Season 2, Episode 10

Growing a marketplace through perseverance - Trisha Bantigue (Queenly)

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About this episode

Sometimes, the story of the founder can be just as interesting as the story of the marketplace.

In the case of Trisha Bantigue, this is certainly the case. Trisha was born in the Philippines, raised by her grandparents, immigrated to the US at age 10, and paid her way through college by competing in pageants. 

Today, she is the CEO and co-founder of Queenly, a marketplace for formal dresses. Queenly is backed by prestigious investors such as YCombinator and Andreessen Horowitz.

Though Two-sided does not focus on founder stories, Trisha's journey is pivotal in the story of Queenly. The idea behind the platform comes from Trisha's own pageant experience. And marketplaces in their early stages need non-scalable tactics; in other words, perseverance. Trisha had that in plenty.

In the latest episode of Two-sided, Trisha shares with Sjoerd how Queenly got to where it is now: 

  • Launching the app and getting absolutely no traction for months.
  • The difficulty of estimating your own worth as a first-time founder.
  • The challenge of talking to investors in a way that makes them understand your vision and punctures their preconceptions.
  • How to deal with incredible setbacks, and turn them around for the better.

Overall, a truly inspiring story for all of the marketplace founders listening.

Resources mentioned in this episode

Queenly: https://queenly.com/

Trisha's keynote at Forbes 30 under 30: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7mPL4LSu8U


Transcript

Please note: The transcript is automated, meaning that there will be mistakes.

[00:00:00] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Hi Trisha, welcome to the podcast.

[00:00:02] Trisha Bantigue: Hello. Hi. Thanks so much for having me. Yeah,

[00:00:05] Sjoerd Handgraaf: thanks for taking the time, for coming on. I don't know how much you listen to the podcasts yourself, but what we usually do is try to set the stage a little bit like who's talking. There's a lot of advice, you know, out there in the world, and usually what people forget, sort of the context and which it is delivered.

So we always try to get a little bit to know about the person who's talking. So could you tell us a little bit about Trisha before Queen?

[00:00:26] Trisha Bantigue: Ooh, okay. Trisha, before Queenly. Let's see. I think Trisha, before Queenly has always dreamed for more, even though, you know, I came from a very low income immigrant background.

At the age of 10, I immigrated from the Philippines to Vegas, and then once I got into uc, Berkeley, that's when I moved to San Francisco Bay Area. To which then I studied political science, which is not what I am doing today. . Yeah, Yeah. But I think that's the beauty of it, right? Like you take on the journey to find yourself, and then I just got socked into tech because that's what happens when you live here.

I was able to work at Google, then Facebook, then Uber, right before starting Queenly. So that really opened my eyes to just the tech industry and I fell in love with it. And then I started Queen.

[00:01:13] Sjoerd Handgraaf: All right, Queenly, If I put it in a nutshell, it's a marketplace to buy dresses, right? Like vintage, new secondhand

[00:01:21] Trisha Bantigue: dresses.

Yes. So we've been trying to more so coin the term, like formal wear. I know it's a bit of a mouthful, but just because there's so many different things that technically are also not dresses such as like glamorous jumpsuits and this and that, or you know, ice skating, ballroom dancing, leotards stuff like.

[00:01:41] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Right. Yeah. Thanks for clearing that up. And then between, you know, political science, Google, Facebook, Uber, then you jumped into Queenly. Can you tell us a little bit about how did Idea came along? Like how did you come across that idea? Are you the one who came up with the idea? Because you have a co-founder, right?

Yes. Yes. So could you tell us a little bit about how did that idea come to you?

[00:02:00] Trisha Bantigue: Yeah, so as I mentioned earlier, I didn't have a lot of money growing up, and so a lot of things were not necessarily affordable or accessible to me. But you know, just like any other normal teenage girl living in the United States, I dreamed of having that Cinderella moment at prom or.

At my wedding and this and that, but formal wear is very, very expensive. It can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars. And then at the same time, I couldn't pay for my very, very expensive tuition at Berkeley. So I started Googling ways how to make money, and I saw I could donate my plasma, I could join these medical research studies that would give you, let's say, I've seen that $200 for your time.

Yeah. I took on a bunch of different jobs and one of the ways that I found was actually competing in pageants, and this one kind of threw me off because never in a million years that I think I would join a pageant, but I thought to myself, Okay, I don't do sports so I can't do anything else. Yeah, let me try to sell.

How hard can it be? Yeah, it was very, very hard, but it ended. Really breaking every stereotype that I had about the industry and frankly about the women there. But one thing was consistent was that the pain point of every single woman was finding the dress, affording the dress. Then what do you do with it after?

