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Democratizing luxury | How Rent the Runway changed the way we shop and grew to a $1B company – an interview with co founder Jenny Fleiss

2019-09-17 | 🔗

Jenny Fleiss created Rent the Runway, a company now valued at $1 billion, in the wake of the most severe economic recession the United States has seen since the Great Depression. When everyone else was panicking in 2008 and 2009, Jenny and co founder Jennifer Hyman saw an opportunity.

The problem they were trying to solve was simple enough: Looking into your closet and realizing you don’t have anything to wear to an important event, like a wedding, but don’t have the budget to buy something new. So they innovated, and created an entirely NEW way to shop by allowing women to rent designer clothing, online, for a fraction of what it actually costs. 

Today, the rental, or sharing economy is booming – companies like WeWork, REI, and Zipcar make it possible for us to experience something, without the cost of ownership. But to put this in perspective, nothing like this existed at the time. 

Jenny shares how she and her co founder got Rent the Runway up and running – and how they grew the business to where it is today. You’ll also hear Jenny’s philosophy on how she approaches hiring talent at JetBlack, a personal shopping service she co founded after leaving Rent the Runway, which is not only critical when you’re starting a business, but also when scaling it. 

The interviewer for this episode is Scott Harris, a coach, mentor and a speaker at many of Tony’s events, including his business event, Business Mastery. 

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
If you run a company, whether it be as a first time entrepreneur or a season, see YO, you face challenges everyday for many of you, you're doing it alone for more than forty where's, Tony Robins has helped business owners like yourself, understand how successful your business could be levelled out today and how to close that gap faster with fewer costly mistakes along the way, and now he would like to underline the cost of a free want one business strategy session from one of his top business coat. Six hundred dollar value in that session. You'll learn how Tony's business systems can impact your company see. What more people don't know, is that when Tony acquires or starts a company, he brings in six systems that are proven to Crete, Monee muscle growth, up to three hundred percent in the first year alone. To learn more about these to get business owner resources and to claim your free session just go to Tony robins dot com, Slash CEO, twenty robins dot com, Flash CEO,
If you ve been paying attention to the news, you ve probably heard a lot about the economy, the looming threat of a recession, while no one can predict with complete can see when or if a recession will hit financial markets have signalled ability that our nearly ten year street of economic growth is coming to an end from us? people and uncertain economic environment creates a feeling of fear. You may be fearful about your company going out of business or laying people off if you're just entering workforce you might be afraid you won't be able to find a job or perhaps you're scared of the hate your portfolio will take, Your retirement savings won't be enough for the lifestyle that you on and you're, a business owner. You might worry that your business won't survive a recession, regardless of your situ given a challenging economic environment, requires one thing: innovation in both good times and bad innovation is a critical piece to move forward.
and where many people dont realise is that recessionary environments have yielded some of the most innovative companies of our time, Fedex Araby and be Disney and Microsoft, just to name a few you're about to hear from not your partner who started her business right smack in the middle of a downturn. Jenny. Face created, runt runway accompany now valued at one billion dollars in the wake of the most severe Mc recession, the United States has seen since the great depression when every one else was panicking into. Does any and two thousand nine Jenny and CO founders Jennifer Hymen saw an opportunity. The problem: we're trying to solve with simple enough looking your closet? Realising you? Don't have anything to wear to an important event like a wedding, but you don't have the budget to buy something new, so the innovative and created an entirely. new way to shop by allowing women to rent a designer clothing online for a fraction of what it actually costs today. The rental or sharing economy is booming. Companies like
work, our eye and Zipcar make it possible for us to experience something without the cost of ownership, but put this in perspective. Nothing like this existed at the time in this episode were taking you to the main stage of business, mastery or Jenny Share How she and her cofounder got rent runway up and running and how they grew the bill to where it is today and it doesn't stop their Jenny left friends One way in two thousand: seventeen to start up jet black, a personal shopping service that is part of Walmart. First ever technology, incubator, store number eight will also hear genius philosophy and how she approaches: hiring talent, a jet black, which is not only critical when you're starting a business, but also when scaling it. The interviewer for this episode is Scott Harris, a coach, mentor and speaker at many of today's events, including business mastery here, Scott and Johnny. First, some other made them. I don't know the product
