A Q&A with Monogram co-founder and CEO Leo Chen. The San Francisco–based company was founded in Spring of this year and just closed a $1.25 million Seed funding round. Investors include Quest Venture Partners.
SUB: Please describe Monogram and your value proposition.
Chen: We’re a shoppable magazine with daily curations by our editors. Basically our goal is to find the best fashion online every day for our users. Our focus is on quality over quantity so we have a small number of new collections every day that users can quickly browse through.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Chen: Anyone that’s fashion conscious and into contemporary and luxury designers and styles. We curate from Nordstrom, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Gilt, J.Crew, just to name a few. There’s a nice variety across a range of price points.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Chen: We’re at the intersection of tablet magazines and ecommerce. Magazines like Harper’s Bazaar, Lucky and InStyle are taking a similar approach which we’re fans of. There’re a few other apps in this space but no one is really dominant yet since the iPad is still relatively new.
SUB: What differentiates Monogram from the competition?
Chen: We’re really focused on professional curation and quality over quantity. I think most others in this space are more focused on social curation which can be hard for users to filter through the noise. My co-founder has years of retail merchandising experience, she’s started her own men’s apparel line and also teaches at FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising) so she understands this space well and has attracted great editors and partners to curate awesome products.
SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Chen: We started working on Monogram in May 2012. Prior to that we were just experimenting and trying to figure out what we wanted to do. All we knew was we wanted to do something involving the iPad and ecommerce.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Monogram? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Chen: I think the most important piece to the puzzle was our personal obsession with fashion. Sometimes even I can’t believe how many pairs of shoes I have, especially for a guy. We also looked at all the other ecommerce verticals and fashion has the highest margins, is the fastest growing ecommerce segment and is the only category where users browse products daily. If you buy some new shoes today, you’ll still be browsing shoes tomorrow, that doesn’t happen for electronics, travel, or other categories.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story behind it?
Chen: We want to create a personal and trusted brand. Personalization is a big piece we want to focus on as the product evolves, so the name ‘monogram’ came to me one evening in April. When I get a custom shirt tailored, I have the option to get my initials on the cuffs—that’s a monogram.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Chen: Figuring out what the right product to build is the hardest for almost every startup I believe. We had a lot of ideas and things we wanted to test, but ultimately we had to focus on one product and one approach, particularly for the first release. At the end of the day, it’s all based on gut instinct no matter how many users you talk to and how much research you do. And it’s tough to put all your chips on red but you have to. There are also many different versions of the ‘right product’; we had a long-term vision but we had to boil it down to what’s the right product for right now.
SUB: You just raised $400K in additional Seed funding. What are your plans for the funds?
Chen: Actually we raised $1.25 million total this round. The money will go towards recruiting and product development. Has anyone ever given a different answer to this question?
SUB: Why was this a particularly good time to raise more outside funding?
Chen: We went through 500 Startups over the Summer which allowed us to figure out what we wanted to build and crank out a prototype. Raising outside funding was an obvious next step for us post 500 Startups since we couldn’t afford to bootstrap this for too much longer.
SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Chen: Right now we’re mostly focused on growth and delivering a product users want. We make a commission on every sale generated through our app and have some ideas for others ways to monetize in the future.
SUB: What are your goals for Monogram over the next year or so?
Chen: Building a product users love.
Monogram – www.getmonogram.com