So I just started thinking, okay, like this not only happens in pageants, But it happens in prom, weddings, quinceaneras, galas, sorority formals, military balls, like anything. So I just started like itching inside of me that I wanted to create something. And I started bugging my now co-founder, my very good friend Kathy Zoe at Pinterest.

And I told her about the idea and she thought I was crazy.

[00:03:46] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Okay. So how did you get her over the crazy part? Like what was the initial pitch? Because you mentioned the, the pageantry background, like I don't know too much about that. Like I'm not from the us a lot of our audiences also not from the US so, So how big is that as an industry?

Like how many women participate in that sort of like nationally, Like what are we talking.

[00:04:04] Trisha Bantigue: Right. So when I started digging deeper into it, because I didn't even like know how much bigger it was, so pageants in the US are actually not the biggest around the world. I can even be bigger in like Venezuela, Columbia, Indonesia, Thailand, like.

they gather like gajillions of audiences, right? And we don't know this, but to them, this is similar to a sports competition event, right? There are fans, so in the US there are at least about a hundred thousand independently operating pageant events that occurs every year. And that's because there's different levels.

So there's local, state, national, then international. So similar to like Little League, Major league, right? And then there's gonna be age divisions. So Junior Teen, Miss Mrs. Senior. So that's why it does like multiply a lot more. But the, I did a crazier thing to convince her, which was I convinced her to join a pageant first before convincing her to be my co-founder.

All right. So she could see it, the industry firsthand.

[00:05:09] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Okay, so this is gonna be sort of my follow up question. Like, you've experienced that pain point yourself, like how did you sort of validate that? But actually maybe you can tell a little bit. I mean, you need to validate more by just dragging Kathy along to, uh, pageant.

So she's a technical co-founder, right?

[00:05:24] Trisha Bantigue: Yes, correct. So she did CS at UPenn and then she worked at, she was an early engineer at Venmo and also Pinterest. So she was very typical software engineer that doesn't do pageants. Yeah,

[00:05:38] Sjoerd Handgraaf: yeah. No, makes sense. Yeah, because what I'm getting at is that, like, one was sort of the, um, obviously I'm, I'm guessing you're talking a lot to other contestants, but what did you do sort of to validate the problem that you're like, Okay, yeah, this is really your business, you know, who's gonna buy it?

Like, validating your market and your basic idea. Did you, how did you go about.

[00:05:54] Trisha Bantigue: Yeah, so at first I was like, Okay, I think I need to look at if there's existing options, existing platforms that already cater to this market. Which one? It's very good that you see it, right? So I started seeing, you know, there's posts on Poshmark, Maari, let's say Craigslist, and then I saw a lot of Facebook group market.

That are specifically just for dress resale, There's even as specific as like Kentucky Derby dress resale. Right. Okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's very specific and there's hundreds of thousands of members and there are like a lot of activity every single day. So that validates that, okay, your problem, it exists, right?

And there is a need for it, but are these existing options satisfactory? Right. And I started seeing that there's a lot of scams. There were listings that were on there for more than two years on Poshmark. So liquidity was a problem and just like safety and security was just simply nonexistent for these customers.

So that's when I started to see like, okay, you know what? I think there needs to be a centralized and more safer platform. For this.

[00:07:05] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Yeah. Cool. Yeah, that makes total sense. I've heard similar story, like Facebook groups are a surprisingly good sort of birth ground for marketplace. This is not the first time in the podcast that I'm hearing this.

Right. Um, then what was your first version like? Like you already mentioned liquidity. I imagine that a lot of it goes over posts, maybe so, or over mail, so you're not too maybe concerned with constraining it locally, but what was sort of the very first market that you entered or the very first sort of attempt at getting.

[00:07:32] Trisha Bantigue: So we started working on it late 2018. So building nights and weekends. We were still working our corporate jobs and uh, we started with the iOS actually, and our web app was very, very basic. We had thought that, okay, most people have their photos on their mobile phones and not on the computer anymore, so it's a lot easier to be able to upload listings.

So our first goal was to gain supply. We launched in the app store around January, 2019 and it was very, very ugly. Yeah. A lot of things were wrong, but I think that's the point of, you know, your, your mvp, you're trying things out and like. You can't expect to launch and everything be perfect. And our first version, we specifically focused on power users, which are at that time pageant users because they're used to reselling, they have to, you know, buy a lot in one year.

And that's kind of like how we got the flywheel going.

[00:08:32] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Yeah. And how did you get those people on board? I mean, okay, the app is in the app store, of course. Yeah. But what did you use to get the first people to download the app?

