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Inspiring Conversations with Mark Zheng of Sene

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mark Zheng.

Hi Mark, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
When my Dad first arrived on the shores of Manhattan, New York, he had just $20 in his pocket without being able to speak a lick of English. Fast forward 25 years later, he’s worked hard as a mechanical engineer to provide his family a middle class lifestyle. Maybe there was some entrepreneurial force after my family had to move in together with my aunt’s family at the beginning of their immigration journey, slumming it together to strive for the American dream, that affected my cousin, who happens to be my co-founder, and I. Maybe we saw firsthand how to make something out of nothing in our front row seats of our parents’ grit and work ethic. Who knows?

Regardless, it’s where I started and it has led me to where I am today. Along the way, it was all…nice. Midwest public education. Little to no direction after graduating. $35,000 in student debt. Taking the first operations role at any company that would hire. It was all…just nice. Nothing spectacular here.

Meanwhile, there’s an itch that starts creeping up. First, I take care of the student loans. I forego purchasing a car and sink all my efforts into paying my loans down, succeeding in only two years. I started a financial education company to share with others how I did it. I started a food content company wanting to indulge in my financial freedom. I started to scratch that itch.

Then comes Sene. It starts as just an idea. It starts with dissatisfaction on how clothing fits me but doesn’t in the way I want it to. The wheels are turning already: “How do we make clothing fit for all people?”. My cofounder and I, we took a hard look at the way fashion was done and how it could be different.

We launched our hero product on Kickstarter in May 2019 — the FlexTech Suit, a stretchy, comfortable, machine washable suit that could be custom-made for you. All you had to do was take a 60 second quiz with no measuring tape and we would figure out your measurements. The campaign blew through its target goal in 30 minutes and we took in over $100,000 in 14 days.

The rest is still history in the making. Despite pandemic woes, we doubled revenue in 2020, and we are on pace to triple revenue in 2021. We’ve brought in 7 more team members, raised $600,000 in total funding from our own customers, and most recently have achieved 95% accuracy of our quiz for measurements.

There were no signs, no childhood moments that stick out that said, “He has what it takes”. The story is about a regular kid with humble roots just trying to scratch that itch.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
In 2017, Sene first started as a retail concept, selling wool suits and cotton shirts. Within those two years, we fitted thousands of customers, measuring each of them with our own hands. While conceptually, we wanted to make custom clothing possible for all people, the method was lacking in scale.

One alternative option along the way, we thought about making samples of our product available to those who wanted to try the product before purchasing a custom item. After drumming up a quick web user interface, we began receiving orders of these “Try-On Boxes” and began fulfilling them (with excitement). Five days in, we realized many of the orders were placed with fraudulent credit cards and there was no way for us to charge these customers for keeping our samples. We lost thousands in inventory. Meanwhile, our cash was dwindling as the store, our largest revenue generator, was failing us. This was the lowest of lows for the company.

Soon after, we made the hard decision to close down our store and to launch our Ecommerce store through a Kickstarter campaign. It was an incredibly difficult time with a lot of transitions.

After launching our Kickstarter and raising a pre-Seed round of funding, we hit our stride and achieved profitability early on. That was February 2020 and our early success did not age well. Our products were made for travel, for work, and for general merriment spent outside of the home so revenue dipped hard overnight. It would be another 14 months before we started to see revenue hit pre-pandemic levels again.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
Sene started from the simple idea that clothing should be made to fit people, not the other way around.

We have two main hero products. The FlexTech Suit and AirJeans. The FlexTech Suit is made out of an athleisure fabric for a fully custom suit. Our AirJeans are made out of a premium, stretch Japanese denim that never stretches out and retains its shape.

All of our products are cut from scratch completely custom-made for the customer and sold at off-the-rack prices. When the user comes to our site to shop our products, they can take a 60 second quiz providing their height, weight, standard sizes, and fit preferences without a measuring tape. Using all proprietary algorithm, we’re able to extrapolate their customer’s measurements to create their unique fit profile, laser cut their order, hand assemble it, and ship the garments to the customer in just two weeks. In addition, the customer has access to our 60 Day Fit Guarantee which includes unlimited alterations, remakes, and they can even return it for a full refund.

Ray and I, as cousins, want to share as much of our journey as possible building Sene. We believe that custom clothing can be accessible to all people and it doesn’t have to be a complex, expensive process. To showcase the unique stories of entrepreneurs that we meet along the way of our journey, we have a series called “Cut Your Path” which highlights incredible stories of creators and builders that we come across in our daily life.

Our one-for-one model also contributes to protecting our planet as well. With inventory, many retailers struggle to sell through all of their products at the end of each season which results in lots of waste that ends up in landfills each year. We only produce clothing for customers that purchase it and we’re making progress towards using all recycled materials in our product as well.

Lastly, as immigrants in this country, we’ve been overlooked in many ways before. We’ve brought stories that have been overlooked into the limelight and we’ve hired an incredible team of people who come from a vast diversity of backgrounds and cultures. It’s been an honor to be able to work alongside our team members and we look forward to radically changing the fashion industry together.

Can you talk to us a bit about the role of luck?
I would say luck has always played some amount of role in our business, but I am a firm believer that our choices are about putting us in a position to be lucky.

Some things are completely lucky for me, such as my parents making the decision to immigrate. I have an older brother and if they had never been granted visas to come to the US, I may not exist today because of the One Child Policy in China. I was the first of my family’s lineage to be born in the States so I feel extremely fortunate for that.

In other ways, I do believe that my choices along the way put me in a position to be lucky. After I graduated, I made a conscious decision to pay down my loans quickly. The opportunity to start Sene came about only six months after paying down my loans. Had I not removed all my debt prior to starting Sene, I may not have ever been able to take the leap of faith.

At one point in the business, we had a retail store that was not performing well. It generated almost 90% of the revenue for the business, but I had made the conscious decision to shut it down and do 100% of our business online. Anything and everything could have gone wrong, but the business began to successfully scale online. However, had I not taken that risk to shut down our store, I would never have been lucky to begin with.

Luck is the result of chances created by opportunity.

Pricing:

  • $595 FlexTech Suit
  • $149 AirJeans

Contact Info:

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