There Is Power In Femininity

by Heather Chadwell-Aminzadeh / May 02, 2024

In celebration of women’s empowerment and to kick off AAPI Heritage Month, our founder & CEO, Coral Chung, was invited as the keynote speaker at Stanford Graduate School of Business’ Women in Management Banquet. 



Coral sat down with Julia Boorstin, CNBC's Senior Media & Tech Reporter and author of "When Women Lead," for a fireside chat to discuss entrepreneurship, family building and the power in femininity. Read more from their conversation below and be sure to follow us on Instagram for more exclusive content from the event.

Watch the Keynote Speech and Fireside Chat HERE

The Power of Femininity
Leaders and members of WIM, Stanford GSB students and alumni, faculty, staff and esteemed guests:  good evening! I’m so excited to be back at the GSB with all of you. This is a full circle moment for me since 14 years ago, I was one of the organizers of this banquet. It’s an honor to give this keynote address to celebrate women on this special evening.

The theme tonight is a topic near and dear to my heart - the empowerment of women and the power of femininity. I want to share with you my personal journey and what feminine power is for me: resilience, authenticity, intuition, community, and optimism. And I’d like to dispel the myth that one cannot be feminine and powerful at the same time. 

My story began in a small industrial town in Manchuria, Northern China. My parents (who are here tonight!) were college professors who had big dreams when they immigrated for grad school. They were on scholarships that did not cover their cost of living and worked hard with multiple odd jobs including the midnight shift at a Chinese restaurant. They made huge sacrifices including leaving me, their only daughter, in China with my grandparents until I was five. My memories of that time were all in the black and white because if you can believe it, the tv and many of the photos were still not in color. It was challenging to navigate the world as a three year old when my parents were thousands of miles away with only one fuzzy long distance phone call every few months. From potty training to the bullies at preschool, I had to pretty much just figure it out. It instilled in me a fierce sense of independence and resilience at an early age.

Before coming to America, I had only heard rumors of the “Golden Gate Bridge” or “Disneyland” where Minnie Mouse lives. So I obviously had unreasonably high expectations. When I arrived, I moved into my parents’ one bedroom apartment, sometimes shared by cockroaches. My parents were scrappy and creative - they went from being an engineer and chemistry professor to self-training to eventually become successful business people and entrepreneurs, they worked long hours, they founds ways to raise capital, and even when things looked dire, they were always optimistic for a brighter future including all of their hopes and dreams for me. They invested in my education and had set high expectations. In fact, they did such a great job that even though I didn’t speak any English going into kindergarten, six months later my teacher’s main comment in the report card was “Coral is too overconfident.” I never felt less than in their eyes for being a girl even though traditional Chinese culture often values boys more. They included me in key family decisions, brought me to many business dinners and functions, sometimes boring long meetings, but also frequently to Disneyland. My upbringing and childhood experiences were and are a foundational source of my power.

Despite having a solid foundation, I still succumbed to various pressures throughout the years that confused and rattled me. Early in my career I receive a lot of conflicting feedback about how I should behave to gain more power. I think many of you have worked in male dominated environments and can relate to this. I remember a manager who had given me very high ratings during a performance review also telling me “You seem to have the California girl accent. You should work on sounding more credible.” And there are plenty more examples like that. So in some ways, naturally, power to me during that time meant trying to pretend I was a guy. During a company offsite we were asked to share “if you could be anyone in the world who would you be?” I joked “a man” or maybe “a white man” I can’t remember exactly. But that’s what I associated with power, ambition, achievement and success. In fact, 15 years ago Sheryl Sandberg gave a speech at this WIM banquet with three pieces of advice, step one was to “be a guy”. At the time I clearly agreed with her wholeheartedly. However, times have changed, and I have changed as well. Pretending to be a buff, 6’2”, square jawed man with a low voice is completely inauthentic for me. I realized that I could continue to grow and have power with my authentic California accent and succeed in tech or at a startup while wearing 5-inch heels, a lot of pink or whatever color I wanted. In fact, that didn’t diminish my ability to be powerful, but enhanced the magic of being more memorable, interesting and influential. 

I remember my time at the GSB as one of the best times of my life. I found a community of amazing women through WIM. I led the Luxe Trek where I met executives at all of the top luxury brands in Paris and Milan. I also choreographed and danced in the GSB show - definitely peak femininity. Evidence of this may or may not still be on youtube. I loved all the opportunities to be creative, take risks, and meet people who were my people, kindred spirits. But it was also a time of uncertainty for me. I was going through a lot of major life transitions, I got engaged right before GSB and married during the summer after my first year and was pregnant a year after graduating. I was sponsored by Bain, so I knew I was going back, but I felt some FOMO from a lot of my classmates who were immersed in doing more serious stuff like starting companies in their second year. Little did I know then that everything I did just for “fun” was pivotal to me successfully launching SENREVE five years later. Many of the key mentors, advisors, angel investors, my cofounder, and even the very first supplier we worked with in Italy was through the relationships I built during business school. So don’t feel guilty at all about being on a two year long “playtime for adults” program. Because we know playing is learning and learning is power. I promise it will all add up and pay dividends.

Starting SENREVE was a huge turning point in my life, having grown up in an entrepreneurial household I was always a “wantrepreneur,’ had many ideas but all abandoned and always talked myself out of it. Timing is not right, the market size is too small, I’m not passionate enough about it - all good reasons. The power of intuition really struck me one day. Telling this story sometimes makes me uncomfortable because it’s not really an analytical framework or directly replicable template, but more about creating a set of conditions that allowed me to tap into my intuition. At this point I had worked in consulting, at Prada and at startups in tech. I was on a panel at a CMO conference in New York speaking on the power of data when I had an out of body experience. A little voice in a loud whisper that said “it’s time for you to be talking about your ideas and your business.” On the plane ride home, I wrote the entire business plan for SENREVE. It was something that had never happened to me before, I was possessed and had to get the ideas on paper. I wanted to create a brand that was focused on empowering women. Everything about the company from the product design to the marketing and communications centered around supporting and inspiring the multi-faceted women and her lifestyle, her life choices. Of course the rational side of me kicked in and I took six months of nights and weekend work to vet everything before leaving my fulltime job to officially start SENREVE. The powerful intuition was the result of an accumulation of experiences that gave me the confidence and the passion that finally allowed me to take the leap of faith. 

SENREVE had many external metrics of success, but throughout that I’ve had many ups and downs big and small. It did hit product market fit immediately and became a multi-million dollar business in the first year after launch. I successfully raised capital which is crazy but only 2% of venture capital goes towards women founded businesses, nevermind Asian women founded businesses. But we also got hit with Covid, hit with a major partner Neiman Marcus going through bankruptcy, and many more dark times. The most powerful thing that I always went back to was optimism. I was always open to the 1% possibility that things could turn around, and they usually did sometimes it just took a little longer. 

I’m looking forward to the fireside conversation with Julia. Please don’t be shy about asking questions, I’m happy to answer everything openly and share my learnings. But first let's raise our glasses high and toast to the power of femininity and remember that when women support each other, incredible things happen. Let’s all embrace our authentic feminine power and show what the true power of femininity can achieve.