Give us the quick story on rent the runway might tell us the quick story. Yes, you ran designer apparel can do everything from all dress to oblige. Every year, every day about ten percent of retail price started the business with kind of one off randalls, and now we have a subscription service where, for as little as eighty nine dollars among you can get for, item at a time, and so it's really putting your closet in the cloud and letting
rent items that you otherwise might have just left sitting in your closet and only warn ones martyr way to shop article, I love that did you have such parallel to which will be because it really started, because you had a problem. That was a personal problem for you. The problem was twofold: one closet full of things, but not and aware- or secondly, yet you go by some stuff for awaiting or a special occasion that was the main gonna be a one off. It was because two three four dollars- and that was your problem, but you went solves a kind of love that and that's what you're doing now in gyp like as well busy mom entrepreneur, three children saw what happened. How important is? Do you think that the entrepreneur is gonna, passionate and personal experience? the thing that their building and creating a doing. I think it is critical that two things one that lets you exposed the problem to begin with, and then I think to it lets you have the passion that is needed to constantly go after your dream invasion day after day after day
and then I would say to continue to be that consumer is what that's your business evolve, because your business won't grow. You won't be able to disrupt yourself to think ten years out unless you're in that consumer see constantly thinking about how things are changing, where things are going. So the reason that JANET evolved, the runway, whereas Bursley or renting, fancy dresses and the ultimate we said this can be for every day of your life, it can be blazers. Enhancing skirts was because we were going through a change in our where we were no longer women and twentys who had all these fancy events to wear, but we were now in our third ease and he had events at the office. We had baby showers, bridles hours, conferences that we are going to end it
suddenly such a bigger opportunity to have a parallel for your every day, so I think you're both able to identify the problem had the energy and passion but then to innovate and iterate said that you can be as big as the potential really is gonna. I love it when I love ridding the stories about how you, Jim the other gin, who helped to build a jedi. You really do women funds that were self was just you, two kids at college and you. It lets discredit, Papa store any got some money yourselves and when you bought clothes in yours sizes in case it didn't work that they have a plan b though we what we're a business school together when when this concept came about- and it was actually a recessionary moment- we're taking, can be a great time for innovation and for us also meant that the barrier yeah so we're heading into that now, potentially some people believe, but the barrier of what
What we do with our lives and our time with us all out, lowers there weren't if many interesting jobs out there, but consumers we're starting to think differently about how they consume clothing, and they were actually starting to be way more proud of being smart shop earth and consuming in smart ways that created a unique angle for us to start rent the runway The first thing I say is like beyond talking consumers, and we spoke to everyone. We knew at business school at home, anyone on the street and would talk to us. You got its. Has the concept with consumers, you gotta make them put their money where their mouth is. So it's one thing to say that this is a good idea to shore. It would be great to get clothing for ten percent of the retail price, but to actually have people put money out and to see what designers are they renting? What style see they like? What complaints do they have? Are they taking care of the items when they random? Are we getting the items that we needed to test and learn, and it wasn't just to validate the concept? It was also to validate that we enjoyed working the concept right, your investing
on time. That's the most precious thing of all. So if we didn't have a business, that really was something text that would be problem, but if we also warrant enjoying working together as co founders and working on this problem, that was often not a great deal of our time. Do I remember reading a story about when you do the pop ups or a lady in the gold dress, and when you just remember that you know somebody entrepreneurs get caught up in stuff that get caught up in things and stuff and systems life again, you're selling, an emotional you're selling an experience or selling a feeling tales about that. I completely believe that, and so when I started this pop up shop, where we did, we bought a bunch of drought is in our own sizes and in case it didn't work out. We're like will have a great one loves right, so we set up shop, you ran dresses and we thought we would learn a lot about what designers they ran, what price they would pay cetera, but actually we know we learned that the biggest thing you learned as when the first customer who pulled out this most sparkly sequined goal dress.
