A Q&A with Combat Gent co-founder and CEO Vishaal Melwani. The Irvine, California-based startup, which is an ecommerce store focused on providing quality men’s clothing and accessories at affordable prices, closed a $1.8 million Seed funding round in late June. Investors include Tony Hsieh’s Vegas TechFund, MHS Capital, Naxuri Capital, Blazer Ventures and Berlin-based Point Nine Capital.
SUB: Please describe Combat Gent and your primary innovation.
Melwani: Combat Gent is an online clothing and accessory dealer for men who want to look their best.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Melwani: Our target market is urban gentlemen who want to look great but don’t have the cash to spend on expensive suits.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Melwani: There are some great players in the market like Frank & Oak and Bonobos, but we really feel that we understand this space the best. All of us on the team live our brand and have all had a need for Combat Gent at one point in our lives.
SUB: What differentiates Combat Gent from the competition?
Melwani: We grew up in fashion. Our families ran the West Coast Versace boutiques, so we know how to design, sew, and distribute product. While there might be other players out there, we have fashion and garment production in our DNA. We’ve taken the time to master the craft before monetizing our skills. We are proud of the fact that we don’t have to learn how to create quality product at the expense of our clients. We bring that skill to the table first and foremost.
SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Melwani: We founded Combat Gent in May 2012 after we won a pitch competition in San Francisco called ‘Ahead of the Fashion’ and joined the Fashion Tech Accelerator’s inaugural class.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea and the name? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Melwani: Combat Gent was born out of the recession. We knew a ton of guys coming out of college, or early in their professional lives, who were struggling to live the lives they wanted but needed a much bigger paycheck to support their lifestyles. The corporate pay structure had completely changed, and so did expectations. Guys could no longer get a work wardrobe that they were proud of at a price that worked for their lives. The vision became clear when we decided that we wanted to help our friends feel like bosses, without breaking the bank.
SUB: You recently raised $1.8 million in Seed funding. Why was this a particularly good time to raise funding?
Melwani: Mo, Scott, [co-founders Mo Melwani and Scott Raio]and I kept seeing our sales chart going up and to the right. We knew that if we wanted to meet the demand from our clients, we needed to focus on inventory management and SKU expansion. We were confident that we had garnered enough data to hit the funding trail and investors were responding. We had the sales and clients, the ‘good’ problem to have was the fact that we needed more.
SUB: Do you have plans to seek additional venture funding in the near future?
Melwani: We feel that we can do a lot with the round that we just raised, but we never say never. For now we are focused on growing this brand and making our customers happy.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Melwani: Proving that there was a market that was untapped. I think many were weary when we first launched a brand about the twenty-something male. We quickly proved that these guys needed assistance, and it wasn’t just a world that was owned by the many women’s ‘fast-fashion’ lines out there. Guys too cared about how they looked during the most developmental portions of their lives.
SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Melwani: Combat Gent has more than 72,000 active members and generates hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue each month. The online men’s shop has a low product-return rate of just four percent. We have more than 20,000 orders.
SUB: What are your goals for Combat Gent over the next year or so?
Melwani: We are looking to expand our product selection as well as looking down the line to our offline experience and reaching our consumer via multiple channels.
Combat Gent – www.combatgent.com