Brian Li: “Try to maintain positive cash flow”

This is always true regardless of the size of the business, but it can be easily ignored as the people who make decisions get farther away from actual customers when the business grows. I would recommend setting up an effective feedback loop to make sure you always know the problems from the customers. As part […]

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This is always true regardless of the size of the business, but it can be easily ignored as the people who make decisions get farther away from actual customers when the business grows. I would recommend setting up an effective feedback loop to make sure you always know the problems from the customers.

As part of our series about the 5 things you need to succeed in the fashion industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Li. Brian is the CEO & co-founder of ModeSens, the digital shopping assistant for fashion. He and Jing Leng, his co-founder, started ModeSens with the vision of empowering every shopper to be the center of the fashion experience. Powered by technology and a customer-centric belief, ModeSens strives to provide the most personalized, worry-free, and seamless shopper experience, so users can focus on the fashion and leave all logistics to ModeSens. Since founding ModeSens in 2015, Brian has grown the company into an international business and has secured partnerships with leading retailers and designers in the fashion industry such as Nordstrom, Farfetch, Net-A-Porter, and GUCCI. Fast forward to now, ModeSens is serving over 3 million shoppers each month and has evolved into a can’t-live-without service for the style-obsessed, and an ever-growing community where shoppers truly thrive.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I always knew I wanted to start my own business, so I decided to pursue a degree in computer science. It’s one of the easiest majors to turn an idea into a potential billion-dollar company without a high upfront investment.

After graduation, I worked as a software engineer at Microsoft and had been seeking the direction I wanted to pursue. After five years, I finally found an opportunity by watching my wife, Jing, shopping online. She’s a fashion personal shopper who helps her clients find products. As the product could be carried by many stores with different prices and availability, she used to spend hours trying to find a popular item and compare prices. This was extremely inefficient as everyone has to do the same thing again and again before making a purchase. It’s a perfect problem that can be solved by computer. So I started a side project to build a tool for her to track all of the products she wants to buy. This was the beginning of ModeSens.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The customer-centric vision of solving real customers’ needs in an efficient way is what makes ModeSens standing out from the crowd.

At ModeSens, our mission is to empower every customer to be the center of the fashion experience.

The experience should be about finding products customers love and expressing their personal style, not spending hours searching for size or finding the best price.

Driven by this belief, we strive to provide the most personalized, worry-free, and seamless shopping experience, so our customers can focus on the fashion and leave the logistics to us.

With ModeSens as their digital shopping assistant, our customers are free to shop the styles they love while saving time and money on every purchase.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Try to keep positive cash flow and avoid having your business depend on anyone except your customers.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We recently launched ModeSens Giveback Program to support schools and charities. For the local school that enabled this service, we allow the students’ parents to elect their children’s school as the charity to support. By doing this, for all parents shopping through ModeSens, we donate a portion of sales to the school they selected. This program is still in the early stages but we are excited about its potential. Any school or charity interested in this program is welcome to contact us at [email protected]

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?

There are many quotes that inspire me. One of my favorite quotes is “If You Can’t Handle Stress, You Won’t Manage Success”.

Starting, managing, and growing a business is stressful. There are always endless things that need your attention. There are times that you can only sleep a few hours at night or have to worry about the business not going in the right direction. Whenever I was in a moment like this, this quote helped me stay positive and continue to work hard. As it says in another quote, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger”.

Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?

I think 3D printing fashion products will be very exciting. Imagine you can purchase a design you like and print a piece of cloth or a bag at home. How convenient it will be. It will also reduce the waste caused by mass production in the fashion industry and lead to more sustainability in the fashion industry.

What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry”. Please share a story or example for each.

What’s needed to succeed would be very different according to the role business is playing in the fashion industry. As a tech startup in the fashion industry, I believe these are the top 5 things needed to succeed.

Find customer’s true needs to solve.

Some customer’s needs exist but may not be strong enough to build a business on. For example, we have features that allow customers to post their style in our community so they can link the product they bought to log their style and share it with others. This is a nice to have, but not a must-have feature. As a result, the utilization of this feature is low. In contrast, we do see that finding the products, looking for sizes, and comparing prices is a real need that customers have to do every time before making a purchase. This must-have need from customers has powered ModeSens’ growth since we were founded.

Build an efficient and scalable solution.

Whether the cost to serve customers grows linearly with the business is an important factor of how large you can scale a business. For example, to provide a personal shopping service, traditionally a shopping assistant or stylist has to manually look for products for his/her clients. But as there are hundreds of stores around the world and inventory keeps changing, there is a limited number of clients one can serve. Hence, the cost will grow linearly with the number of clients to serve. At ModeSens, we try to build a digital solution with the technology to meet this need. For every product, we aggregate all the information about a single product page. It allows our customers to find all stores carrying a product at what prices and sizes in seconds. Powered by our technology, the cost for us to serve 100 customers is pretty much the same as serving millions of customers around the world. With ModeSens, everyone in the world can have their digital shopping assistant for fashion.


This is always true regardless of the size of the business, but it can be easily ignored as the people who make decisions get farther away from actual customers when the business grows. I would recommend setting up an effective feedback loop to make sure you always know the problems from the customers. One example is what we do at ModeSens. My co-founder, Jing, our fashion director, shops with ModeSens every day and provides great feedback on how the experience could be improved for her as a customer. Another example is the user interviews we conduct regularly to collect feedback from our customers. All the feedback and suggestions will circle back to me to make sure we are solving problems for our customers.

Balance thinking and doing.

Some people think too much before they take action. It’s good to think something through, but be sure you don’t overthink it. Action and testing will provide great feedback to help you think better. Similarly, not enough thinking is also very dangerous and can end up wasting time and money. I recommend the lean startup method to make sure you spend the time wisely on thinking and doing so you can make progress toward your goal.

Try to maintain positive cash flow.

This is very important to the sustainability of a business. You can grow your business much faster through burning cash. But if you don’t actually find customers paying for your product or service, the growth you purchased won’t last. In addition, when a pandemic like COVID-19 happens, cash surplus from previous positive cash flow is important to keep the business alive.

Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?

The improvement I wish to see in the fashion industry is to make it easier to match the demand and supply. On one hand, customers may have trouble finding the product they want to buy and can feel very frustrated. On the other hand, the stores carrying the products have very limited ways to let the customer know what they have. This is exactly what ModeSens aims to solve. As the digital shopping assistant, ModeSens vision is to provide a new, personal, and efficient shopping experience better-connecting customers’ demand with store supply. After finding something they like, customers just need to tell ModeSens what they want and how much they would like to pay. ModeSens will locate the product from hundreds of stores online and offline, decide the best retailer match based on customers’ preferences, order for customers, and even help customers with their return needs.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Eco friendly and vegan. With the technology we have nowadays, we can make great products without sacrificing lives or the planet. Influencers have become a mainstay of the fashion industry and this is one area of the business where they can influence the masses. From sharing sustainable brands to reselling their clothing and accessories, they can make an impact on the industry and create a better tomorrow.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I am not active on social media. My only exposure is through my co-founder and our fashion director Jing’s social channels. Her channels are much more fun to follow:

IG and Youtube: @jinglengstyle

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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