Cloudflare TV

💡 Founder Spotlight: Ramin Ahmari

Presented by Ramin Ahmari, Fallon Blossom
Originally aired on 

This week is Cloudflare's Founder Spotlight on Cloudflare TV, featuring dozens entrepreneurs from across the tech industry and beyond!

This session features Ramin Ahmari, co-founder & CEO of FINESSE. FINESSE is Zara meets Netflix — a vertically integrated fashion house leveraging AI on big data & community feedback to predict trends, forecast demand, and optimize distribution, producing hit sell-outs every time in record time and eliminating the guesswork and overproduction inherent to fashion today. Founded straight out of Stanford and backed by top investors across deep tech & consumer — including Lux Capital, MaC Ventures & the Sequoia Scout Fund — FINESSE is creating the new age of fashion.

Ramin holds a BS and MS in Computer Science from Stanford University where he specialized in Artificial Intelligence. Prior to founding FINESSE, Ramin spent time in industry across Morgan Stanley, Two Sigma, BlackRock and Curology and conducted research under Nobel Prize Winner Thomas Sudhof, GordonBell Prize winner Ron Dror and ACM Fellow James Landay.

Visit the Founder Spotlight hub to find the rest of these featured conversations — and tune in all week for more!

English
Founder Spotlight

Transcript (Beta)

Hi, everyone, and welcome to another segment on Cloudflare TV's Founder Spotlight.

My name is Fallon Blossom. I'm the Senior Strategic Program Manager on the Cloudflare TV team, usually on behind the scenes, but today we're hosting.

And the whole entire plan of this week is to spotlight and talk about stories of founders.

So I'm here today with another founder. Would you like to introduce yourself and tell the folks more about what you do?

Yeah, and thanks so much for having me.

My name is Ramin Ahmari. I'm the founder of Finesse, and I guess I can just give a quick little overview of what Finesse does.

The way you think of Finesse, we always like to say it's Netflix.

So what that means is fashion, super unsustainable, overproduction everywhere.

No one really knows what to produce, when to produce, how much to produce.

So you have all these fashion companies producing thousands and thousands of items that never really sell.

At the same time, you have data online on social media.

We all do it, telling us what we should be producing.

People out there saying, where can I get this from? Love your fit, fire outfit.

So inefficiency on one side, data on the other side.

They go really well hand in hand, and that's really what Finesse is about, using that data to answer the question of what we should be producing, what's trending right now, what's hot.

And yeah, AI and the collective consciousness is our designer.

So we're an AI led fashion house. Okay, so tell me more about that.

What is the relationship like between tech and fashion, and how do they inform each other?

How does it help you solve these problems? Yeah, so fashion has been a very slow industry for decades now.

Technological innovation is really something that you think of when you think of the fashion industry.

And consequently, nothing really has changed.

It's always the same operational paradigm that fashion has been employing over and over again, which is a new fashion house pops up, particularly mass fashion, affordable fashion.

And the only difference is that it's 5% faster or 5% more efficient, but the underlying current never really changes.

That's always the same thing of produce more, so it's cheaper and faster. But what happens when you kind of take away the foundation of fashion and rethink how fashion is being done from the ground up.

And with us, that starts with the designer.

The designer has kind of evolved over the last year. It's become more and more a research position rather than a creative position.

It's really going online, looking at all these different magazines, and particularly social media, and trying to figure out what is it that people really want.

There is no such notion of a creative that is kissed by the news and suddenly comes up with collections that thousands and millions of people rave about.

Even high fashion companies do their research and look at trends, look at what has been popping up over the last couple of years, particularly also led by people in the industry that people flock to.

So Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, all those people that we always follow for trend advice.

So what happens when you suddenly create an army of millions of designers, basically, that can look at data at a much more accurate and much more holistic view, really trying to decipher what's trending and what isn't trending.

The result of that is an industry shift that can create fashion, not with the idea of overproduction, where it's like, we know we don't really know what to produce, so let's just produce everything, hope that something sells.

And when it sells, let's recut it a thousand times so we can sell more.