[00:08:39] Trisha Bantigue: It's not very glamorous. It's me manually messaging a lot of people. And I was lucky enough that throughout my eight years of competing in pageants, I have built a good amount of, you know, network, different groups.

All over the US, like women that I would've never met otherwise. And you know, I was just trying to spread it, word of mouth, and I was like very, very open to feedback. I would always engage with them saying like, Hey, you know, we're here to make this better for you every single day. So anything that is broken, any feature you want, please communicate to me and we'll make it happen.

[00:09:14] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Yeah. At what point did you sort of take the next step, so you get your initial users on board, like power users. It was very much targeted at pageants, like you're saying, and now you're doing quite many other sort of categories as well. At what point did you feel like, okay, this is, you know, like, well actually coming back maybe to your corporate job.

At what point you're like, Oh, you know what, actually I'm gonna quit my job over this. Like what sort of convinced you, Was it like a transaction or like some kind of volume, or do you have some kind of milestone that made you decide like, Oh, actually not now, I'm for.

[00:09:43] Trisha Bantigue: Yeah, it was a combination of different positive green flags happening, you know, consecutively.

So we had our first transaction, I believe it was May 5th, 2019. So from January to May, we didn't have. , anything we regard to that as the dark ages of Queenly? Yeah, . Uh, that's when we were like, Should we give up? Is this like wanted, is this working? Luckily, we did have the safety net of our job still, right?

That summer we were accepted into this. Startup work Away Retreat by held by Wefunder, the company. And, uh, we applied, we got in, it was a free one week retreat in Hawaii, so of course we would apply. Yeah,

[00:10:29] Sjoerd Handgraaf: yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. If anything comes out of it, at least you're

[00:10:31] Trisha Bantigue: tanned. Right? Exactly. So they, uh, I think they accepted around 17 startup companies, founders and me and my co-founder went.

There were mentors there that had previously done startups. Uh, there were YC founders, so we had workshops, one on one mentorship and just like being able to learn from one another. And at that point we were already getting. Pretty like consistent transactions, maybe like two to five a day. And I know that doesn't sound like a lot, but it kept, you know, it was steadily increasing.

We got there and we found out that most of the other founders didn't even have a product, didn't have revenue. And I think as first time founders, you never really know what traction is. Good traction until you can compare it relatively. Yeah. And all of the mentors there were very impressed and we.

Shocked that they were impressed cuz we didn't think we had anything like big. And they said, You girls need to quit your corporate jobs today and start fundraising ASAP because you have more traction than we had when we When we got funded. Yeah. Yeah. So we were like, okay, you know what? I think this is a pretty good sign.

Yeah. And a couple months, like I think one to two months later, we both quit our jobs and went into it full.

[00:11:45] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Wow. Yeah, that is amazing because I was saying, like you were saying like, Oh, I know that doesn't sound much, but you know, like I work with early stage marketplace all the time, like two to five times a day like is pretty much killing it early on.

So that's really, yeah, really nice. Could we go a little bit back into the dark ages for a moment? Yes. So what did you figure out like during that time? Because like dark Ages is a very common like, uh, era that most marketplace founders go through, right? Like you put your first product out, you're sort of struggling with getting either supply or demand on board, or you get a bunch of things on board and.

You know, absolute crickets. Like how did you figure out what was the problem? Like how did you go through that process? Like how did you survive January to, to

[00:12:22] Trisha Bantigue: may? Ooh. That was actually, we were both really sad during that time. Yeah. I think there were two things, which, because I worked at Uber, I was able to understand more so this like two-sided marketplace of basically drivers and writers.

Right? And what I've learned from my then mentor, the CTO of Uber Fem was. It's always a balancing act. It's never like every single day it's different. This, today you might need more drivers. Tomorrow you might need more rider. Right? And basically trying to figure out that chicken and egg problem. And uh, for us, we realize that if you are shopping, no matter what you're shopping for, and you put a search term and your search results gives you like two, maybe three results, the chances, the likelihood of.

Clicking purchase is very, very low. Now, if we're able to produce. I don't even know, 30 to 40 options for you that gets higher. So we figured out, we were just like, we lack supply. So there was this magical like silver lining moment where we passed that boundary of we had enough supply to please one user, to produce one transaction.

And so we just have to keep building. Over and over again every single day. Like there's never enough supply, especially for fashion, cuz you know, women are very, uh, indecisive when it comes to shopping most of the time. The other one was that we kept listening to our users. I think that by the time that a user would get on and not experience.

Multiple crashes and have the feature that they wanted to make that purchase timeline shorter. That's when we were able to get that magical transaction.