She put it on world around the mirror and said I look hot and just completely transport like who hears had that feeling in their life. Yes, yeah a meeting on the area- and I hear it is that you should make you feel hot, I think, It is in motion connected to this teacher there's a behind a mantra, but I think there's a real power, and I taste it women in particular- and I know Jen and I related to it for clothing, to be transformed at four. It's not just be about. You know how much you paid for something. This is why often women do have hundreds and thousands of items in your closet and men might think we're crazy, but it's because it's actually emotional transforming its like your arm on Euro woman plan, a great out that you do your hair,
make up and you feel you can take on the world, and we saw that and that initial consumer. We had our minds open enough to be able to see that you didn't have a business plan that we had worked on for months and months and months. We came their open minded and looking to learn, and we built on higher business, offset emotional connection that women have with fashion three clear because you don't have a doll, boasted the basic job you ve got every word of the sun, the top priority of the thirty four was this top forty to forty top entrepreneur. The year biggest disrupt Herman Award afterward award. You obviously recently stepped out of rent the runway, and there are some security, though the company's vote at six hundred billion dollars, and you ve got a nice piece of that. But when you left you ve still got a nice piece of a simple rule:
Zira. No doubt some new tell us about what you do and what droid so that yeah well, I have always been a serial entrepreneurs heart so I've aspirations, like you re that one day I will have you know a whole stable of start ups, because I have ideas all the time and I have had and conversations my cofounder that at some point I would go back to the challenges, because I missed that started stages and it was great around their own way to be able to innovate on the business model into lumps description, because that was interconnection right. We are disrupting ourselves as a start up, but ones being launched at,
We still had a bunch of room to grow. I was ready for the next adventure, and so now I launched a business. That's call jet black and its personal shopping over text message. You can text whatever you want and we will give you either a recommendation for the best product fit for you are a follow up with a question to we're fine all the products to the best option for you, and so it's really just simplifying shopping, saying we don't have a lot of time in our life. It could be that you remember. You need paper towels needed into texts that request to someone and get it off your play. It could be that you need a recommendation for a stroller that your shopping for
and you need that kind of the list of thirty thousand results that you otherwise would have gotten winnowed down to three or fewer, but we're trying to save busy families time. I'm enhance the products elections and even eight eight bring delight back into shopping like getting shopping, has become a chore. It is stripped of this kind of emotional and excitement and the idea that you can find something better. You can enjoy your shopping experience. I hope it can do that. Skeptical exotic another world- you spoke to my wife about in company with this thing about the idea of
for fifty dollars a month. Having somebody take care of all your stuff who likes actually say. Yes, it's not a shopping thing, because that's that's a pot. I together puppets more important. Is that the emotional freedom, the mental space that think rights in all of our lives, men and women, fathers and mothers, entrepreneurs and social gosh? I liked it is dumped at dump. Oh shit, that's in my brain go get this. Do these make this happen, gets a birthday present burmese implants, my wife by that, and they never done. What can you do with that spear, emotional spice and Did you sleep? Well, that's pretty exciting the mental presence that I can give you so because we have everything at our fingertips. Our phones are with us every second you're, never really freed from kind of here to do less. You carried around every moment and we are trained as consumers and shoppers now that you can get it.
Last minute, which means that no longer to be kind of like segregate are shopping behaviors to one day one afternoon we instead its content, and it takes away from you I'll be spending time. My kids for out of paper towels. I need to put that on the list. Are each remember that somewhere, I'm in the middle of a meeting, and I need to get a birthday get for some kids birthday that we can. Perhaps in my head, it's like how can we take that authors someone's plate and just let you really enjoy and be present in a moment ago? Exotic exotic grand its exotic, while the things that you ve got a lot of great kudos for, is that when you built rather on, why had a very diverse, obviously team? I was lucky a job at your company that weakens its women, admirers and so on. But I love hearing and interview. We said that you never really focused on that. What you focus on solving the problem, because it was merely a women's problem that that's your merely bring on board a kind of love that was kind of cool when you think about what you're doing now, which it black. What you're looking for team, see oaths and building an episode,
you ve already! Suddenly, how do you go look for tee? What are you looking for and wants? The process is how many want to bring great people into your business? Who wants ability that raise your hands? That's your skill set. How do you do that when you do already stuff? So I think a couple thing,
that are critical, that I hire for one s, flexibility because I typically say to someone who is joining us start up. The only thing I can promise you is that your job today will be different than your job six months and, and that is not rhetoric, but that that that has been the case. I think in both the start, ups, that I've run so far, and not just in the first year, but continually like jobs and needs change, and I think tat people who are open minded and adaptive one that way is really powerful. It also says that they are putting the needs of the company before the needs of themselves and a personal career ladder, and trajectory and kind of this. This thought that there's only one path there's only one way and that we can be really quibbling start up. If you have people who are to focus on the specific career ladder and second not versus what is the company need to get down,
and another thing I really look for is people who are ok with failure, people or does not afraid to fail, and many of you or entrepreneurial you here that it is here that a lot it's hard to sets out, but it's really critical people who will take big leaps and then the third is positivity. This is a really positive room and I think when you have positivity, you can take on them
Well, you can do anything off in the way I ask to determine if some of the positive persons I say on a scale of one to ten, how lucky do you see yourself and if people say nine or ten, that means they have a positive outlook on life and their experiences. This idea that there is either the right choice. It there's no choice. That's a positive one has a positive outlook on how you gonna live proactively and go for with your life, and you need that everyday cause. There's a lot of low moments in the start up me and to be able to kind of pivot and take that no and instead turn it into a cow. Or what do I need to reorient in terms of how I'm pitching com interacting dated eight? Where do you go? Judging you go to do. Go to Paypal. You know from previous relationships to go, get a shark sultans. Would you,
is it really go to search for those people at the basis of its people that you now people that you worked weapon quantities work within seen, an action before or in that they have been in a meeting went from another company, but you'd magnets impressed me kept that relationship now such only there was a barber where you could make thousands of people and create relationships and get to know them all, but wonder where we could find that without the use of my predecessor and are at stake critical half. The reason you come here is for what happens on sage, but for what happens in your team in your countries and support them. Tell you. If you talk to the plants and the lions, every single one of us may included is doing deals and doing business with people we met in the room. It's people, you know, and you receive the same thing. I love you said about failure and that you want to have people koumongoe to failure, and I one of Euro sayings is that you no success in businesses a series of failures piling to an excellent found to the next and so forth. How important this failure and the ability to handle it and and and be ok with it will be even excited about real important and is something that I am naturally ok weapon.
