be able to make a lot of money. So that was my framework. I always thought, okay. I just got it. Go to school and make a lot of money. And that path actually led me to a place where I was like, deeply unhappy, so, okay that was like the starting driver and then, you know, 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, but 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, I started to require external accolades to show to myself that I was like, 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 like, I am a good person if I am considered smart and high achieving. Okay, that fueled me right. That kind of insecurity and need to feed my ego really fueled me. I ended up going to MIT initially studying medicine, brain, and cognitive sciences, going down that path like being a doctor make money. But then I quickly discovered that if you want to make money, you should go into being a doctor is actually not the quickest way to make a buck.
And so I switched my major to business and actually I remember thinking I was such like an extrovert as well. That being stuck in a lab doing research was just not going to maximize my extroverted tendencies and in business would actually utilize my interpersonal skills a lot more. So I was excited about pursuing finance and business. Ended up working in investment banking and was absolutely miserable. I think that experience taught me that chasing after money doesn’t actually make you happy. So this is sort of like part of that journey. Right. So I realized very quickly that I would much rather have like, less, you know, zeros in my like bank account, weekends off and yeah.

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 like, 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 in business school. Perfect. It was like two years for you to just figure out what we really wanted to do. So I ended up doing two years of investment banking.

And because in banking you recruit specifically for private equity. I ended up doing two more years of private equity, Blackstone, private equity TPG. And in this whole time, I was just thinking, I need to figure out what I really 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 own 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 actually wrote my Stanford GSB essay about one way to start an eCommerce company in the fashion space. And I didn’t believe it. I remember writing it, thinking like 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, and not risk seeking enough. I’m not creative enough. I’m not strong enough. I don’t know how to be a leader. Like I had all these. Like self doubt my mind. But it helped me get into Stanford.
So I got in, so I spent two years trying to kind of figure out what I really want to do with my life. And during the time I was in finance, I kind of, I 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, blog. Going on guilt every day at noon to see what deals like if I was planning out my next designer, you know, luxury purchase. And I think another thing I was always very passionate about, especially working in finance was just female empowerment and feminism. Cause I, as a minority female, working in an industry that’s a predominantly white male.
I felt inherent biases against just women in general. You know, I saw mentors who were women kind of quit after they have babies, just because of work-life balance did not sort of encouraging the family. Right. And so at Stanford, during my two years, I said to myself, I’m going to spend two years to really 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. So I, you know, 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 would come and tell us about their journey. I took a class that was like an incubator class, a lean launchpad, where you start with an idea and a team and you have to like make it a minimum 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 actually not a big difference between me and other successful entrepreneurs. And by the way, success shouldn’t be defined by external accolades. You can define it yourself. There’s a lot of different definitions of success for entrepreneurship. I used to think that a successful entrepreneur looked like Mark Zuckerberg. You know, somebody who had been coding in his basement since he was five. And his success is like a multibillion-dollar, super unicorn. That’s actually not the case. So at Stanford, I encountered many entrepreneurs who hadn’t shared 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 staying at home moms. She didn’t raise any VC money. It was stopped. She generates three, $400,000 of cash every year for herself. And I’m like, that’s a really 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 was part of a retail club. And we lead these trips to Paris and Milan, the C level executives that Chanel, Hermes, Prada. Do we have time? And I just loved that whole experience. I ended up getting an internship at Chanel in between my first and second year of business school.

And through that experience, I just, I was like, 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 was 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 don’t have to. That’s another interesting thing about luxury is they can stay exactly the way they are and they’ll still buy them because of a brand. I was like, Hmm, this is interesting. There’s a lot of opportunities because luxury incumbents are not yet sort 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 in management. I just did all these. I did that. I interviewed various women who were in leadership positions and they inspired me to kind of take the leap of faith and do something. So when I was graduating from the GSB, I started talking to my co-founder, Coral. She’s actually a GSB alum who we had connected through mutual friends and I just, I was like, I don’t want to start. I don’t want to get a job. Like, it just doesn’t feel right. There’s no job out there. That’s exciting for me. It’s just like, 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? Like 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 that helped me get over my fears and insecurities in myself. And so I ended up starting Senreve with Coral at the end of the sort of working on it and end of 2015, like October 2018, I graduated in June 2015. Started it. Started working on it full time, October 2015. And then we launched the company in, November 2016. I just rambled on for a long time.