But taking a predictive step, let's only produce the things that we are going to recut.

Let's, even better yet, create those quantities right away so we don't have to sit there and create transportation costs, sampling costs, and all the stuff that is related to that.

So it's really shifting the idea of a designer to a much more technological idea and to a much more efficient, kind of broadly-based notion of data-centric design.

Now, is that where the voting comes in?

Because I was kind of, I may or may not have been doing a little shopping in preparation for this talk, and I noticed that on your website, you can kind of heart things and vote on things.

So is that why you kind of built in that level of engagement to kind of inform whatever decisions you make about what you produce?

Yeah, absolutely.

I think the big thing that we want to do, right, is we don't want to be arrogant about our designs, which I think is a big issue that fashion has, right?

Thinking that you know what people want. So not only do we look at indirect feedback first, which is the kind of language that we decipher that you leave naturally online, but then also we give you another opportunity to then also tell us what is the final thing you want us to produce.

Like, what's better than direct consumer feedback, right?

What's better than asking the consumer, hey, so we saw you like all of these things, but which one do you actually want us to produce?

And so you see that in the first iteration now with our voting system, but there's so much more that you can do with it, like a recommendation system that creates your own store where you only see the pieces that you like, getting hyper -tailored to you.

So it really is an interesting idea of taking that conversation, not only making our decisions, but then taking them back to the customer and then really listening to their feedback and only ever making decisions if we feel confident enough that the consumer actually wants it.

We always like to say, produce only what is wanted, and so the more checks we can do in order to get there, the better.

No, no, that's actually super smart. And does that have anything to do with like how you name things?

I know as we were getting ready to talk on the call, I was looking at the Tanya outfit that you have.

I'm like, is this inspired by Megan Thee Stallion?

I'm reading this. So tell me more about the naming process.

Yeah, there's a lot of pop culture references that we pull, but as we talked about earlier, there's not really like a sense behind, you know, like the data connection to our pieces.

What we really like to see is when we see data trending, like what's the kind of feeling that the piece evokes?

Like, is it a Tanya?

Is it an Eleonora? Is it a Megan, right? And so that's really just the creative team going crazy, but it does speak a little bit to deeper levels of what we mean or what we want to stand for as a brand, which is, you know, we don't have gender.

We will never have gender. We think gender is a construct, and especially Gen Z is so amazing to like break these constructs all the time.

And so who do you want to be today?

Do you want to be a Tanya? Be a Tanya. Do you want to be an Eleonora?

Be an Eleonora. And so we always liked kind of giving these little names to the feelings that we try to encapsulate with the drops, just so that we can give people the opportunity to be whoever the hell they want to be that day.

And we hope that that's kind of reflected a little bit in that. Oh, I love that.

Okay, so I'm gonna go ahead and submit my name for your next outfit. Makeup Allen.

I would buy it. I would sell it. I love that. We'll definitely peep the next collection.

Yeah, I'm like, if you have been watching Cloudflare TV over the past year, you have seen my hair journey.

My hair has been every color of the rainbow.

So I'm all about switching it up. I love that. I'm actually known to like, I oscillate between my regular hair color and silver.

So you might see me in silver hair every now and then.

Oh, no, I have peeped your Instagram. You are very fashionable.

That red fur coat or faux fur moment you had. It's my favorite piece in my closet.

So let's talk a little bit about like the business, right?

So now that we kind of have a good understanding of like the problem you're trying to solve, what you're trying to do, how you're trying to innovate using leveraging tech and fashion.

How far along are you on the startup adventure? Like tell me more about the story of the company, the idea, you know, what phase you're in.

Yeah, so we actually launched not too long ago.

It's almost marking our one year since launch. We launched officially in January.

There's a lot of work that went into the business beforehand.

We were stealth for a while after we did a bunch of smaller drops to kind of test out our hypothesis ahead of the race.

And so after that, we've hired a team.

You know, the interesting thing about us is that we're really made up like a technology company rather than a DTC or, you know, consumer company.

So it's an interesting kind of mix, the technological talent that we have is quite sophisticated, kind of like the talent that you would see at Sigma or like at Hedge Funds, which is where I used to spend time on.

