Dennis Liu is currently the Co-Founder and CEO of the online private sale website Touch of Modern, which showcases great design at affordable prices.
Dennis’s past companies include Skyara and RAVN. He was part of the first batch of companies to come out of i/o Ventures, a seed stage incubator.
Dennis began programming at the age of 12, and was an Operations Research and Financial Engineering major at Cornell University. After graduation, he worked in management consulting before starting his own company in San Francisco. Dennis has been a FoundersCard Member since 2012.
1. How do you define the eCommerce revolution?
Ecommerce 2.0 is all about delivering a unique experience. Amazon nailed fulfilling basic consumer needs – now it’s about fulfilling consumer wants. It’s about relating to the customer and knowing what they love ahead of time, curating the best products instead of having everything under the sun, and connecting people with similar tastes and interests and providing methods of self-expression.
2. Brands like Herman Miller and Knoll will always be staples of design, who are a couple up-and-coming designers to keep an eye out for?
3. How does TouchOfModern play a pivotal role?
We’re all about showcasing the best designs of our time. My company spends an exorbitant amount of time curating each sale event and hand selecting each product. Providing our customers with the absolute best quality and selection of products is part of our DNA and it’s what makes us stand out among our competitors. The brands that become featured on our website gain tremendous exposure to a community that values design and innovation and for many brands, we’ve become their top performing retail channel.
4. What was the best piece of advice you received when starting your company?
There’s a lot of really great advice these days. One that stuck with me is to continuously focus on growth, especially in the early stages of the company. Many entrepreneurs get caught up in product development, or they focus on things that don’t really matter like PR and blogging. What makes a company stand out is the growth curve consisting of either revenue or users. So entrepreneurs should spend most of their time figuring out how to accelerate growth in their company.
5. Where did your inspiration stem when curating the items for TouchOfModern?
My co-founders and I originally worked in Manhattan for a few years so that definitely shaped our taste into a more urban, minimalistic style. For inspiration, we looked at the working professional and imagined the types of products that they gravitate towards. James Bond also provided a nice visual representation of the type of person we’re catering to, as he represents the style, and persona of the idealized modern man.
6. What is the most important aspect of design when creating the look of a space?
Having a cohesive collection of pieces is the most important aspect. A collection typically has a theme that runs through all the items – whether that’s a certain aesthetic, color, or time period is up to you. Items and furniture don’t necessarily need to “match” but they should compliment each other. Colors shouldn’t be clashing, and materials should fit together.
7. What is the most fun part about your job?
I get to play with really cool products. We had a levitating lamp that came in one day (http://www.crealev.com/) and all of us just literally sat around and played with it for half an hour — that thing was super sexy. I also get to work with some amazing designers and it feels great to help them grow their business and promote their products.
8. What have you found to be the best way to gain support to become profitable so quickly?
Surround yourself with intelligent people and keep improving everyday. Also, for this business, we did two things early on that were invaluable. We figured out how to acquire users sustainably and we also tested the market before we launched to ensure that they liked what we were selling. Those two things allowed us to confidently scale the business knowing that we had something substantial.
9. How many days a month (or year) do you typically spend traveling?
I travel for a few days every two months or so. I used to travel all the time when I was in consulting, but now I have this slight fear of flying and dying so I don’t like to travel unless I really have to. Planes are these big giant things that somehow defy gravity and launch you 30,000 ft into the air at 500 mph… that’s just not normal to me.
10. Give us a little plug on what you are working on now or next.
We’re hiring like crazy right now – there’s not enough manpower to do all that we want to accomplish! In the future, expect to see more great designs and maybe even some partnerships with brands that we love. We’re definitely just getting started.
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