And find I take for granted that fact, when you actually to empathize routine. So what I have started to do more and more is as now I'm lucky that I do have at least one experience starting businesses right my started and run without my first start up. I now harking back to all the mistakes we made. You started around the runway and, to be honest, I have to dig to think of those because I'm positive person, I'm focusing on the Gaza conflict, it happened, but I just do not in Europe's magnificent birthday. I remember, like I remember the great things, the fun story than even think that really crummy, where we were the ones packing Box, dresses everyday until midnight and the first couple years like I wasn't fun every day, but I remember in this way, as it does with the start up days, I was faintly or in an office, it had no heat on Mondays because, like bit internet the here and like it was so finding all Worthington's, gloves and snug ease, and it was great
in the moment like travelling, wasn't so great, but so I've found how critical it is. Take these moments of failure and to share those stories with the team, because if they don't hear and see that that happens and that's part of what is written down the road and and what is this part of start up life, they might not be as comfortable failing themselves as a mom. You got three kids are quite young man. You gotta turn off your old. I think when you got three of my orders issued a sick, thirty six history of six, it's a lot. But how do you do that? Not logistically? But how do you do what emotionally logically is logistics to take your themselves it. How do you like that work? It's a lot, and I like it that way. I like the NBC what I found my best tool as actually involving them in what I do. So even I mean my two year old, probably doesn't understand me, but certainly my six year old. I will share exactly what I'm doing with her. I will tell her that I am going to LAS Vegas and speaking with a group of people and goods
are all about tony robins. In what you guys are doing, and why you're here and how I'm going to speak to you, what I M going to talk about she's, not feeling like she is being excluded. She feels like she's part of this and she feels proud. Hopefully, inspired to go after her dreams one day so that has been my biggest tool is to make it it's not a choice. If you make him a part of it, I got the wrong guy, told the giver habitats. Pitiful stress one of my favorite photos: China is a hundred Fiji. Would we teach this events in Fiji, I've ever fathers as it may teaching in Fiji with my two year old girl hanging onto my leg, onstage, when we're teaches going to cool? Let me ask you, though, is that by me in this room and I'm not a startup, and I'm not that beginning face headway, bring that entrepreneurial spirit back to my business Hathaway Reinvigorate hideaway, bring back that that that spirit- maybe I'm five, ten years old or I need some reinvigoration who told you that, although I am actually apart of Walmart right now rights, not when I beg company,
so jet black is wholly owned and funded by Walmart. It's the world's largest retailers who talk about having to be an interpreter right. Taking this large elephant company and seeing how do we move and drive it forward quickly and that's why it that's? Why I'm there and what I found it we're in a separate office. I make decisions on my team on kind of the priorities, quartered a quarter, and so it acts almost like Walmart venture capital firm in some ways and then kind of approving yearly budget. If you will, I still need to get by and in the way that you would in a fund raising process, but they ve. Let us have the room to really run and move quite quickly. Its sometimes meant that we don't leverage certain resources that you might really tempted to leverage, because it's always a trade off like what let's move faster, but I think that there is more time, but not when it's to our advantage, there's a lot of partnership meetings that we can get and that we can take it and access to. Because of this organisation. I have four one k plan that I can offer to my employees that I didn't have meant the runway for
years and years. So I think it's leaning into the strength, owning them and then finding ways to create the same elements of moving fast, small, dynamic teams, setting people off kind of in their own zone to create their own space and drive quickly and what I found as it creates a lot of inspiration about other parts. They organisation so people in Walmart who are in no way connected to jet black, who I I've, met, tangentially or just hear about what we're doing are feeling like their part of innovation.