[00:14:07] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Yeah. That's awesome. Yeah, Especially because supply is kind of like different per type of marketplace, but I can see that indeed with dresses, you want to have this, you know, because like coming back to your Uber experience, for example, Uber users generally don't care who's there.

Like you don't need to know how many cars are available, just like I need one. Right? But yes, but with fashion. But with fashion, of course you wanna be able to pick for more than two, like that. That makes sense. Yeah. Cool. So first transaction we've got. And getting the first people on board. What has been the biggest growth levers on supply sets?

So you mentioned you need, you know, you need more supply. Like at what point did you sort of go beyond your own network, like towards a channel where you were attracting people you didn't know Personally?

[00:14:46] Trisha Bantigue: Yeah, so supply is very tricky, like what you've mentioned with any type of marketplace, cuz it's, it's very different how sellers or suppliers react and act, right?

Yeah. For us, like I said, we started with power users who could upload at least five dresses. Right? Okay. Yeah. And that is sort of like the average we have today. And so I would say I did a lot of things such as me and my co-founder created basically a script to scrape plus mark listings and Facebook or marketplaces that would copy and paste like.

You know, we would comment saying like, Oh my goodness, like this dress is so beautiful. Like, have you ever tried listing it on Queenly? Like, we would always just like, name drop queenly and we would like, make it seem, we would make it seem like it was a genuine comment. Right. You know, this goes public, right.

Like, you know. Yeah. , I mean, I, I think other founders have done way shakier stuff. A hundred percent. A hundred percent. Yeah. So I'm owning up to it. Yeah. But yeah, and then I think that's, the word of mouth is really strong. Never underestimate that. And with the power of social media, whenever someone, if someone is really, really happy with a, you know, an experience through a platform, they will share about it.

Right. Especially if it's a brand that is very relatable and. Not complicated, I would say . Um, yeah, so posting it on social media. Other girls would ask about it and say like, Oh, like what is, what is Greenley? Like, what is this platform? So it just kind of garnered more, and especially because, you know, it's a free app.

It's a free platform. We don't charge anything to download to be on there or to list. Whereas, uh, predecessors of like, let's say marketplaces, they would charge listing fees. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And

[00:16:32] Sjoerd Handgraaf: yeah, yeah, that makes sense. Like I especially imagine like early days pageant trees, like a pretty tight community.

You see probably the same women over and over, you know, kind of who you can trust and not. So I can see that word of mouthing, like really happening. And what you said, like that's sort of, uh, you must know Lenny tki, right? Yes. Yeah. Yeah. So he mentioned in this very famous blog series on marketplaces, these different ways of growing the marketplace.

And this sort of, he calls it very nicely, like, Piggybacking on existing data, I believe, but that's really what you, what you're saying, right? Like where you sort of take pretty much , take data from somewhere and you try to sort of wrap it in your own platform or at least ride the supply from that existing platform.

Uh, that's awesome. Did you do anything in particular to motivate this word of mouth? So you mentioned like word of mouth, big sort of power loop for you. Like did you do anything to sort of incentivize that?

[00:17:21] Trisha Bantigue: Yes. So I would always check in every single time a seller has successfully sold something or a buyer has purchased something that they're happy with, and ask them about their experience and thank them for using queenly.

So we always focus on this very like, White glove customer service experience, right? We want it to be better than existing platforms and you know, you're supposed to do things that don't scale in the beginning anyways. And then, uh, I went incentivized them with a Starbucks gift card. Yeah. . And say if you post on social media, I'll give you $10 Starbucks gift card.

I mean, it may not be much, but for them to just make one post, you know, to get a pumpkin spice vanilla latte.

[00:18:03] Sjoerd Handgraaf: I was gonna say like know your target market. That's probably like, That's probably the one that really

[00:18:07] Trisha Bantigue: lends Yeah, exactly. And in the be like, that's when I started finding out. Queenly has attracted a lot of moms, a lot of moms that are power users, that have the purchasing power, that love Starbucks.

So , that's how I kind of like did it. That

makes

[00:18:23] Sjoerd Handgraaf: sense. Yeah. We talked about pageantry, pageantry dresses. Uh, you mentioned in the beginning you're doing like form, you sort of shifted to formal wear. Now. At what point did you think like, Oh, we're gonna step beyond this pageantry scene and product. What was the first one for example?

[00:18:38] Trisha Bantigue: So I think in the beginning, most investors didn't really understand that you are supposed to focus on a very small portion of the market in the beginning to not overcrowd yourself, right. Overwhelm your, your capabilities. But they were so stuck on like, Oh, they're only doing pageants. It's a niche, small market.