And then everyone has kind of like this mindset of process improvement, which is a little bit of a departure, I think, from how a typical fashion company, again, is set up in hierarchical structures more than anything.

So it took some time to really set the foundations, also negotiate with manufacturers.

Our timelines are extremely quick.

We always like to say that we are the first real instance of real time fashion rather than fast fashion, because fast fashion timelines still lag behind.

They're like five to six months production timelines really from inception to finished product.

For us, it takes 25 days. So we're very, very quick and we have to find the right partners for that as well.

So lots of preparation then launched.

And yeah, we had some exciting growth these last couple of months. We've had like 102% month over month growth rate.

So it's been exciting. And now we're trying to keep up with the scale a little bit.

And we're currently in the process of switching warehouses and logistics and all that kind of stuff.

But it's exciting to see pieces go viral and people really going out there to get pieces, like to sell out our preorders and all that kind of stuff.

So it's been an exciting journey.

That sounds amazing. So, I mean, I know you're still kind of new in your journey, but have you noticed that you've had to make any adjustments this past year, either personally or for the business?

Have you had to shift to, again, accommodate any other factors like this whole pandemic thing?

Yeah. I mean, I think as a startup, you kind of always have to shift.

And particularly as a, I think, slightly younger founder than usual, like there's so much that I'm learning and I'm kind of maturing as I'm going through this whole thing.

So personally, tons of things, I wouldn't even know where to start.

I think when it comes to the business, I think there's value in the fact that we were born during the pandemic.

I think it makes us significantly more resilient because we have to kind of deal with this idea that, whoa, stuff is always changing.

What's going to be the situation in a couple of months?

I mean, just recently, if you've been following kind of the congestion issues and energy issues in China, that's been a real big hurdle for us because we produce in China and everyone is kind of struggling to have energy enough to even continue their regular operations.

So it's very hard to kind of keep very quick and trim down timelines alive during that time.

But it just always requires planning. And I think emerging out of that state of pandemic makes the situation significantly easier to handle because you're always just kind of like on your guard, always something around the corner.

So I think it makes us more resilient as a business.

And I think it makes any business more resilient to have gone through that period of global pandemic, which doesn't happen that often.

We hope it doesn't happen ever again. I mean, Cloudflare TV is one of those things too.

And I would totally agree with you on the resiliency piece.

Again, we had a minor little hiccup before we went live and yet here we are.

It's not good, but doesn't clearly makes you stronger, right? So tell me more about your work culture, right?

Again, it seems like you're resilient, seems like you're flexible, seems like you're pushing the bounds of innovation in this space.

So what kind of a culture have you built to support that? Yeah, I think it's very interesting because I come from a financial culture.

So I'm a trained computer scientist, but before I started Finesse, I've always worked in the financial industry and the financial industry is kind of known for its like cutthroat, like get shit done kind of culture.

And also obviously for its really harsh culture.

So there were always kind of like things that I really admired about this cultural mindset, but also things that I thought were just super, super non -sustainable.

There's very little freedom to be who you want to be. I mean, down to the dress code, I hated wearing suits.

I mean, as you can imagine. So there's good pieces that we took from that.

And I would say the one thing is absolute meritocracy. So really, if you're good, you're good.

We kind of like have this up or out policy that you oftentimes hear with McKinsey, which is like, you know, we want to make sure that you grow within the firm and set you up to be able to grow within the firm.

But it's also kind of a two-way street.

So really kind of like pushing everyone to like go to the next ladder and like really outdo themselves over and over again.

So that's a good part of our culture.

But then the other part of the culture is also this creative culture, right?

We are a creative business, like be whoever the hell you want to be.

Come up with the craziest ideas that you might have. Usually, like if we don't aim for the stars, we'll never even know if we can reach them.

We'll never even end up in the sky. So we definitely want to encourage also this kind of crazy thinking outside of the box thinking.

And it's interesting to kind of like have meritocracy and almost unbounded creativity at the same level because they almost contradict each other because something really needs structure and the other thing really doesn't thrive under structure.

