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As a bridesmaid 10 times over, Erica Ramos (Stern ‘23) can be considered by many as an expert in the sweeping lineup of commitments, traditions, and celebrations that leads up to a couple’s Big Day.
“People joke that being engaged is the most stressful time of a relationship,” Ramos said. “A lot of my friends were going through the wedding planning process before I did, and as a bridesmaid, I just saw how difficult it is. It's such an emotional time in your life.”
The extensive roster of pre-wedding events and activities is ever-growing, with photoshoots, engagement parties, bridal showers, and rehearsal dinners among the festivities contributing to the multi-billion dollar wedding industry. After earning a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Maryland, Ramos’ vast experience with weddings proved beneficial as she developed an informal “proposal planning side hustle.” The impromptu gig came to fruition in response to Ramos receiving multiple requests from friends asking for advice on how to pop the question to their significant others.
Following several years of working full time as a management consultant at a Fortune 500 firm, Ramos transitioned to early-stage startups in 2017 in pursuit of satisfying her “entrepreneurial itch.” She also, after getting engaged to her now-husband, began amassing a plethora of her own bridal essentials, including several event-specific dresses that would only be worn once.
Ramos turned to Facebook Marketplace in the hopes of reselling her nearly new outfits to fellow brides. But run-ins with possible scammers on the platform brought Ramos face-to-face with a larger issue – women were lacking a safe, consolidated space to buy and sell slightly used bridal fashion with one another.
Ramos began working on a startup solution for this problem after enrolling in NYU Stern’s part-time MBA program in 2020 to pursue her interests in entrepreneurship and venture capital. She started developing Trousso, a trusted platform where users could list and purchase bridal items still in wearable condition. The startup draws its moniker from a modernized spelling of the name for a collection of personal possessions that a bride traditionally gathered to prepare for her marriage.
Trousso taps into a growing market by filling a void for those who seek upscale bridal fashion while still trying to save money and shop sustainably. While formal wear rental platforms have become more popular in recent years for consumers trying to conserve cash on special occasion apparel, the startup offers a more effective solution by facilitating direct matches between individual buyers and sellers, Ramos says.
“Clothing rental was a great first way for women to start changing their mindset around having to permanently own clothing. But there are a lot of limitations and issues with rentals from a consumer and business model perspective,” she said. “We found that a peer-to-peer marketplace is the best solution.”
Enrolled at NYU with the beginnings of a resale business concept in mind, Ramos connected with recent Stern MBA alumni to get advice on how to navigate NYU’s array of entrepreneurship resources. This led her to attend an open house at the Leslie eLab in fall 2021, and then one-on-one coaching sessions with the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute’s startup experts.
Joined by co-founder Justina Breen, whom she was introduced to through a former Stern classmate, Ramos went on to participate in the Startup Bootcamp, Startup Sprint, Summer Launchpad, and Female Founders Fellowship, as well as the 2021 Designpreneurs Hackathon at the NYU Berkley Center for Entrepreneurship. Ramos and Breen made the decision to go full time on Trousso upon gaining acceptance into the 2022 cohort of Summer Launchpad.
“We both had so much conviction around what we were building that we decided to take the leap of faith,” Ramos said. “Once you dedicate yourself to your startup fully, there are a lot of different considerations. You want to make sure you're confident, you’ve de-risked enough of the business where you feel like it could succeed, and that you have the financial runway to support yourself. To leave my full-time job was a really scary thing. But it was something that I was planning, preparing, and hoping for.”
Ramos went on to accept an invitation to join the Entrepreneurial Institute as a Founder In Residence in fall 2022. She currently serves as a coach and advisor to NYU founders at every stage of their startup journeys.
Today, Trousso accepts a diverse display of white bridal outfits (outside of wedding gowns), accessories, footwear, and bridesmaid dresses from individual sellers, as well as boutique shops looking to sell their excess inventory and/or sample items. Pieces listed on the platform range from 20-80% off their retail price.
The marketplace has now received enough traction to garner crossover customers, with buyers coming back as sellers, and vice versa, Ramos says.
“Nothing gets me as excited as when we hear from our customers about how we helped them find their dream outfit or make some money back after spending a lot on a piece,” she said. “We’ve had several repeat customers. To see that kind of behavior happening is incredible.”
Ramos and Breen recently participated in the Spring 2023 cohort of Techstars NYC, a prestigious three-month accelerator that connects companies with an expansive network of mentors, corporate partners, investors, alumni, and fundraising opportunities. During the accelerator, they zeroed in on the next stage of Trousso’s growth – pivoting from exclusively offering bridal fashion to featuring women’s formal wear for any special occasion.
“The idea is much bigger and broader now – not just brides and weddings, but also graduations, religious events, galas, fundraisers,” Ramos said. “The vision for Trousso is to be the marketplace that helps women more easily buy and sell event formal wear that they’ll only wear once so that we can help women diversify their event wardrobe at a fraction of the cost. Anytime you have to get dressed up and you ask yourself, ‘What am I going to wear for that kind of event?’ That's what Trousso will be for.”
Ramos credits Trousso’s success thus far to growing organically from the ground up and figuring out key aspects of the business before taking on capital. When it comes to advice for aspiring and budding entrepreneurs, she emphasizes the importance of building a village of supportive peers, and not getting too distracted by the endless ups and downs that make up the daily life of a founder.
“For every win, you also have setbacks. Sometimes the wins are huge and it can feel like a roller coaster,” she said. “You really have to self-regulate and not get overly over indexed on the wins or the setbacks, because they're all part of it.”