On Friday, Feburary 1st as part of the NYC trip we went to Rent the Runway an amazing startup that rents luxury designer dresses and accessories for special events. We were fortunate enough to meet with President and Co-Founder Jennifer Fleiss. Fleiss attended Yale undergrad and Harvard Business School where she met her co-founder Jennifer Hyman. They had the idea for Rent The Runway based on a moment almost every girl has when deciding what to wear: “a closet full of clothes, but nothing to wear.” This inspiration lead them to starting what is now a very successful company.
They began pitching their idea and fleshing out their concept without a formal business plan. Fleiss told us about trials in which they brought dresses to campus for girls to rent and eventually formalized their idea in the startup which now has over 1.5 million members since the website launched in 2009. It is a multi-million dollar enterprise that targets women around age 28 and recently has begun to focus on targeting college students through the Campus Ambassador program, which has recently come to Colgate. (If you are interested in being a Campus Ambassador for Colgate visit: oncampus.renttherunway.com )
Rent The Runway has been described as a “Netflix Model for Haute Couture” by The New York Times. One question we asked was whether they shared their idea in their initial stages of brainstorming. Many entrepreneurs are hesitant about doing this; however, Fleiss said that sharing the idea was a critical point in putting her idea into action. Interestingly, Fleiss and Hyman did not have a concrete business plan when they started Rent The Runway. She said the whole process of building a start-up is fast paced and there is never a dull moment or lack of things to accomplish. Fleiss stressed the importance of trying many different things and figuring out what worked, what did not, and why. With this perspective, the company has grown immensely.
Regarding being a woman in business, Fleiss admitted she did not understand all woman networking events or groups because she truly believed that women were equal members within the business world. However, since she became a mother in the business world she has become more cognizant of the unique role women have and the different challenges they face. Despite her recognition of gender differences, she said that when she pitched to venture capitalists she did not think about being female as a disadvantage, rather she was so excited and committed to her idea she was only thinking about making it a success and trying to get the investors to understand their idea and the connection women feel with their dresses. Rent The Runway is unique in that it introduces women to high couture, luxury brands, and lets them feel like a princess for special events without bearing the heavy costs of buying designer brands. Every special event deserves a beautiful dress because we all love to dress to impress.
Fleiss noted the importance of technology in the company and neither Fleiss nor Hyman had a background in technology but they found capable and driven people who knew what they were doing and the two worked closely with them to develop a company that relies on technology in order function. Personally, I loved the atmosphere of the startup in which Fleiss and Hyman do not have separate offices and they sit amongst their employees. The energy and collaboration is a determinant of their success. A key piece of advice that Fleiss shared with us was regarding failure. Her partner after a meeting with a designer who rejected the idea told her that no did not truly mean no; rather, it just meant no right now and in this way. Fleiss encouraged us to do what makes us happy and follow your dreams and your ideas in spite of rejection at times.
Fleiss is an amazing and inspiring woman in business that we should all look up to. Rent The Runway is just still in its infancy and we should expect amazing things from them in the future.
Sign up for Rent The Runway and have a true “cinderella experience” for your next formal or semi-formal. None of the girls who attended had previously rented a dress before, but we shared all of our hesitations and to our surprise they have thought of the solution to all of our questions that have stopped us from renting before. I can say after meeting with Fleiss I have full confidence in the company and will definitely be renting a dress for my next event!
Also check out these articles if you want to learn more about the company!