Women in Business Q&A: CORAL CHUNG, FOUNDER + CEO and WENDY WEN, CO-FOUNDER + COO, SENREVE
Coral Chung is an entrepreneur, former strategy consultant and technology executive. Coral is the Founder & CEO of SENREVE, a luxury brand for the multi-faceted modern woman. SENREVE handbags have been called an “it” bag brand by fashion/luxury publications and worn by celebrities, influencers, and top female executives.
Coral started her career at Bain, where she advised Fortune 500 companies on retail strategy. Coral has always been passionate about luxury retail and consumer brands, which led her to work with Prada’s COO and CEO of Americas on marketing, commercialization, distribution related projects prior to its IPO. Coral was most recently a Principal at Medallia, a leader in SaaS/big data analytics, where she worked with leading luxury and global retail brands like Apple, Sephora, and Nordstrom.
Coral is a graduate of University of Pennsylvania and The Wharton School; BA in International Studies, BS in Economics magna cum laude. Coral received her MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business. She currently lives in Silicon Valley with her husband and four-year-old daughter.
Wendy Wen is an entrepreneur and former finance professional. Wendy is currently the Co-Founder and COO of SENREVE, a luxury brand for the millennial professional woman. She worked in Chanel’s Sales Planning and Development group where she helped provide insight into sales performance across Chanel’s wholesale distribution network.
Wendy was also an investor at Anthos Capital and TPG 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. Prior to TPG, Wendy was an investment banker at The Blackstone Group and Goldman Sachs.
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.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
CC: I grew up in a very entrepreneurial household. My parents were immigrants, who were academics in China, they really took a lot of risk to explore new opportunities in America and to provide me with a better life. I saw how hard-working and passionate they were and also all the failures and successes they experienced in starting new ventures from the ground up. That upbringing has always shaped my leadership style as well as my mindset about my career and life.
WW: Coral and I have a very similar upbringing - my parents were immigrants from China as well, and that’s actually why we share a lot of the same fundamental values. I think that’s made our relationship very strong and it translates for the rest of the SENREVE team as well.
How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at SENREVE?
CC: I knew that I would start a company someday, but it took me a while to experiment and try different industries, roles, geographies, etc. In my twenties, I was in a furious rush to get as much breadth as possible. I worked for Bain & Co. on projects all over Asia and in Silicon Valley, this experience is critical because it made me a sharp strategist, a more worldly executive, and formed an analytical foundation for me that’s very imbedded in the SENREVE DNA today. I also worked at an early stage startup Solazyme and a pre-IPO tech company called Medallia. During my tenure there, both companies were scaling quickly - both experiences gave me the operational chops to manage a high-growth organization and understand what it takes to scale from 0-10 and 10-100. I also spent time at Prada and saw the inside of a traditional luxury brand, which greatly affects how I think about where SENREVE can innovate and how it can redefine luxury.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at SENREVE?
WW: Since SENREVE’s launch 10 months ago, we have gone through many ups and downs. I think one of the greatest challenges has been prioritizing the limited resources that we have. This is especially true now that we’re scaling so rapidly and have many opportunities pulling the company and the team in different directions.
CC: There have been so many highlights, but one thing that really excites me is how many women love our products and wear them daily. A friend of mine was traveling to Sao Paolo from San Francisco and texted me that he saw three women in business class on his flight with our Maestra bag! It feels so rewarding to have female executives that we admire wear our bags, including Emily White (former COO of Snapchat) or celebrities like Selma Blair and Priyanka Chopra, who both have several of our bags.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
WW: We are very supportive of women exploring careers that are non-traditional. I think it’s important to try something different and get out of your comfort zone. At the same time, it’s important to understand that it’s something you’re truly passionate about - wake up excited to talk about it, work at it and go to sleep dreaming about it.
CC: There’s obviously a lot of risk in starting a company. Wendy and I have embraced that and always have a positive mindset about everything. We try to think about every challenge as a learning experience. The other thing I strongly believe in is to test and iterate - with our products for example, we had many iterations before we were happy and proud to reveal it to the world.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
CC: Not taking no for an answer, a mentor of mine always says that “no means maybe, and maybe means yes.” That really stuck with me as it forces me to always think creatively about how to solve a problem and how to get to yes - it’s always possible! In the startup world, it’s especially helpful for me to feel like there is always a way, even if no one has done it before.
WW: Going with your gut and staying true to my own style. Throughout my career in finance, I would get advice or coaching about how to do things a certain way that’s more masculine or exudes more power and authority. I think it’s important that I maintain my identity and be true to who I am - someone who is feminine and highly effective.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
CC: I think it starts with the acceptance that there’s not really such a thing as balance. It’s especially challenging because I have a 4-year old daughter and my husband is also running his own investment firm. For years I tried to achieve this elusive balance and it left me feeling quite frustrated. I really changed things around to think through what actually makes me fulfilled, motivated, passionate, and fun. That mindset has helped me become more attuned to my energy levels - so when my body says you are exhausted and sleep deprived, I give myself permission to sleep on a long flight or take a nap. I’ve also accepted that I’m ambitious and achievement oriented, so working and feeling productive is enjoyable for me and I shouldn’t have to feel guilty about that.
WW: I find that a lot of successful people are very unbalanced because they’re so passionate! Truthfully, this past year has been very focused on SENREVE. In fact, I delayed my honeymoon for a whole year. In general though, it’s important for me to get sleep and meditate. I also recently got a dog with my husband, and we love to hang out in SF with our puppy. Friendships are an important source of balance, so I do dinners and brunch with friends and that keeps me grounded as well.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
WW: We think a lot about this since SENREVE is for the woman who does it all - she’s a ball-buster at work and is also a loving wife and mom. I think women still deal with a lot of sexism, a lot of it has to do with subconscious biases. It’s really important for there to be open discussions about this. We try to shine a light on these topics through our social media and in the ways we present our brand.
CC: There are also some structural issues as well. There are just fewer female executives and those who have achieved significant success often get criticized. For example, I think it’s unfair that Marissa Mayer got criticized for going back to work shortly after she had a baby (this was her choice and she was committed about her job) whereas Mark Zuckerberg was praised for taking paternity leave. It’s important to have role models and that’s why we’re always featuring inspirational women as part of the SENREVE story.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
WW: I have been lucky in having important mentors throughout my life, starting with my parents. I have always been very open to seeking advice and feedback and it’s so important to be able to get that candid input.
CC: Many of my mentors actually discouraged me from starting SENREVE in the beginning to test my resolve and my passion. When they saw that I was all in, they ended up being strong supporters and some even became investors.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
CC: I really admire Toni Ko, she was the founder of NYX cosmetics (which was acquired by L’Oreal). She became a mentor of mine over the years and her untraditional entrepreneurial journey inspires me. She’s stylish and fierce - an awesome combination. I often think to myself when faced with a tough situation “what would Toni do?”
WW: I love Emily White, she was the COO of Snapchat. She’s an incredible mother and executive - and to me, really represents a woman who does it all.
CC: It’s also amazing to me that both Toni and Emily love our products and are loyal SENREVE customers!
What do you want SENREVE to accomplish in the next year?
CC: We are thrilled with the momentum so far and are excited to share new products, work on cool partnerships and collaborations, and expand geographically. We’ll continue to improve on our current set of core products as well as stick to our philosophy of listening closely to the wants and needs of our community of women.