Even though I was pitching, we're gonna expand to every single formal where occasion event like. And so we tried really hard to make sure that by the end of the year as we were pitching for a precede round, we avoided the term pageant at all costs, cuz they just get tunnel visioned on it. Yeah. Yeah. So that's one motivator.

And then November, December, we knew that prompt season was coming in the US Actually, most people don't know this. Prom industry alone is a $4 billion market every single year. Yeah, that's crazy. . Every single year. And that's only like, I believe like 75% of that cost is the dress because it's expensive.

So December we started prepping because we started seeing activity online where. Teenage girls are shopping, looking for prom dresses, and this generation was, you know, obviously Gen Z. They're a lot more socially conscious about their purchases, so they're, they love sustainability. So that's when we were like, Okay, let's make this happen for prom.

And we started just ramping up December and January into getting the supply for prom and reaching out to more like high schoolers, high school influencers or slash content creators. That's kind of like how we started expanding into other markets.

[00:20:15] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Yeah. And so now you cover, because you also recently acquired a company, right?

Like you, because you were a relatively young company yourself. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

[00:20:25] Trisha Bantigue: Yeah. I did not expect to have an acquisition this early just because it, it that. Term of it was so intimidating and I didn't know anything about it, but the opportunity came on the table where we had a mutual investor that was connecting us.

Initially it was, I thought it was going to be for a partnership, but during the call, she let us know that she was putting it out for sale, right? Like she wanted to leave. She had some personal extenuating circumstances that prevented her from running the company any further. And because it was kind of.

She was now like disinterested. She just needed to take care of her family. We were able to get it for a very good price that a small company like us would be able to afford. And we knew. We knew that the Hispanic community in the United States is ever growing and quinceaneras are one of the biggest events that they spend a lot of money on.

And there's not a lot of platforms online or any apps or tech companies. Catered to them. And so we knew we, we needed to get it.

[00:21:28] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Yeah. What was the name of the company again? Cause I think we didn't

[00:21:30] Trisha Bantigue: mention that. Oh yes. The company is called NI Pad. Yeah. Which I believe is like my godfather. Okay. Yes. Yeah.

[00:21:38] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Okay. And so you suddenly just bought yourself a whole new category for the marketplace pretty much? Or were you serving that already before?

[00:21:44] Trisha Bantigue: We were, but we didn't have as much supply. Right. Okay. Because we didn't have that reach. And I think that was the main reason we wanted to acquire it because they had the reach, they had the branding, they had the community that we needed.

And you know, me and my co-founder, we don't have Hispanic heritage, so it was harder for us to kind of build that up within that community. Okay.

[00:22:04] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah. You've really like taking all the ways to really sort of kickstart supply, like of the menu, like acquiring supply piggy bags. Yeah.

Cool. Yeah, really cool. Then you'd mentioned a little bit about investors, like, so you were fundraising, did you say, end of 2019? Did I get that right or, Yes, that's correct. Yeah. Yeah. So who did you end up, uh, getting funding from or how, how did that go? Because you've had risk how many rounds?

[00:22:29] Trisha Bantigue: Oh, we've raised, I guess we're on our third one right now.

[00:22:33] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Yeah. So how was your experience fundraising? Because indeed, like it's a very sort of, you know, like you mentioned already that the VCE world is famously not particularly diverse, especially not like towards these type of products, so they're really skeptical. How was your experience with fundraising for Queenly?

[00:22:48] Trisha Bantigue: Yeah, so I would say, and I think a lot of your audience would agree that the precede round is definitely the toughest. This is because this is when you need to approve the most. And you know, with today's inflated market, they expect the most at the very early stages already. And my personal mistake was thinking I should go to big VC firms first because I was so overly ambitious that like, yeah, like we have a good product, we have good credentials, founder market fit, good traction.

We should be able to like pitch this. Well, that was not the case and I wasted a lot of time going to, you know, let's say like Banin or Greylock and et cetera. I was fortunate enough that I've been able to network quite effectively when I was at Uber. So our first checks in were the CTO of Uber, the chief product officer of Uber, and then from, you know, our mentors at.

The we funder trip, they were former founders. Oh, we also got the, our former bosses at the startup that Michael founder and I met at. So we met in 2014 as interns and we approached them saying, Hey, we started a company, ,

[00:24:03] Sjoerd Handgraaf: remember us? Yeah. Cool.

[00:24:04] Trisha Bantigue: Yeah. Remember us. I soon found out that like, okay, you know what?

