Coral’s Top Lessons For (Future) Female Founders

by / Nov 16, 2021

In honor of our 5th birthday, we introduced our new Female Founder Series: an ongoing conversation opening up the dialogue on female entrepreneurship and what it’s like being an ambitious woman in today’s working world. Female entrepreneurship is not easy. It can be an incredibly difficult and lonely road. Through this series we hope to invite an open space to share perspectives and experiences as a female founder, or future female founders. If you don’t follow us on LinkedIn, be sure to do so and join the conversation.

We kicked off the series on our LinkedIn with our CEO, Coral Chung. Coral founded SENREVE 5 years ago on November 16th in a known breeding ground for startups, San Francisco. Leading into our birthday, Coral opened up and shared five lessons she experienced building her own business and brand from the ground up. We compiled these learnings to hold a place on our page for everyone to read. 

Lesson #1. Starting a company means no work-life balance, but that’s OK. 

Earlier in my professional career, there always existed a looming aspiration around “work-life balance.” It seemed that that was the key to happiness, longevity, inner peace, and much more. In starting SENREVE, I realized that it was a lost cause since I was traveling internationally on 20hr+ flights to Florence almost every month and had a toddler in the “tyrannical threes” phase. Being CEO means setting strategy, focusing on the bigger picture, but at the same time being a founder means rolling up my sleeves on all the heavy lifting (including packing, shipping, and literal heavy lifting of shipments from Italy), and being in all the day-to-day fires. Surprisingly, I was ok to let go of striving for balance. What I learned was that the original concept of work-life balance was a myth, kind of like losing weight via extreme dieting or fairytale happily ever after endings - balance wasn’t actually what I wanted. It turns out that starting a company, pursuing my passion, and throwing everything off balance actually made me happier, more fulfilled, and more energized than ever. 

Lesson #2: Optimism means more than a positive attitude. 

At every stage of building a company, you experience existential threats to your brand, message and product. When I started SENREVE, I always felt like the crazy problems we faced hit us all at once and in full force. Inevitably, as the company continued to expand and grow, so did these problems. However, through all the ups and downs, I always found a way to remain optimistic. It kept me locked in and focused on what’s possible (not what’s wrong). 

I quickly learned optimism is much more than a positive mindset, it’s a combination of confidence in yourself and your vision along with an honest assessment of the challenges that stand in front of you. I haven’t seen a study to support this theory, but I suspect most entrepreneurs are several standard deviations more optimistic than the average population. And, I feel confident in saying this high level of optimism isn’t a genetic phenomenon but an active choice to change a way of thinking and cultivate change.

5 years ago, we had one of our largest launch events, with over 30 editors from top fashion publications coming to preview SENREVE products for the first time. A few weeks before we found out our shipment from Italy was (of course) delayed, and then told the entire shipment was lost. My initial reaction was absolute panic. However, my optimistic nature kicked in pretty immediately. Rather than feeding my team lines “we’ll be ok” or “everything will be fine”, I acknowledged the negative of the situation, took my belief in our success and took action. We ended up finding some original prototypes of the Maestra to act as stand-ins and the event was an absolute success. 

Optimism doesn’t mean everlasting positivity or never admitting that bad things happen. Ignoring reality isn’t helpful either. Rather, optimism is an active decision to change your way of thinking and a skillset you cultivate everyday.  

Lesson #3: The people who are the most critical of you, may be the ones who care the most.

When I first spoke to my friends, advisors, mentors, etc. about my idea of SENREVE, many gave me pretty discouraging feedback. My initial response, because I am human, was a combination of defensiveness, anxiety and a lot of doubt. When the people you trust are critiquing you, it’s incredibly tough to keep perspective. However, I quickly realized that the people poking holes in my ideas and vision were helping me, not hurting me or judging me. It’s important for everyone, not just entrepreneurs, to surround yourself with individuals who will bring insightful and thoughtful feedback to your table, even if it’s critical. These are the people who will push you to your potential, and are the ones you find investing their time, energy and effort into you because they want you to succeed. Even when you don’t see what you’re capable of, having people in your corner to guide you even at your lowest moments is crucial for success. Being defensive, especially when it comes to our creativity and own ideas, is an emotional reaction we can all learn to control. It’s our ego’s talking when we act or feel defensive. Keeping an open mind, and accepting the challenge is how we are able to continually strive to improve and find ultimate success at the end. The people who make the path in front of us tougher, are the ones that tend to test us and make us grow the most. 