Maggie: [00:13:23] Wow. That was amazing. I feel like you kind of just provided like a film or a movie of their life. Really insightful.

Bryan: [00:13:31] Yeah. It was extremely insightful. Your upbringing, you know, what you currently value and that relates a lot to myself, Elise, you know, just growing up without much money. And then for me again, to real estate, because actually wanted to make a lot of money. And when you did, it wasn’t that exciting anymore. And I don’t want to stop like condescending in any way, but once you hit like financial freedom, you’re just like, okay, what else is there? What else am I capable of doing? You start asking you guys, start asking yourself these questions, you know, that only you can answer. Only 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 that you’re right, I feel like with you, it’s like your motivation comes from your own insecurity in a way. Yeah, more like, maybe I’m not good enough to do this. I’m kind of curious.

Let’s see, you have so much accolades to back up what you want to do. Like, Hey, like I’ve been a really good student. I’ve been an investment. I got the best jobs out there. Why can’t I compete with the best, you know, any that’s the mentality that separates you from the rest. It’s like, 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 to, my centers are switching. If you start to meet with them, you know, that’s when things open up and it’s crazy when that happens too because when you open it up your subconscious mind, you are able to spot opportunities out there that you didn’t see before because now you know yourself a lot better. You know, and I really admire that, that story that he’s told. One thing I’m curious about too, is you know, you went to great schools, you got a great job. You mean a lot of money. And then to have that conversation with your parents and be like, Hey, I’m not happy right now. You know, what kind of, what was that conversation like? And how did you talk to them into supporting you into like being knowledgeable?

Maggie: [00:15:38] Yeah. That 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 influence to you for you to go to that route, you know, obviously medicine, you felt like it wasn’t for yourself and you switched to finance and investment banking. You know, what was there, you know, the whole perception of that. And then for you to go from investment banking to entrepreneurship, you know, and it’s very tied to, you know, Asian culture. A lot of Asian parents want us to become doctors or go to the medicine route or, you know, become lawyers or something very safe, you know, because a lot of them immigrated here. They just want us to have a bright future, have a safe job, you know, be very stable. But, yeah, I’m very curious, you know, how do they take that?

Wendy: [00:16:25] I mean, yeah, there was a point when I asked when I called my dad as a sophomore from college and said, Hey dad, I’m not going to be premed anymore, and tuning over into finance. And I gave them my reasoning. I said you told me that doctors make money. Well, I found that they don’t make that much money. Number one. Reason number two, I was like, I did this summer internship in Amgen where my mom worked and I did lab work and I was like so bored, cause it’s a lot of, being an academic and research and science requires a lot of patience. A lot of curiosity, you’re kind of putting together an experiment that has to be perfect. 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 because my pipetting with bad or not looking at the bright part of the experiment. And so it just wasn’t for me. And I explain 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 like, no, 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 like, that’s my dad, we’ll be fine. They were very supportive. I would say overall, I’m very lucky my parents gave me a lot of trusts and they trust in my judgment, the trust in my decision making. Maybe cause I’m the oldest, it’s definitely not the same with my younger brother, my parents were way more tiger parenting to him, but I was also more self-motivated. Cause I think I was, you know, I was the 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 went and I had decided to start a company after graduating from the GSC, instead of going into like going back into finance, I had plenty of offers to go back into private equity.

You know, they were also very understanding. They like, my dad was very supportive. He was, my mom and dad were just like, okay. Yeah, cool. I mean, it sounds hard, but go for it. And he actually admitted to me. Like a couple of weeks ago that she 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 Senreve has grown. I say my parents have all, have been pretty good about both of those transitions. And I think it’s because they really 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, my grandfather’s brother 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. That’s such a big waste. I was just like, Oh, I didn’t even know what to say. I just laughed. I was like, Hey, I’m having fun. He’s so concerned. I think in their minds we have a marketplace shop where I’m like selling handbags.
Maggie: [00:20:00] I think so too. Yeah, I like what you said that your father said he was very surprised and I think that that is like the Asian parents’ way of saying that they’re very proud of you. Because they don’t show emotion. They don’t go as far as saying that, but he does, he like shares our articles all over WeChat. They’re very active on WeChat and he’s, he did say he’s like surprised.