At this stage it doesn't matter if I have a big name, I just need the money. I gotta build and I gotta just like prove ourselves. But one institutional VC came in at the very last minute and gave us our first institutional check, which is the house fund at uc. Berkeley. So God bless them. .

[00:24:25] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Yeah. Awesome.

Awesome. Is there anything in there, like you already mentioned like don't climb Bob the Hill and start from the biggest first. Like, is there anything else you feel like, uh, we would've been much more effecti. Like, uh, you mentioned the pageantry, uh, like dropping that from the pitch. Is there anything else you feel like, oh, you know, for people out there fundraising right now, like what did you wish, you know, you were a first time founder yourself.

What did you wish people told you in

[00:24:48] Trisha Bantigue: that process? Yeah, so I wish that I had learned earlier on, which would've saved me a lot of heartache over the process was that it's a numbers game. Especially, you know, your precede your seed. Don't get too focused on your, your dream VCs, your dream like investors to invest in you.

Because I did. I had a lot of these like famous female VCs whom I looked up their bios. I thought, okay, she does consumer marketplaces. She did this company. She would understand my market. And, you know, more than anyone else, I reached out to them and some I even had multiple warm intros to, and they all either said no right away, didn't even gimme one meeting, uh, ghosted me.

And you know what if I would've saved a lot more time if I just like took that as like, okay, you know what, let's move on to the next one There. Still more investors and yeah,

[00:25:47] Sjoerd Handgraaf: there's no personal thing here. Yeah. Just like next. Yep. Thank you. Next. That's great advice. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Because you have so much invested early on also in your thing that you're like, you know, it's like people telling your child is ugly or something like, like Yeah.

There's no way to, To get over it. Yeah. Cool, Cool. So now you have several funding rounds under your multiple categor. How do you maintain quality for a marketplace? Because like, of course, this is so important that you know that the quality of the supply is good, that that dress appears, uh, at the door in the shape it's in, that nobody's getting ripped off.

Like how do you maintain quality?

[00:26:21] Trisha Bantigue: Yeah, so this is very, very important, especially for a marketplace with high priced inventory, right? And for inventory that has a lot of emotion tied to the purchase, right? A wedding is very important to a person. Even their prom, let's just say the. So you can either make them really happy or really mad at you,

So we've built a lot of things. So we figured out that transparency is key in terms of making customers happy, because if you know exactly what you're getting before it gets there, Where's the complaint? Right? Like you knew exactly what you're getting. And a lot of people, you know, they know when you're going to resale that.

It's not brand new from Macy's or Nordstrom, right? But you get it at like, let's say 30 to 70% off its retail price. So that is the bargain. For us. One thing that we've implemented in the app is that anything under $500, we do a quality check via the app. It's basically providing proof photos right before shipment, so sellers are required to take real time proof photos before packaging it and shipping it out in order to prove the condition that it's in currently.

Instead of like uploading a picture from three years ago and then it comes out dirty like to the buyer. I got this idea from get around. Okay. That rental car, please. You guys are, Yeah, I know, I know. Yeah. It was like, well that makes sense. Before you get into car, you take a picture to prove that this damage was not yours or that it's there.

Yeah. Yeah. So that's what we did. Oh, love .

[00:27:49] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Yeah. Fantastic application of that idea. Cool. Yeah. So it works for justice. Yeah. Yeah. No, that makes total sense. Yeah. Awesome. And, and what else, like, is there, uh, insurance involved? For example, like, and I, I assume you have some form of escrow. I'd imagine like the money doesn't move until the, Do you have those kind of things in, in.

[00:28:07] Trisha Bantigue: Yes. So basically right now buyers are able to dispute the item up to three days. So let's say it came in the condition that it, like, you know, there's some missing gems or beads or it's not the right size, wrong color. So we give them three days after delivery to file a dispute claim or refund claim. And then, but if there's nothing wrong with it, they click accept in the app and then they write a review.

Very, very common. And then that's when we release the earnings to the seller. If that buyer fails to accept it within three days, it automatically gets accepted. Right. And then the seller gets the earnings.

[00:28:47] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Yeah. And so talking about earnings, how does Queen Lee monetize? What is your model like?

[00:28:52] Trisha Bantigue: Yeah. At the moment we take a 20% commission take rate off of every transaction.

And uh, I think this is very standard amongst like marketplaces, and we are in the process of changing it to a tiered commission structure where I'm just gonna make up numbers. Let's say $50 to 500 is 20%. 5 0 1 to 1500 is 23%. You know, something like that. Uh, we got this advice from the CEO and founder of the Real Reel, Julie Wainwright.