Lesson #4:
Time is equivalent to love.

A wise mentor of mine asked me a question I never forgot early on in my career: “How do you spell love?” His response: t - i - m - e. Time is one of the most expensive currencies we have at our disposal. An invaluable asset impossible to earn back once spent. While everyone technically has the same 24 hours in a day, the freedom to do what they want with this window of time varies dramatically. Thus, depending on who you are and what your goals are, “free” time will be spent much differently. 

How I choose to allocate my time is a direct reflection of what l love most. For SENREVE, especially as we continue to build and grow our team, it’s been a priority since day one,  for me to give dedicated time to everyone joining and currently on, the SENREVE family. Relationships are cultivated or broken by the amount of time you invest in them. When you’re building a brand one of THE most impactful areas of focus should be team culture and community. Culture doesn’t develop overnight, it’s a direct result of how much time you invest in the people supporting the company. One of my favorite phrases to date is when people mention “giving time back”. In a world where we should treat time like currency, how perfect is this? As a CEO and mom of two beautiful and young daughters, splitting time between my SENREVE child and my family is a non negotiable for me. I recognize that some days, my time may be more limited than others (in both spaces). When this happens I make sure to stay present. Ten minutes spent with intention and purpose is much more impactful than 10 days spent half in half out. With all this being said, my last note on time has to do with that aforementioned “free” time we are granted. Our creativity, imagination and own thoughts should all reserve the “free time” time slot. You should carve out time to devote to yourself. To allow yourself to have fun, growth, learn and experience. 

Lesson #5. Be prepared for failure, but more prepared for success.

Five years ago, shortly after SENREVE launched, I was having lunch with a very successful entrepreneur and SENREVE angel investor in NYC. I remember him laughing half way through the meal as he reminded me “Coral, don’t forget to prepare for success [too].” It took me by surprise and it’s something I think about often.

Culture writes a lot about failure, how 99% of startups fail, how to overcome failure, how to use failure to our advantage, how to view failure, define failure… while each in their own respects are incredibly helpful and important, I want to reiterate the importance of preparing yourself for the utmost success. To reach a stage of high achievement, you need to fully invest in the belief that you will get there. You will be very hard pressed to find a successful individual who doesn’t greatly believe in themselves, their vision and their abilities.

When we first introduced SENREVE to the world, he started with a conservative estimate of how much inventory was needed to hit our goals for the first year. We started with this number in the  case we failed and would need to dramatically pivot. Turns out we hit our goals in less than 6 months and completely sold out of our iconic Maestra Bag. We learned, while being realistic has its time and place, preparing for the upside scenario and not just protecting the downside pays off.

Entrepreneurship is all about doing things differently. It’s not a space to flex conservatism or realism, but push boundaries, create something new, go against the status quo, and make an impact. So, as you prepare for success I encourage you to count your wins and talk to yourself. Capture everything you’ve done well at the end of the day, big and small, write them down, keep them in a notebook to remind yourself of the incredible things you have done, and the wins you will achieve in the future. And, finally -- talk to yourself like you are successful. A bit of reverse psychology here, but when you talk to yourself more than you listen to yourself you begin to treat yourself like a champion rather than letting your inner ego treat you like a victim. May feel weird, but trust me the result will make the weirdness worth it.  

Starting a company is like having a baby. There’s never a perfect time, it’s something new and exciting, but full of challenges. And of course, every company (just like every baby) is a unique miracle! For the countdown to SENREVE’s 5th birthday, I wanted to reflect on the 5 surprising lessons I’ve learned over the last 5 years.