And their inspired and like that's, really rich and rewarding to their job. And the other thing I would say is that each of you, by virtue of your own background and whether Europe, more whatever country or from your path of life, you bring a unique respected. That makes you uniquely armed to solve problems and identify problems and solutions, and so I think you know taking stock wherever you are, that unique lights path and how you can bring that lessons to identify and opportunity and what you might solve is really special. So right now females, women, Dr Online consumption, about eighty five percent of the time I was driven by a woman right and a large percentage of those are our moms ones. I think that for those of you who are not specifically set- and it's like- that's a real advantage- you haven't unique perspective. That actually is,
when's the economy and in a very big way so keep at it, we're not grant. We might take some questions. If you will raise your hand, it will take some questions to suggest. Through the questioners boards. Operative will say: we go away, go to start all the way at the very top measuredly level, one freak out, my micron as the weighting in the White High minority Livia. I actually help women negotiate salaries for a living. I love what you ve done, you're one of my inspirational thing here and so my question to you. I know you're talking about resilience and not being afraid to fail, but a lot of the women that I work with have failed in their careers and getting themselves back up is really a big part of a hurdle. So when you failed big time,
How what was a recipe to get Becker? Sir? More! Thank you for your kind words and I love what you are doing is it's very important. Often I find that women are more conservative, but their ideas with their career ambitions and obviously don't often asked enough in negotiating their salary, sets critical. It's about the team, like, I think, if you have a team around you, you pig yourself, are you done? you're south off new go onto the next. So when Jan and I started grant the runway, we were lucky to have each other. The first meeting that we had the business was about one day old was withstand bun Furstenberg. She is the most famous fashion designers that I know that I can, and I can think of and she hated our concept in the first meeting hated it. An end you locked out there- and I was I was pretty like I thought- rejected right about terrible- and having Jan by my side, we are able to laugh at the moment and to say what what did we hear from? Why did she hate this war?
Could we learn and listen inhibit inquiry into unique opportunity and there were so many those moments where other people and not team core founding team did that and serve that purpose for one another. and so I think you need us round yourself with those people who will help. You see the good and then to kind of how the resilience to two pivot your concept and go after something, maybe even bigger. protest here, and I thank you. I jennifer my name is Wendy Jake's, I'm from Houston tax.
So I it's not. As this is not a question for myself. It's a question for my daughter. She is seventeen she's gonna be a senior this year we just took a two week trip down to California, the one o one visited several different colleges, including Stanford and asked yes, you use your she's than she was fourteen years old. She was very inspired by nasty gal. She read, you know her book and all of that- and she has this knack for going to retail stores, purchasing clothes, and then she redesigned them and so she's very interested in getting into entrepreneurship or she's. Just trying to decide what angle she should have we're going into college. So what would you recommend to her to get started prior to going to college
to get into business or what direction would you recommend that she goes shore so that she is going to college? Is a unique resource that she's going to be able to labour? She is going to have women men a whole audience at people around her right. So I think some of it is like work with what you have an she know, she's, going into that environment. He's gonna have potential customers on our hands when we launch strand their unwearyingly or we went across the way to a Harvard undergrad and that's where we did the pop up shops, and he said you know what we know that there's gonna be girls with sorority parties and graduation
parties- and you have all these events, you have all these needs and everyone wants something unique right. So I think the idea has meaning that sounds very custom knee on a college campuses is pretty special, so I would be thinking about how do I almost like wants a business within this campus and to launch a product in a small market? First, where you had this enviro effective people talking about it is very powerful from a marketing perspective its what I'm doing my new business being honest three months ago,
only in New York City right now, but you had to get invited to use your problem. You have to get invited to unite us even more focus and we are very strategic around like what groups, what buildings, even to inviting great these gyros exit he's got that like bells, and I would say it happens, you can use that as a launch as a launch pad and is also a place. Like talked professors. Talk to the people around you get feedback use. These classmates is sounding board. Pierre, send out surveys, get kind of like that's feedback and she's, not she's able to leverage time while she's a student. So it's amazing get we're like you can be a student getting a degree, but you can also canopy testing out your concept. It's it's really special time so congrats and go back to her. The tiny robins podcast is a collection of interviews and stories and is produced by the tony Robins team. Copyright, Robins research, international.
Transcript generated on 2020-10-10.