Bryan: [00:20:26] Yeah. Yeah. I mean, there’s a lot… I think the biggest thing with Asian parents is that you have to show that you’re dependable. You’re trusting that you’re trustworthy, but whatever choices that you make, you know, parents are always, especially Asian parents that always theory down the path of being safe. For them being safe is everything, that’s their version of success as you define your earlier, you know.

Wendy: [00:20:51] And I think it was for me too. And that’s why I didn’t have to knit I was kind of a brand for, you know, trying to get the right school names on my resume, trying to get the right, like investment banks and private equity firms. And, finally, I think I got to a point where I’m like, oh, I’ve collected enough of these resume builders. Like I should feel confident 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 remember thinking pursuing that external set of validation, maybe deeply unhappy. Like 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 another analyst. You might’ve gotten a higher rating and comparing myself to another friend who already has it another like really high paying hedge fund or private equity job lined up. There is always another peak that might be higher than mine. And I having an external or success made my, made my day to day really unhappy because I just never felt like it was enough.
And even now I think sometimes I have to stop myself and not compare Senreve to other companies, but in a greater scheme, it’s harder to compare, right. Because every company’s different, I’m carving out my own path and try to remind myself today every single day that I myself am good enough. I don’t have to prove it to anyone. It’s because of this incredible journey that I get to go on, right? Like, yeah, 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. The one that I weigh myself a heavily most heavily on is building something really 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 like, thinking about how I am bettering myself through this journey with the building. Rather than focusing on our revenue or you know, fundraise rounds round. It’s hard. It’s super hard. I mean, I’m still, I still catch myself 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: [00:23:28] I think you do bring up a really good point too. I think that. There’s so much about mental health, Asian culture’s never really talked about, you know, the fact that you felt anxiety, you felt insecurity, you felt you weren’t good enough. Now, all this really stems back to somewhat, how will rates, you know, and our own upbringing too. And now you kind of want to deviate its conversation. Talk a little more about mental health. No, I feel like for most entrepreneurs. People will look at your success as, you know, monetary things like how many nice things we own, how big is your house and how nice is your car? But I think the one people, the one thing that people, especially Asian entrepreneurs kind of neglect is mental health. You know, when you’re facing enormous stress like this and making really tough decisions almost on a daily basis, we can only imagine like all of the random decisions that you make a split second on daily basis.
How do you deal with this amount of stress and how do you keep yourself going and motivated every single day?

Maggie: [00:24:29] Yeah. And going back to, you know, 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, you know, when you started you know, seeing all of these characteristics that you have, you noticed that maybe I do have this entrepreneurial spirit inside of me. How are you able to make that shift too? Because that ties back to your mental health as well. Right?

Bryan: [00:24:56] And that’s something we really want to highlight right now, too, is a lot of people feel this way. You know, 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. You know, we just want to make sure that we can leverage your story to really inspire others, to follow them.

Wendy: [00:25:16] To answer your first question around my mental health and how I take care of that. I think it’s definitely a journey. I think I’ve gotten better at it over the years. But my darkest point, I was literally not sleeping. I would go for 48 hours without sleep. Like 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 in bed, I’m like wide awake, intense. Stress. And then I start worrying about not sleeping and I’m just up all night.
So I definitely 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 definitely seek out those types of professional services. And I find them to be incredibly helpful. Like I have a regular coach that I talked to at regular therapist. I leaned on my husband a little bit, but it also created tension in our marriage. You know, he shouldn’t be filling that role of a therapist. So we started getting a marriage counselor like I have a whole team, they have an acupuncturist who does like a massage for me. Yeah, so I definitely invested in service providers to help me get to a better place. Oh. I even worked with, asleep hypnotherapist and then do therapy on me. So now is in a much better place. And, I think it’s it’s a combination of like having the service providers and also, I think for me, it’s been really important to number one, exercise and number two, meditate.