So we try to enable that through like events and like just having times where we can come together and just talk more broadly about larger ideas and really just pushing the boundaries and like one-on-ones and being like devil's advocate on each other.

And yeah, so I think it's a mixture of creativity and meritocracy.

That's so interesting.

Did like a story or an anecdote kind of come to mind that would actually like show that?

Because I think I get it, but I want to make sure I get it. Yeah, I think so.

Regarding the creativity, I think one thing I remember I was at a dinner with the then marketing team and we were talking back and forth on like ideas that we've had.

And we were just like, you know, like let's really think outside of the box.

Like it's really push this because like, you know, the first ideas marketing is pretty much like a playbook game if you want to follow it.

But then we were like, okay, like let's really push this.

Like what could we do more?

And we really kept on pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing until we came up with this idea that we're working on.

And in an iteration of it, which was like, why don't we just create like a big ice block in the middle of Central Park and just put one of our outfits in the middle with a bag of cash of thousand dollars, $10,000.

And people will just have to like ice pick their way into the middle to get that bag of cash.

That would be an amazing activation. It's like so many impressions that we would generate.

And so it's like ideas like this, that like we really like to push ourselves towards.

And then one of those ideas eventually will stick and we will start planning it out.

But we really like to push that far.

And so I think it's important to do that. And the same thing when it comes to engineering, right?

It's a completely different conversational tone, but a lot of what we do is setting the fundamental strategies of what our tech strategies or our quant strategies even work off of, right?

You can think of it as like at a quant hedge fund, right?

You first have to have the formulas that you, like the mathematical foundations that you then turn into quant strategies, right?

Like the ratios and all those kinds of things. And so all of that stuff we have to do.

And so a lot of the times we really push ourselves to say, okay, like what other sources are there or what aspect of the source are we really not looking at?

And so we like use the platform over and over again and really like, kind of like drive ourselves insane, trying to figure out like, what is it that we're not seeing?

And then really push ourselves to think about it creatively. And so some of our best features or best plans for the next futures are extremely creative kind of workarounds that you wouldn't necessarily think of at first when you think about creating a metric, which oftentimes is just like simple mathematical manipulation rather than like a roundabout way to create a kind of proximal idea of like a feature, like something like purchasing sentiment and what that could mean.

So I think it's kind of reflected on both sides, like this idea of like really pushing very, very, very hard to get ourselves out of our comfort zones.

Oh, I love that. And I mean, are you going to do the dice cube thing? Maybe, maybe not.

You'll see. You'll definitely see something crazy in the next couple of months.

So you'll see. Now I wish I still lived in New York. There may or may not be some cash in the square.

So one thing that I noticed when I was getting ready to talk to you is that either you have a board or your C-suite is very diverse.

And so I'm curious, like why is diversity important to you, not only related to the fashion and tech industry, but like how you run your business?

How does it kind of show up in your solution?

How does it show up in your work? Yeah. So our board is entirely people of color and I'm quite proud of that.

I'm a person of color myself.

I'm like a gender non-binary queer German with Persian parents that like, you know, kind of like lived all over the globe.

So I think personally, to me, it was obviously important.

There's a whole story that we could get into, which is, you know, raising in an environment that is predominantly white and male and cis, like raising money, being a venture capital, capital backed startup, whole situation and conversation around itself and how that, how having people who identify with you make that whole journey significantly easier.

So that's number one.

Number two is the product that we're creating is a minority based product. And what I mean with that is not that it's not mass, not a mass product or doesn't have mass market appeal, but Gen Z particularly has changed its entire persona to either be of a certain diverse stance or to be strongly supportive of those diversity initiatives.

And so I personally am obviously super happy because that makes life for people like me significantly easier.

But I also think to be a consumer brand of tomorrow, to be any, like touch any consumer in any way, you really have to double down on those notions and be true behind them.

And I don't think you can do that without a team that reflects that.

How on earth are you going to create a product for, for example, women, if like you have no women at the company, it makes no sense.

