Have you ever wondered how top-level executives stay focused with so many different opportunities pulling on their attention? I had the joy of speaking with Wendy Wen, one of the co-founder's and current COO of Senreve to learn just that! Senreve is a multi-functional luxury Italian leather bag designed for the multi-faceted woman.
Wendy is an entrepreneur and former finance professional. Her background includes working at Chanel, being an investor specializing in the retail and technology sectors, and an investment banker. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and rescue dog named Poke.
Wendy received a dual BS from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. She also holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
1. What inspired you to target the women’s handbag market?Combination of a couple of things:
- I have always had a personal passion for handbags. To me they are these amazing collectible art pieces! I remember during my Investment banking and Private Equity days I would spend any spare time I had on researching my next handbag investment! I loved collecting these masterpieces but these beautiful bags that tugged on my heart strings didn’t end up being the bag i’d end up carrying. I found myself choosing more functional bags suited for my busy professional lifestyle. I wondered if others shared my same pain point, finding that designer handbags weren’t actually usable because they were too heavy and too delicate.
It was Coral, my co-founder, who initially approached me with targeting the handbag market. Originally we thought of building a customizable handbag company. We tested it and interviewed 100s of customers to see if it’s something they would pay for and we quickly learned that customers did not want to design it. The idea is that they are paying for a professional luxury designer to create art and don't trust themselves to create the same type of art. We also heard again and again that versatility, ability to fit laptop, scratch-proof, while looking high-end were things they would love in a luxury handbag. Through this customer centric approach we determined that there was some low hanging fruit for someone to disrupt this market. Given my background in Finance I was able to look at it from an investors perspective as well. With handbags there are no size or fit issues, it’s a huge market, an extendable category, AND it solves a personal pain point which makes handbags a great start up point.
2. What was that first step you took to get Senreve started?
Senreve started as a hypothesis. The first step we took to test it was to interview customers. Applying Steve Blank’s Lean Startup Method learned from Stanford Business school, we started by talking to 1000s of our target customers. We knew we shouldn’t launch anything until we were 150% sure that we had product market fit. We tested our value proposition without any investment by simply talking to customers. We scaled this rapidly by asking every single person we interviewed to introduce us to 10 others. We further accelerated this process by hiring 10 interns to rapidly execute this phase.
3. Have you always known you wanted to start and run your own business? What are those key characteristics that you feel makes someone successful in this venture?
I always thought it would be cool to start my own business. Part of my rationale for going into investment banking was to lay a foundation of understanding how businesses run. Having a strong financial background laid the groundwork but I didn't have 100% confidence in starting my own business at that point. At the time the only people’s stories you heard about were genius-level entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk. I didn’t feel like I would be creative or risk-taking enough to be an entrepreneur. After attending Stanford Graduate School of Business I was able to see and hear from other entrepreneurs and realized the only big difference between myself and them is they were willing to take the plunge. I learned that most of the time no one knows what they're doing in the beginning they are just figuring it out too.
I also learned that there are SO many different definitions of a “success”. Success should be defined by personal values and what that looks like for each individual. For some success might be a billion or trillion dollar exit, for others it might be about lifestyle, impact, solving a problem, or developing a culture. Success is personal and anyone can do it - as long as you follow your own value system and how you define it. Personally, I was attracted to building something great - a product someone would use and a fantastic team. For me success is sitting back to say, “Wow, I helped build this”. I like that co-founding Senreve stretches my personal skill set so that i’m constantly growing.
My advice to keep focused is know why you’re doing it and be very clear because when times are hard as long as you remember why you’re doing something you’ll have the determination to run through that wall. It’s all about grit! Vince Lombardi has a famous quote, “We didn't lose the game; we just ran out of time.” Cash IS time. It is only when you give up that the company fails.
4. When did you guys decide it was time to raise funding? Did you start off with your own seed money?
It is always ideal not to take money for as long as possible! BUT it’s really hard if you want to grow quickly. It’s important to develop the discipline to create a business that generates cash flow - capital can dilute that need. There is a constant push and pull between control and alignment of incentives. It’s important to strike a balance between the two dichotomies of self sustained profit and control vs. growth and speed. In the beginning we straddled both by raising money from angels and family offices. We went to old bosses, faculty etc. When we hit our 3 year mark we felt like we had a great lead as a luxury disruptor and wanted to capitalize on this window to maximize this time so we leaned toward speed and growth - and thus fundraising.
5. I know right off the bat Senreve received a lot of organic love from celebrities etc. Any tips on how other brands can achieve this? Personally i’d love to understand how you go about getting PR?
It’s important to get early adopters to wear your product and deliver value to this modern woman who does it all. The modern luxury shopper has many roles and is many things - elegant, fashionable, a leader, and competent. It was important that people who carried these bags embodied these characteristics. We really started targeting influential women within influential organizations such as C-level execs at financial corporations, then celebrities, then influencers.
6. Senreve is delivering a luxury product and experience against all odds! What do you think those key features signal luxury to the consumer?
We imagined our target to inspire to be like Amal Clooney and came up with the acronym W.I.F.E.E. - standing for Wit, Innovation, Freedom, Elegance, and Empowerment. To ensure that we are serving the needs of this modern woman we ensure that all of our marketing, talent, and imagery fit these 5 values.
7. As a business owner, heck even as a person, it’s often hard to stay focused on your vision. How do you stay clear and focused on your vision?
I really have to bring it back to WIFEE. It’s important to lay out your values as a company and as a leader. By sharing and instilling these values in all of our employees we use the WIFEE filter before we take any action. Example: “Is this instagram post WIFEE?” By clearly defining your values you can measure everything against it which will help to keep you and your company focused on your vision.
8. Given the recent pandemic outbreak what was your thought process in managing through the crisis?
- It’s about survival. We want to make sure our team and our company survives.
- Cash preservation and runway extension. Going back to the constant swing between control and growth, we’re swinging the nuanced pendulum back to preservation.
- Turning this into an opportunity. We launched Selected by Senreve to promote other business we love in other categories
9. What’s Your Ideal Sunday Like?
I love exercising and getting a good workout in. I’m really lucky because my in-laws make really delicious meals and I also love to take some time to relax by vegging and watching YouTube and Netflix.
YOU CAN SHOP WENDY'S EFFORTLESS LOOK HERE:
FLASH ROUND ANSWERS:
Current show you're watching: The Office from the beginning (Sooo good and so funny! Even better this second time around.) Currently on Season 6.
Favorite time saving app: Slack, Calm
1 Thing you need to relax: Netflix
First place you'll go when quarantine is over: I had a trip planned to Europe for my Dad who is a recent stage 4 cancer survivor. He has never been to Europe, so as soon as we can, i’d love to take him on that trip.
Be sure to checkout Wendy and @senreve! They are bags with versatility AND beauty and make a perfect complement to your wear anywhere More Sunday Silk Sets. PLUS they currently have a promotion to get a FREE belt bag chain with any purchase over $395. Use code CHAIN through 7/23/2020.