Now I read atomic habits and I thought that thought changed my life. Yeah. All these little things. I have a little tracker, all these little things added up just makes you a lot better. And so I really make sure I carve out time for exercise and for meditation and obviously sleep like 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 enforce myself to constantly remind myself about is that this is just a job. Like Senreve is still just a job. It’s not my 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 doesn’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 gonna die because of this? Number three, is this really important for me to handle right now. And number four like, who can I delegate to? So I kind of triage everything that way. And that’s also really helpful. Like when coronavirus first hit, it’s very stressful. Right. But you know, I’m safe, I’m healthy. You know, no one in my family is going to die. Company’s not going to die either. Yeah. Our sales is not going to grow as much this year, as last year in that it’s just a matter of figuring out how to triage our strategy and pivot.

Maggie: [00:28:44] Yeah. I love that. I love how open you are about, you know, talking about therapy and like marriage counseling. I feel like in a lot of areas, people have like this bad connotation, like, oh, I don’t need a therapist. You know, I don’t need a life coach. Like I got everything on my own. And people have that ego, you know, and there was actually a post in AHN, someone had admitted that they don’t feel like they have that entrepreneurial spirit.
And, you know, how do you actually go about that and how do you overcome that? Right. And a lot of people recommended, see a therapist, there are strengths within you. You know, everyone has their own strengths. Everyone has their own weaknesses. And for you to realize your strengths, that’s the power, you know, and for you to like see a therapist that actually shows strength because you want to improve on yourself. Right. [ianudible] To a better place. Whether that be, you know, yourself or your significant other, that shows a lot of strength.

Bryan: [00:29:38] That’s your own sense of awareness to, you know, you are fully aware of what you’re good at, what you’re not good at. And you got, 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 do it because that’s the best use of your time. And I can see that on entrepreneur perspective you know. Yeah, we have to stay in compartments through our day to exact seamless, you know, what can we delegate? What can we do? Is it, we didn’t answer it right now. You know, and that’s really powerful. You know, your sense of awareness is great. You know, we can kind of tell already that even though you keep saying my halo, I’m going to have a plan B plan C.
You’re not going to need that. You know, the greatest thing, that’s what people that we talked to on the podcast are people like herself, but a great sense of awareness. They know when to push when to, when to take a step back when to delegate because you don’t know these things, you’re going to fail so hard, you know, because at one person can’t.

Wendy: [00:30:39] Yeah, let me be clear. I’m not good at it. We’re all learning. And so I’m terrible you know. I didn’t have the best, like managerial, like idols to look up to because everybody’s a micromanager. So I’m far from being good at delegating and being a 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 like this is really important. So I’m going to figure out ways to be better at triaging, delegating, letting go.

Maggie: [00:31:19] It’s amazing.

Bryan: [00:31:20] Yeah. It’s amazing. Yeah what I mean? We’re all here to learn together. And like you said before, there’s really 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 so open and talking about it, people are going to look up to you. You want to hear these things? You know.

Wendy: [00:31:37] I remember listening to a lot of entrepreneurs cause like like I mentioned, I was inspired by listening to entrepreneurs and the thing that really. Made me feel insecure was hearing all of them say that they don’t sleep.
[talking over each other] I listened to this Tory Burch interview and she said she sleeps four to five hours a day and I’m like, I need seven hours.
I do. If I get less than seven, I just can’t function. I can do unites of less than seven, but consistently it would, it would destroy me. But so I’m like, I wish more entrepreneurs talk about how much they value sleep and how much they need sleep. Because I, so now I’m like, I need to talk about that. And people don’t really talk about how hard entrepreneurship is.

Bryan: [00:32:22] Yeah. It’s extremely difficult, you know, and we kind of want to pivot more towards like your entrepreneur journey in CLA. How’s the, how’s it, the money-raising process for Senreve? Like what kind of hurdles did you face? Did you face a lot of discrimination, racism as you’re raising money?

Maggie: [00:32:39] Yeah. And I know that you guys went through you and Coral went through a series of funding.

Bryan: [00:32:44] Congratulations, by the way.

Maggie: [00:32:46] Yeah. 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. You know, they are about women entrepreneurship, women empowerment, and she’s a woman herself. Talk a little bit about that experience of like, why you wanted to partner with this individual specifically.

Bryan: [00:33:09] Female empowerment.