So she is our first and only official advisor, so she's, she's been a great advisor. I was

[00:29:31] Sjoerd Handgraaf: looking up a little bit about, or I was looking up quite a bit about Queen Lead. Yeah, there's many interesting stories there. One of them, I'd be really interested if you, if you don't mind speaking about that cuz I have a Grove background and for share rep also we do, the majority of our people come through organic.

You tell the story about a copyright troll that abused d MTA policy and just got 50% of your organic traffic like just, just killed. Like, could you just tell us about that? Because that sounds.

[00:29:59] Trisha Bantigue: Yes. Uh ooh. That was like super stressful for all of us here, like my whole team beginning of the year. And so, and what's even more annoying about it is that at the moment copyright law in the United States allow for this to happen to a lot of companies, right?

There's like this loophole. So around February, March, we started getting multiple emails from Google DMCA saying we violated something. And, you know, X, Y, and Z links were taken down, like they had to be automatically taken down until it's disputed. But when I say multiple, over 6,000 of our links were taken down and each one was like an individual listing, right?

So that hurt us a lot, especially when we've been trying to grow our SEO and our web traffic the best way possible. In the beginning, I kept reaching dead ends. We inquired with a couple of, uh, legal firms on this, including our own council, and a lot of them were like, you know, this is tricky because like, technically, like the law is made to to side with that copyright holder.

So basically this D M C A troll. He or she was representing these designers who had stocks, images that our users were using to upload. Right. And so our loophole was that there's a, you know, DMCA safe harbor where it's like, Hey, we didn't upload this. Our users did. And we'll give, you know, if you tell us which links we'll tell them to take it down.

Yeah. But they, you know, they had that. . Yeah. Um, which is, uh, and we did have that DMCA Safe harbor into our terms of service online, which they did not follow. , they just automatically reported us to Google and took it down. And so this is how the lawyer decided that like, Hey, I think we could fight this in a way where they're bad actors with intentionally, you know, harming your.

Yeah. Yeah. Because it did harm our business. Yeah, of course. Yeah. Cause if they had just reached out to us, we would be like, Hey, you know what? We'll take it down and our SEO wouldn't have been affected. But this took months and I had multiple people working on this. I had the end recent team working on this with us and we kept reaching like dead ends.

And it wasn't until I took things the matter into my own hands and I went on LinkedIn and I just like put in Google. Copyright counsel and I message every single one of them, letting them know our situation. Thankfully, miraculously one responded, she took me seriously, and she realized that like, Okay, yeah, we'll do like a mass dispute because the way that it's set up is that you have to individually submit.

per link. There's no way I would be able to submit, like, you know, that is like they're intentionally doing this. So, uh, what she did was she was able to do one for me. Like so one for all. We submitted our evidence and everything, they approved it. A couple weeks later, our links were back up. Thankfully she recognized that we were the type of business to get hit by this again, and they were able to white.

queenly.com from these trolls.

[00:33:00] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Oh, that's terrific. Yeah, man, because I was reading that and I just, I mean, I couldn't even imagine that that happening. It was so bad. . Yeah. And then similarly, I mean, like, well, let's try to end on a high later, but, but, uh, , how did Covid affect Queen? Because you started like sort of just on the, you know, like 2019, let's say, a year before.

I imagine that a lot of these things have to do with events. So were you impacted by

[00:33:24] Trisha Bantigue: Covid? Yes, of course. I think a lot of non covid companies, , let's just say were, were quite affected and for a couple of months we didn't know what to do, just like many other people. Luckily we had just raised our precede round of 500 K right beforehand, and we didn't overspend, we didn't hire.

engineers. We didn't have like a payroll. We didn't get an expensive office lease. We don't carry our own, like we don't carry the inventory. So you know, our overhead cost is very low. Yeah, that helps a lot. Yeah. So I said, Okay, you know what? We just have to weather the storm. We just have to get through this and our investors will understand that growth is very limited at this time.

But then I realized, okay, I think if we can't push demand, Because obviously there's a lockdown. Why don't we push for more supply? Let's create the largest supply of formal wear online that the US has ever seen. And I realized that, okay, a lot more women have more time at home cleaning out their closets.

Right. Being able to list it online, that's one. A lot more content creators were, you know, doing TikTok dances at home and like looking good and wearing dresses. And then, uh, lastly, I saw that a lot of the brick and mortar stores that carried, you know, dresses such as bridal shots, Prom dresses were getting hit similar to restaurants.

I found out that most of these stores, 99% of them, they're just so traditional, so old school that they're strictly offline, meaning they had no way of making revenue. So that's when they started reaching out to all of these small businesses and letting them know. Let us help you, you know, supplemental revenue to get you through Covid.

