Hustle like a girl — How I raised a $1.7M pre-seed led by Sequoia & South Park Commons to transform retail

Selene Cruz
Oct 2, 2018 · 5 min read
Hey, nice bag!

I’m thrilled to announce I’ve raised $1.7M in pre-seed funding co-led by Sequoia and South Park Commons. My new company Re:store helps D2C brands with turnkey shelf space and co-working. As a Latina, solo founder in retail, I never imagined I’d be a funded tech founder in Silicon Valley.

started my first business when I was in middle school. My dad was an antique refinisher and when clients would ask to upholster their old couches, I would beg him to let me keep the fabrics. I instinctively saw an opportunity to repurpose them. I learned how to stitch together my first tote bags and began selling them to classmates. Business was so good that I dealt with my first taste of regulations — the school brought my parents in, forcing me to close shop.

There was something about starting businesses that felt natural to me — finding a product that someone would love, figuring out how to make it, telling the story behind it, and turning a profit. In high school, I continued to start retail side hustles, everything from selling custom jewelry to launching a Myspace ‘shop’ called ‘My Goodies’ that turned band t-shirts into badass dresses (thanks Cro-mags).

At Penn, I took it a step further and launched Archer Brighton — my own leather goods brand. Over the past four years, I’ve brought over 80 styles to market while running a profitable business with six-figure revenues (and we’re still kicking it!).

However, behind the curtain I was struggling to break out of pure hustle mode. I still had my inventory at home, I still ran to the post office every day to get shipments out, and I still needed to keep up with customers. The majority of D2C brands are started by women and un-ironically called ‘lifestyle brands’ — but there’s nothing casual about this. I couldn’t afford help to grow sales and it was all extremely lonely.

Customers would constantly write to me asking where they could touch/feel/try my products, so I thought a physical store could help grow Archer Brighton. It turned out to be a grueling, expensive search. I became fed up and instead turned my ground-floor apartment into a showroom. I really enjoyed meeting customers and seeing them engage with my brand in real life. I began to invite entrepreneurs of other brands to work from there too. We shared tips and tricks, making all of us better. This experience inspired Re:store — to bring together curated D2C brands into a beautiful retail store + co-working community.

Startup girls. Credit: Senja Larsen

had to fundraise for Re:store. I turned to the internet for advice and discovered the key to success was ‘getting an intro from your dad’s best friend’, ‘be a guy in VR’ or ‘start with a small loan of $1M’. Less than 1% of all seed investments go to Latinas — it looked like being a funded Latina founder was a unicorn on its own.

I was going to win through hustle. For several months, I resolved to safe-proof the concept as much as I could. I made a mock prototype, built a credible website and social media profiles, and grew a waitlist of 500 brands that were interested. I jumped on the phone with all my first brands to make sure I was creating a product they would love and got signed LOIs. Lastly, I toured and picked our ‘first location’.

I was ready to fundraise! I cold-emailed. I went to pitching events. I contacted every single person I’d ever met. Radio silence.

Felicia Curcuru, Founder/CEO of Binti & co-founder of FFOH.

big break came from All Raise and Female Founder Office Hours (FFOH). FFOH is a mentoring program that helps female founders prep for fundraising — including helping with decks, refining pitches, and 1:1 office hours with an experienced female founder or VC. I met Sequoia Partner and FFOH co-founder Jess Lee at their first event and picked up fundraising tips. I made new founder friends, including a brand that will be joining our first location (^_^). I applied for a FFOH 1:1 and got matched with Audrey Gelman, CEO/Founder of the Wing. Audrey understood my industry well and was able to not only help with fundraising/branding tips but made key real estate connections. Felicia Curcuru, co-founder of FFOH & CEO/Founder of Binti (a complete powerhouse), helped me refine my pitch and shared my deck with the FFOH deal flow network.

FFOH’s VC Q&A.

Through FFOH, I received 41 intros and secured 32 meetings from top-tier investors, including Jess Lee at Sequoia. The round moved so quickly that in under six weeks, we were oversubscribed at $1.7M with half of the round coming directly from FFOH.

Thanks to FFOH, great investors came in early: Charlotte Hill and Louis Eisenberg, Jana Messerschmidt of #ANGELS, Todd Jackson of First Round, Mandela Dixon of FounderGym, Ruchika Julapalli of SKUIQ and Ron Bouganim of Govtech Fund. Mentors from FFOH became angels too — Felicia Curcuru, Jessica Mah of Xfactor & CEO of Indinero and Mada Seghete of Branch.

This early traction helped me close strong with more big names. Sequoia and Ruchi Sanghvi of South Park Commons led the round, with Evan Tana & AJ Solimine of 122 West + other strategic angels finishing. Yes I am a solo founder, a Latina, and in retail. You can do this!

My two leading investors are women, 1 in 3 investors on my cap table are female, and FFOH is an empowering ongoing partner. It is hard to raise capital as a woman, but big #moneymoves are happening.

Re:store’s new team!

hat’s the next phase for Re:store? We’ll be launching our first retail store + co-working space in Union Square with 60 amazing D2C brands. Check out our Instagram @visitrestore to see who they are. Also, see behind the scenes footage as we prep for launch on our YouTube channel.

Brands: We’d love to discover more D2C brands interested in joining us to sell and/or cowork. Sign up here: https://join-restore.com/brands

I’m excited to build the next legendary startup. Will you join me? We’re hiring for Head of Ops & Engineering! You can see jobs here.

Let’s do this. ❤

Selene Cruz

Written by

Founder @Restore, prev. at Archer Brighton