Wendy: [00:33:11] I mean, again, it’s like brutal gains on raising. We emailed or reached out and talk to 31 different firms. And got rejected 28 times. So we had only three-term sheets at the end, but thankfully I think I think it’s very serendipitous who ends up working out and who doesn’t. I think 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 bag. So we’re going to pass, you know, we had, we had an investor who was really intrigued by our pitch and our numbers and our attraction. And then he, his wife went and bought one of our bags and was like, I don’t like it. And then he passed, you know, so it’s kind of like, She’s one person, one data point, and you’re gonna let your wife speak for all of the women, you know, like it’s, it’s a big market, right? Like you can’t just trust. I think that the challenge isn’t so much over discrimination, it’s more of that with investors, a lot of times they need to have a gut instinct about a bit, especially at the series a 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.

Maggie: [00:34:44] Yeah. Yeah. Cause most of the time, it’s like emotionally.

Bryan: [00:34:47] It’s very emotional on stage.

Wendy: [00:34:50] It’s really emotional. And I think what works with Sonia and Catherine from Norwest, like Catherine’s, she was the girl who sourced that the deal is that they kind of got it immediately, even in our like initial pitches and conversations, they were just like throwing out ideas and we’re total, at one point they had what debt a lot of tech companies in the luxury space and the consumer space knew the business and they knew the space really well. For some of the previous investors who rejected us, they would ask me questions like, Why would anyone spend over a thousand dollars online on a bag? That’s crazy, right.
Like there are, there are examples out there and they just weren’t familiar with it. And I think having this, you know, having Norwest who just understood and got it was really, really helpful. I will say like I am so I can’t be happier with them as our partner, after one of our first board meeting, we all like me Coral, my cofounder, Sonya, Catherine went to a bar across the street and then talked about her fertility journeys, like how many kids did you have? Oh my God. He has four. What was that like? How was pregnancy, how was giving birth? Like where do you see that in Silicon Valley? You know, where the board member and the entrepreneur goes and talks about fertility. So I’m really proud and grateful for that. The partners that we ended up with, but frankly, there weren’t very many, there weren’t very many female partners that we pitched. Most of them just happened to be male.

Maggie: [00:36:35] That’s amazing.

Bryan: [00:36:35] And that’s a huge lesson for everyone out there who is fundraising right now, too. A lot of us don’t retake rejection very well. And we think one or two rejection is like our ideas not validated. We’re not good enough. It’s not true at all because this is where it really tests is your passion.
How passionate are you about this idea of this product to 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. You only need one.

Wendy: [00:37:16] Right. Oftentimes it’s not about you. It’s about them. It’s about, you know, so we’ve had people pass because they’re like, Oh, I invested in a fashion company before and it did before. So I just stay away from fashion altogether. That is not a reflection of you or your business because fashion companies all created differently. Like you can’t assume one fashion company is the same as the next, but they are starred 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, you know? Yeah. One rejection. Okay, great. Let me see, let me look at my network on LinkedIn.
Who else do I know? Who else can I need help with?

Maggie: [00:37:58] Yeah, that’s a really great point. And that’s it. You know, all the articles about you and Coral getting series eight funding, those articles don’t talk about how many times do you guys have tried and all the hard work that you guys put into it.
[talking over each other] People don’t see the behind the scenes, you know.

