In 2009, two young women attending Harvard Business School met for their weekly coffee and business brainstorming session. Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss both knew they wanted to start a business together, but for many months they brainstormed ideas which never seemed to stick. However, on this particular afternoon, Jennifer Hyman mentioned to Fleiss that her sister would be attending a wedding next weekend, but had nothing to wear. She voiced the frustration shared by women across America, that it is difficult to justify spending hundreds of dollars on a dress you only wear a few times. As she said this, she came up with a business idea which would solve this problem and revolutionize the market of high end women’s fashion.
Hyman and Fleiss conceptualized a business model where they would partner with different well-known, high-end designers from around the world and rent these designer dresses out to women for a few days for a fraction of the cost of buying one of these dresses. These two young women started out by buying dresses in their own sizes and going around to different college campuses on the weekends of big events and putting up flyers and sending out emails announcing that the female students could rent these designer dresses for a reduced price and simply return them after the event. With each campus these two went to, their business model proved very popular, and with each event, they continued to refine and adjust their model until they landed on the current business model of Rent the Runway. Since 2009, Rent the Runway has grown from a few designer dresses advertised through flyers on college campuses into a $15 million corporation with an extremely user friendly app and a variety of supplementary services.
One things which makes Hyman and Fleiss stand out as unique in the world of innovation and entrepreneurship is their approach to founding a startup. While many young entrepreneurs look for a problem in their field of study or expertise which they can construct a solution for, Hyman and Fleiss started with a problem they simply observed, despite their lack of knowledge in the fields of fashion or technology. However, by recording customer reactions to their product and collecting customer testimonials, these young women were able to get the designers on board and soon had enough funding to hire people with expertise in analytics, technology, fashion, and customer relations in order to create the best business possible.
Even eight years removed from its founding, Rent the Runway is an incredible company to watch innovate and expand. Because of the founders’ passion for giving women the opportunity to have that “Cinderella experience” and look elegant, extravagant, confident or professional for an affordable price, the company continues to grow its inventory, expand it market, and offer additional services, such as makeup and jewelry tips depending on the dress or outfit you rent.
Hyman and Fleiss have also sought to optimize the customer experience by offering free shipping and dry cleaning, along with spending a great deal of time and money on analytics. This has allowed them to find what colors and styles customers prefer, along with how long customers like rentals to last so that they can give the customer the best, most convenient experience possible. Rent the Runway is constantly offering new features, different dresses, and featuring a variety of both well-known and new designers, which keeps their business in a constant state of growth and expansion.
Hyman and Fleiss are truly inspiring to all young women looking to be entrepreneurs. They actively thought about problems, and rather than waiting for funds or investors to back their idea, they eagerly engaged their clientele, pivoted based on the feedback they received, and then sought out investors and designers with confidence in their product and the data and testimonies to back it up. These two women are constantly pursuing excellence, passionate about their product and their clients, and dedicated to inspiring future women entrepreneurs.