And so we're very proud to say that our company is mostly diverse. We have a majority of femme or women at the company as well, which I'm very proud of as well.

I think the industry just needs to change and there is no way you can create change at the company level.

If there's, if there's no diverse personnel behind it, it's just impossible.

Like you don't have the experiences and that's not something you can just pick up and learn and book about.

Yeah. It's the idea of walking the talk, right?

I mean, I used to run an ERG here and we work with the ERGs here at Cloudflare all the time.

And a lot of times like the platitudes and all that stuff looks good on paper.

That's what I say. It looks good on paper, but like, what are you actually doing every day?

How does it show up in your decisions that you're making?

And it's like the representation plus that seat at the table, like the equity piece that I think is super important.

I love, love that you're doing that.

Yeah. And I think particularly fashion and the beauty industry have really issues to do this because they're still run by mostly cisgender white men and like to pretend that they are driven by women when that's just not the case.

And I think that's such an issue. It really bothered me. It really also always led to these representations of beauty and fashion that really hurt the stereotypes that we put out there, like the notions of people who identifies anything but cisgender and white.

Like I remember when I used to look at all these beautiful campaigns from Zara and Jean Paul Gaultier and like all these, like, you know, that perfume ad with a sailor, which was like the epitome of like toxic masculinity.

It's crazy. Cause I would look up to these things and I would be like, whoa, like these are these notions of beauty, right?

Again, this industry breeds the notions of beauty and aesthetic standards.

And I would just never see myself represented.

And so I think when you have that experience and then you create a product, it just really opens your eyes to like, whoa, I might be overlooking something here.

Cause oftentimes these things aren't done maliciously.

Like these standards aren't set because you're like, oh, like I think this needs to be the standard of beauty because all else is worthless.

It's just, people don't think about it.

And we obviously right away think about it. Cause we're like, well, that doesn't look like me again.

And so I think it has been kind of reflected as well in the models that we choose.

I think part of the reason that we are such a diverse team has led us to implement plus sizes above, you know, regular extended sizing above extra large, all the way up to three X six months after we've launched.

And that was very, very tough, but we really wanted to make it work because we just felt like we're not doing something right here.

Like there's something that we're seeing here that people are also telling us that resonates with something that we didn't see when we were younger.

And so we were like, we just have to make that work.

And so ever since then, all of our collections drop all the way up to three X and it's one of our biggest revenue sources as well.

So it really makes sense.

It makes financial sense to be a diverse company. And I can only, I can only stress that, um, ever so often.

Well, yeah. Why make your user base small?

Like literally the math ain't math. And as I like to say, yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

100% agree. Well, so yeah, let's actually let's, let's pivot and talk more about you.

Cause I mean, I've, I have this personal belief that people are the sum of their collective experiences.

So like what experiences in your personal life took you from being a person in the world, working in finance to building something like Finesse.

Yeah. I think again, very interesting. Um, I was always very much on the science track.

Um, I almost went into a fun fact. I actually did go to med school, um, for a couple of years before I did this.

I was very, very, very sciencey. And I think part of that was again, these notions that are put upon you, right?

You're male and you're doing well in school.

You most likely should be going down into science.

And then you put in nationalistic pressures, like being Persian.

And like, there's this like whole saying that like Persians either become doctors, um, lawyers or engineers.

And so it's, there's like all these pressures that like kind of cloud what you really want to do.

But my real passion has always, and will always be fashion.

Um, um, and that's a personal relationship. Like I remember when I was 15, 16, and I was, you know, starting to like really come into my own with my sexuality as a queer, um, queer person.

Um, it was kind of like, you know, what did fashion mean to me?

Because I'm very attracted to like florals and like what is considered feminine standards of clothing.

Um, but that would lead to bullying.

And so what I ended up using fashion for was kind of like my shield because I would wear these straight outfits, like back in the day with like the pants down and all that kind of terrible stuff.

And that would be my shield.

It would act, fashion had the power to literally save me or shield me from bullying.

And then later on, when I got, you know, more in tune with who I am and got the confidence to really explore that, it became my outlet to really realize who I am.