Wendy: [00:38:14] So I talked to a lot of entrepreneur friends when I was getting twice for the fundraising process. And it’s all the same story. Yeah. I like there’d be like, I got 40 rejections. And the last one who happened to say yes was like Sequoia, like. You know, so it’s very serendipitous. You just, it’s a number of saying we just have to go out and pound the pavement and talk to everybody. Yeah, be ready for rejection and grow and improve.
Like 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: [00:38:57] That’s great advice. So when you and coral had started Senreve, I’m sure you had, you know, some people talking about the market is too saturated, you know, the handbag market is way too saturated. There are way too many brands, but you know, when Bryan and I went to Senreve for the speaking panel a couple months ago, I saw the bags for my first time. And I thought they were beautiful. You know, they looked like the quality of Celine, you know, but at a way more affordable price. And I feel like you guys really disrupted the market. And so in terms of like people saying stuff like that, like, Oh, the market is way too saturated. You guys aren’t really going to get anywhere with another handbag brand. How are you and Coral able to respond to those types of comments?
Wendy: It’s a very great question. We got that all the time. And our answer is that you know, the handbags, first of all, again, backspace is really big.
It’s 50 billion dollar global market and luxury handbags. And it’s an expandable market. Handbag is a category, unlike Uber or Facebook, where it’s not a winner takes all. If you convince a woman that this brand or this product is desirable, she can add it to her collection, you know, she can shop at Long Champ, Coach,Louis Vuitton, Chanel. She can own all of those brands. So the challenge is on you to develop your own unique value proposition and your own unique brand value, such that a woman feels like 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 you’re like 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 that is really beautiful high-end made in Italy. Like the Celines and Fendis of the world. And something that you can actually work and use day to day, right? We can bring a word and you put a laptop in. Right now women tend to have to make a trade-off between those two. So that was our initial, like differentiation. There really wasn’t something that kind of allowed you to have both and really want it to kind of get at that. And that is the pillar of our brand too. We’re all about this woman, this modern woman who is not only in a fashionista, but she might be a CEO, a mom, you know, she’s not boxed into one role in her life. She is a multifaceted woman. In our handbags and our products reflect that modern. And we think there’s a lot of legs to this is this customer because her needs are changing so much compared to the traditional luxury brands and the which means can move fast, like reach her needs. Her needs are: 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 and online magazines and Instagram, and not necessarily through Vogue fashion magazines. And for us, we have a unique insight about our customers and we believe we can serve her better in some of the existing groups.

Bryan: [00:42:20] Yeah. I really liked, you know, what, everything you just said as far, you know, like the brand quality, like the mission of your product. It really reminds me of the early days of like Rolexes and Nike. You know, back then, like, Well, that’s his work consider for like the everyday working man, you know, and over time it evolved into a luxury brand that you can, not have once you get well, you know. Then the same thing with Nike too, when they first came out, it was David versus Goliath against Adidas, you know? Yeah, they can imagine that now, like that Nike used to be so much smaller than Adidas and in Puma too. You know, Nike brothers, I mean, Puma and Adidas were brothers in Germany then. Yeah. But Nike started competing, saying mother creating an everyday product that for, you know, 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: [00:43:24] It’s like the best compliment you can pay me because I love shoe dog. That book. Yes, my favorite. Oh, good. It is very feminist and of sunrise and like everything he talked about, I was like, Oh my gosh, this totally resonates with me. And so. Yeah. I feel like if Nike could do it, we could do it.
Bryan: [00:43:45] You just have to believe in, keep on innovating, you know, so you have to keep on doing time will always change, and even five, 10 years 20 years now, people are going to forget that Senreve was started for this mission. Now, now these feel like the same caliber as Coach and Celine and all those luxury brands, you know, it just takes time for us, for consumers to see it as a luxury. That’s all it takes that kind of brings us back to the point. What kind of marketing strategy did you use to really get your brand out there?

Wendy: [00:44:16] Yeah, so we had the insight that… 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. And we knew that women like Celine, we knew they liked Givenchy. 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 actually marketed it, we also thought about her discovery journey. How does she decide to spend a thousand dollars on a new brand? It’s usually [inaudible] that she trusts, it might be through an online publication that she reads like a refinery 29, or you know, those types of publications. It might through normal class, like the New York times wall street journal. It might be for celebrities and influencers that she herself looks up to. A style icon. And so in the beginning, our challenge was to show up in these places where she seeks inspiration. We networked our way into getting our bags into the hands of celebrities and influencers for free. So we would not work with their stylist and gift them a product. And just hope that they’re seeing about working it.

The challenge was to make sure the product was attractive enough. On their own that the celebrities and influencers would wear it for free and they did.
And then it was networking. We were literally just selling our bags, hand to hand, like we would do trunk shows and get people to come over to our house. And we would sell our bags from our house. We would do punctures with our investors. Like it was, it was literally hustling in the beginning. So we were able to get our bags purchased by partners at Goldman, partners at McKinsey, partners at the bank, partners at law firms, C level executives at tech firms like Lynn Jurich, who is the CEO and founder of Sunrun, carried our bags in this magazine interview that she had done. You haven’t said these women were early adopters and started influencing women within their organization. So there are actually private equity firms where like all the female deal professionals carry a Senreve bag because the partner wore that bag. So that was like the word of mouth and the mean names, short pitch, all of this through early success, through 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 search Senreve on Google doesn’t see proof points, right? That’s how you’re going to build a brand. It’s like other people talking about you, you, we’re not talking about you.
Only until we had that foundation to the start, turn on, start turning on paid Facebook.