And if you like the service, you know, please continue working with us. And most of these mom-and-pop shops were ran by people that don't know tech people. They don't know what Shopify is, they don't know what a square POS is. So it really had to take from me to personally reach out to them, such as this woman, her name is Carol.

She's been running her store for 30 years in Alabama. And. She al she doesn't know right how this works, but we were able to get her through the pandemic by, by getting her some revenue online. So that's how we, uh, got through Covid.

[00:35:41] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Yeah, because that's why I sort of might ask my question with a little bit of doubt because I'm thinking like, Yeah.

On the one hand, of course, like a lot of your events. Where people would need these or being hit. But on the other hand, like especially fashion had like a huge, huge, like e-commerce, like boom kind of, and I can't imagine exactly like what you're describing that okay, you, you, you lose part of the market, but at least you suddenly get this market, which no longer goes to brick and mortar stores.

I wasn't sure like how, how it would pan out for you, but Yeah. But. Sounds like you really sort of hustled your way through this, like really, really impressive. Yeah. So what's next for Queenly? Like I've taken up a lot of your times, I just wanna know like what's the next step? So formal wear, what's next?

[00:36:18] Trisha Bantigue: Yeah, so I guess continuing on that effort that we did, Throughout C, we called that queenly partners. So it's pretty much an extension of queenly. So prior to that, we were just simply C to C or peer to peer model secondhand resale. Now we're bringing in businesses, right? So it's gonna be B to B to C, and now we're bringing in brand new inventory.

So I, I think this has happened with other marketplaces such. Goats and Stock X, right. Or grilled. And so we started learning more about that side of the business, right? The supplier side, like business supplier side. And I didn't know that. They were operating in the 1950s where they took inventory. Some of them took inventory by paper cash.

They didn't have like, uh, a robust POS or inventory system. It was just so bad. Like they relied on foot traffic. Right. And I realized this is an opportunity for us to help them and simultaneously grow our business as well by creating an inventory. System for them. That also provides day to day, like real time data analytics.

So what colors are being chosen? They didn't have that before, right? Like how are you able to track what people are like getting in store? What was being clicked? What was being saved? What was being sent to their friends? What kind of silhouette was getting popular? So we realized we really have this opportunity to create, I guess you would call it like a SaaS product for them.

Right. And, um, alongside it probably, you know, have some kind of like. , I don't even know, like financial products and POS product for them because you know, if at this point 2022 square clover and you know, any kind of POS didn't reach them yet, like that means they were not being catered to. So that's one.

I think we have an opportunity to provide more access to this inventory, which was previously off. Now we are, uh, trying to build, um, video uploading capabilities because that's what's popular, right? It just takes a lot of data storage. But you know what? It should be worth it. We are looking into, um, or we have already built our reverse image search feature.

We're just filing a patent for it right now. So I guess it's a bit like we can't launch it. But basically it's the capability of taking a photo of a dress that you found on Instagram or or Pinterest, uploading it onto queenly and us matching it with the exact same dress or very similar dresses that you can purchase right away.

Because a lot of women, you know, they don't know how to describe the technical terms for dresses. Yeah,

[00:39:06] Sjoerd Handgraaf: of course. That makes total sense. Sometimes

[00:39:08] Trisha Bantigue: a girl, um, let. 17 year old girl growing to prom. She sees Beyonce at the Met Gala and she says, I wanna look like that for prom. And but how do you search for it?

So that's what's next.

[00:39:19] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Oh, that's so great. Yeah. Super. Sounds really, sounds all super promising. Is there anything, if you would need to give like one piece advice to, to, to starting marketplace entrepreneurs, maybe especially into B to C, or these sort of like, let's say the less obvious marketplaces like yourself, what would you give this

[00:39:35] Trisha Bantigue: person?

I would say one, don't listen to naysayers when you know, they think that you're. , your market is too small, too niche. Because this was said to Airbnb, this was said to stock X. This was said to a lot of things, right? But as long as you are passionate and you know a lot about that, you know that product, that market, it's going to work for you just keep going because, you know, I think too often that a lot of people start marketplaces on, on markets that they don't know anything.

Right? And that's when you kind of reach that ends and that's when you can give up easily and that's when you limit yourself. But if you truly know this product, no matter what it is, I don't know if it's, if it's camping or I don't know, cooking marketplace, as long as you're very passionate about it, there is a market there.

[00:40:26] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Yeah. All right. That's terrific at advice, Tricia. Thanks a lot for your time and I wish you all the best with Queenly.

[00:40:33] Trisha Bantigue: Oh, thank you so much. I really appreciated this conversation, .

[00:40:36] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Thanks.

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