And I lived that to the fullest. And you would see me in the most floral stuff and the most feminine stuff today.

I wear things from the female section, from the male section, whatever that even might mean.

And I kind of create the persona that I want to do.

And so I've always kind of had this dichotomy of, you know, science was my job and my academics, but fashion was my passion.

And so it was great when I started to bring that together.

And that really kind of started at Stanford when I did my undergrad in computer science, but also did art history.

And so these things started to really kind of like flow together. I used a lot of tools and computer science to create art with them, particularly fractal art and recursive art.

And so it just started to kind of come together. And then I think it found its home within the notion of finesse.

And it's an exciting field because a lot of people really still tend to stick in either of the fields.

Even at Stanford, I remember art history would look down or art would look down upon computer science.

Computer science would look down upon art. And so it's an interesting opportunity because when there's not a lot of people looking at a certain space, I think there's a lot of change that you can pull through.

And so I think on a grander scale as well, I hope what finesse shows is that there's so much value when you let these two areas collide and see where they take you.

Well, it's almost kind of like, it's so interesting to hear you talk about that.

That's almost the way that we approach even like designing the materials for this week is that idea.

I'm looking at my background now. It's like the right brain versus the left brain is just like, you need both actually.

And it's this idea of making like magic out of the mundane or like calming madness with something magical.

That's super fascinating.

And now, okay, so now I have to ask, did you paint that painting behind you?

No, I didn't. People always ask that. Oh, is that you? I actually, I suck at doing anything with a paintbrush or a pencil, but I do.

That's what computer science came in for because that was my brush.

So I did do some artwork that was exhibited in the past with computer science, but no, this was just a really nice painting that I thought was really pretty.

I love it. I'm like, yeah, I have one behind me too, but we have to be on brand for this moment.

And then I have to ask you about the name.

Where did that come from? Is there any meaning or significance behind Finesse?

Yeah. So Finesse is more than just the name, right?

It's also the barcode. And so to me, Finesse, so I actually, I have the name Finesse Tattooed and Binary on my arm as well.

So I was always very interested in language is also something I love.

And what was kind of like, A, the first technological revolution in fashion, and that's really was the barcoding and the systems, the inventorying of all of it, the move to e-commerce.

And B, what does language really mean in fashion too?

And what does the technological version of it look like?

And to date, it was always the barcode. And so I think people always kind of looked over the barcode and never really realized the importance it actually had on the field.

And so I thought it was a perfect symbol for us as Finesse. And then Finesse to underscore it is really what our brand is about.

And that's the finesser.

You're a finesser. You do whatever the hell you want to do. You don't care about rules and regulations.

Again, gender notions don't make sense to you because you just don't care.

And so the finesser kind of really exemplified that for us.

Someone who does whatever they need to do to get what they want. And so one experience that always rings very true to us is, which I'm sure we've all done, you know, when we weren't able back in the day to get into the club or anything like that, we would dress up really nice to finesse our way into the club.

And so kind of that experience is something that really anchors us as a brand.

And so we always like to kind of remind ourselves when we get lost, like, what does finesse mean?

And we always kind of think about this experience and like pull ourselves back.

So we're cheeky, we're tongue in cheek, we're, you know, we don't take ourselves too seriously, but we also really care about the things that we do.

And so I think the symbol and the name kind of like, again, clashes these two things into one.

Oh, I love that. I may or may not have finessed the situation last Friday.

So final question with a minute left, so make it quick. What's the advice that you would give before you founded this company knowing everything you know now?

Yeah, know that things go wrong and they will eventually always turn out to be right if you put your back into it, if you work and if you don't lose sight of what's important.

So things break, but that's what glue is for. Put that on a t-shirt, things break, but that is what glue is for.

All right, so we have 30 seconds left.

Where can folks find you? What are you up to next? Quick pitch. Yeah, at finesse.us, any talented people, we have a little curious section as well.

Feel free to send us an email, but yeah, you find us at finesse.us on our Instagram, finesse.us studios, our TikTok, the house of finesse.

Follow us, let us know what you want to see and vote for what you want us to produce.

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