Maggie: [00:47:09] Wow, amazing. Yeah, I’ve seen, I seen Senreve 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. Like if I see a celebrity that I admire or a role model who’s wearing that brand. Or that handbag that’s like automatic, like, Oh, I need to get that, you know.

Bryan: [00:47:29] Relate to this part of the conversation. You know. Just kidding.

Wendy: [00:47:35] So we know that you have a flagship store in San Francisco and we were there too. What was that experience like opening that store with Coral and where you kind of like honed in on San Francisco, where are you thinking of other locations?

Bryan: [00:47:49] I also want to ask one more follow up question too. How is it working with Coral too? How do you guys talk the problems, you know, but you can answer Maggie’s questions first and then.

Wendy: [00:47:58] Yeah. So the store opening was an evolution. We actually started off working completely remotely. Like when we were just three and three people, it was like me, Coral and one first employee. They would work from our apartments. From cafes. And then we got to a certain size. I think we were like six people. We’re like, okay, we should probably get an office. We’re going to get an office, we might as well allow customers to come and see and feel and touch the bags or 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 have a conference room that we used as an office to work out of. And the reason for that is while we. You know, 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 actually worked out of the back. The back of it is an office for our team in front of it is is a store. And again, we come from this Omnichannel perspective where we expect our customers to want to have offline touchpoints, right?

Like it’s important for them to do their research online, no 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 the four-level store is because we believe that this would help with our, in which it absolutely 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, it’s a great way to build community. And the reason we’re in San Francisco is that we actually believe having that tech an innovative DNA sets us apart from the companies that are in New York and LA. And we think of ourselves as wanting to be like the Nike’s or like the 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 functions that brought a high-end fashion design.

And there’s no better place for that kind of entrepreneurial spirit than Silicon Valley. To answer your question about the cofounder relationship. I mean, from the very beginning, I think it was really important for Coral and I to vet each other. And I have to thank her for inviting me to join her as her cofounder. And she told me that for her, the most important three things she’s looked at were. Number one chemistry, number two, trust and number three, vision. Chemistry is just intangible. Either you work altogether or you don’t. Either you’re synergistic and you, your energies are, you know, great for each other or you’re not. And we happen to have really incredible work chemistry. And trust is deeper than just a level of integrity. It’s more of that. You trust the other person to speak on behalf of the company when you’re not in the room, do you trust in the person to just have a natural 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 longterm vision for Senreve, which we do. And the long-term vision is we want to be that next-generation luxury brand. That is much bigger than just our handbags. That marries versatility with design. So we want that to kind of spread across all different categories, just to start with handbags.

Bryan: [00:51:50] Wow. That’s amazing. I mean, everything you mentioned about working with a cofounder is it’s difficult. You know, essentially you are dating another person. Yeah, you’re and the worst is when entrepreneurship can be pretty ugly.

Wendy: [00:52:05] We definitely have disagreements. I mean, we have disagreements and arguments all the time and sometimes we hash it out in front of our team and they get really nervous because they sound very pretentious.
But I think what’s really great about me and Coral is. We’re both so logical. And so we don’t take anything personally. Can yell at each other and, and hash out something, hash out a disagreement, and then we’ll be able to like go right back and focus on the vision. It goes very much like we’re both trying to work towards the same vision. We might have different perspectives and it’s important to hash out those perspectives such as we come to a better discussion.

Bryan: [00:52:49] Yeah, I think that’s, that’s a really good approach solving problems too. I think that, whereas when corporate, if you kind of has the, you know, the behavior is considered unprofessional, but I think that’s, that’s not the most, I don’t think that’s the best way to solve your problem with you’re highly professional. That means that a lot of stuff gets swept under the rug. You know, nothing really gets done. The problems that you have are like, ah, I hate talking mall a lot and it gets swept under the rug. I feel like the way that you structure it is 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. You know, if you don’t talk about it, you never, you’re never gonna fix anything. And I liked the culture that you guys built already. It’s being up, transparent, and safe to express your opinions. You know, the danger.

Wendy: [00:53:48] Yeah. It’s super, super important people. People on my team changed my mind all the time.

Maggie: [00:53:55] Yeah, I will echo what Brian said. I think in corporate it’s like, it’s so easy to like, not speak up because it’s like, Oh, the executives will take care of it. You know? Like, I’m just not going to say anything. If people are going to argue with me and if you’re an entrepreneur, you obviously, if it’s your product and you have passion for it, it’s your baby, like, of course, you’re going to speak up.

Bryan: [00:54:15] Yeah. It reminds me of a Ray Daleo the way that he structured his company is 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. They hurt your self-esteem and that’s okay. Because your team is right there. pick you back up and do it again. Yeah.

Maggie: [00:54:43] But those arguments are always short term. You know, you have to think about the longterm vision and it seems like you and Cso that’s really inspiring.

Bryan: [00:54:52] Do you have any tips and advice for entrepreneur entrepreneurs or not? Especially Asian entrepreneurs and female Asian entrepreneurs that want to get started the few of the same way you do. What kind of advice would you give to them and essentially yourself when you first started?

Wendy: [00:55:06] Yeah, I think in the beginning I had a lot of doubts and I had Coral to thanks for pulling me out. She’s very confident and I always have to try to adopt some of her confidence and something that I would tell a female woman or 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 like 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, 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 coral saying to me, she was like, just imagine like, if somebody yells could do it, why why can’t we, you know, You should be confident enough in your ability that we are the ones to kind of make this potential come true. She was like if you agree that it’s possible for this next generation lecture brand to 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 other categories, right? There was like, yeah, it’s possible. It’s just 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 like doubting yourself unnecessarily.

Bryan: [00:57:00] Essentially.

Wendy: [00:57:01] Yeah. And then two, I think another thing I would tell my younger self is that every problem is surmountable if you have time to figure it out. So it’s a matter of making sure you have the right have 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, like. There’s always a possibility of being successful if you don’t give up. And if you don’t run out of money. Success is, I think Vince Lombardi once said I never lost a game. Sometimes I just ran out of time that applies to entrepreneurship too. You only fail if you give up.

Bryan: [00:57:59] Yeah, I absolutely agree with that statement. You know, there are so many times in entrepreneurship where you just want to give up, you’re like, Oh man, nothing’s going right. There’s no like 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’re like, okay.

Wendy: [00:58:16] You know, Right. And there’s going to be a million of those barriers and those things where you feel like there was 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: [00:58:35] And I really appreciate your advice about women empowerment and women entrepreneurship. I do believe, you know, there are a lot of industries that are dominated by men, but you know, every single industry, no matter what it is. It could be like fashion too, you know, or like makeup, it could be anything, but, you know, we are just as capable, if not more, you know? And it’s all about your mindset.

Bryan: [00:58:58] We love hearing from you too, because we are about women empowerment in Asian Hustle Network, and that has been our priority and our goal. And we started it over and over like LA times and whatnot, but we want to impart Asian women to succeed.

Maggie: [00:59:11] Yeah. That’s why it’s so great to have you on to the AHN podcast. Wendy you, so we are at the top of the hour. We would love to know where we can find out more about you and how our members can find out more about you.

Wendy: [00:59:24] You can follow me at @senreve or @_wendy_wen on Instagram. And you can always go on our website, email us on our websites senreve.com.
That’s S E N R E V E. Oh the name Senreve means sense and dream and French is more sensible and dreamy where like beautiful and functional we’re marrying traditional craftsmanship with innovative design and functionality.

Maggie: [00:59:54] I love it. The bags are beautiful.

Bryan: [00:59:58] Maggie’s birthday is coming up so I guess I have a gift.

Maggie: [01:00:03] Well, thank you so much for being on this podcast, Wendy.

Wendy: Thanks for having me.

Outro: [01:00:13] Hey guys, we hope you enjoy this episode. Please subscribe to the show.
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