ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Jenn Hyman got the idea for Rent the Runway in 2008, after she watched her sister overspend on a new dress rather than wear an old one to a party. Jenn and her business partner built a web site where women could rent designer dresses for a fraction of the retail price. As the company grew, they dealt with problems that many female entrepreneurs face, including patronizing investors and sexual harassment. Despite these challenges, Rent The Runway now rents dresses to nearly six million women and has a reported annual revenue of $100 million. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," we check back with Monica Mizrachi and her son Solomon who built EzPacking, a business that sells sets of clear squishy plastic packing cubes. (Original broadcast date: August 7, 2017.)
English
United States

TRANSCRIPT

00:00:00this message comes from NPR sponsor mu offering premium business cards postcards and more all backed by award winning service bring your big ideas to life use code dream big for fifteen percent off at move dot com move you dream it we printed eighty it's guy here so you
00:00:20know we're all pretty used to the idea of storing our stuff in the cloud right like files in our photos music at all lives up there somewhere but when Jennifer hi man launched rent the runway she essentially wanted our clothing to live in the cloud to so she
00:00:36created a website with this huge inventory of women's clothing that you never had to own you would just rented and send it back Jen calls it a closet in the cloud here's a story of how she and her partner bill rent the runway this episode first ran in
00:00:51August of last year I said you know we should really call Diane von Furstenberg the famous fashion designer fast forward a few weeks and we're driving to the second meeting and her system calls and says stand no longer wants to see you she's not interested in this idea
00:01:10and I said oh yeah %HESITATION were just around the corner like what will just drop by for a second yeah and her assistant very firmly said she doesn't want to see you what do you not understand and I said well we're cutting off for cutting off that I
00:01:25hung up and then I dad down the west side highway and we were at her office and we just showed up from NPR it's how I built this show that innovators entrepreneurs idealists and the stories behind the movements they built I'm guy rise and on today show how
00:01:53to women who wanted high fashion but couldn't afford the price tag decided to make it possible to rent the runway sell rent the runway is now one of the hottest fashion companies in the US it's growing like crazy it's doing more than a hundred million dollars a year
00:02:15revenue and has something like twelve hundred employees but given that its core product is designer dresses you might be surprised to discover as I was a bit just ten of its employees work in the fashion department most of the rest well they work for a technology company because
00:02:35that's actually what rent the runway is the way it works is you go online or you go to the apps and well you rented dress a dress that might cost thousands of dollars to buy except you only pay a small fraction of that and you get to look
00:02:52fabulous for one night and then in the morning after you've recovered you mail it back it's kind of like zip car meets Netflix sap boaters if that makes any sense anyway the co founders Jane Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss came up with the idea when they met in business
00:03:09school and as you will hear the past to building their company was fraught with all kinds of challenges among them rampant sexism and even harassment Jen hi man has only recently been opening up about that but our story begins just after she graduates college and gets a job
00:03:29working as a junior analyst for the hotel company starlet about a year into my time at star would when I was twenty two I had this thesis that we had entered the experience economy and people were getting married later and starting to value experiences like trouble over owning
00:03:50things and so I had an idea at the time to launch the first honeymoon registry in the world where couples could register for their honeymoons and their friends and family could contribute by you know paying for scuba diving or paying for massager hotel night as opposed to buying
00:04:09them pots and pans so as a twenty two year old I was really passionate about this idea I emailed the president of star would and I pitched him on this idea to start a wedding business star would wear the cornerstone of it would be with the first honeymoon
00:04:28registry just ever say first while you're twenty two I mean that's that's that's incredibly precocious but was there anybody around you who is like Hey stay in your lane or you know was there anybody was trying to tell you to keep your keep quiet %HESITATION yeah several boxes
00:04:44of mine were telling me to keep quiet and one of the experiences that really impacted me was I had a female boss and at the time I think she was like thirty five or thirty six so kind of about my age right now and I would often raise
00:05:06my hand in meetings and speak and make points and I remember her grabbing me after a meeting one day and she said you know John I really want to give you some feedback really important for your career and I said all you know I'd love to hear what
00:05:24your feedback and she said you really need to shut up wow you're a girl and it would be much more of a coming if you acted sweet N. conversations because you know you're you're too confident you're too bold and it's coming across the wrong way and of course
00:05:51I didn't really know how to take this I mean I don't even know how I would take this today let alone is a twenty two year old I started hysterically crying I was in the middle of like an open floor plan and a more senior man Saul me
00:06:07I literally credit this guy for my entire career he took me aside and because I didn't even understand office politics at the time and like what I should and shouldn't say I kind of just blurted out all my god like this woman just told me explain see and
00:06:22I repeated the entire conversation to him and he said you know John you keep doing what you're doing because that one is going to be working for you one day and she in a sense gave me permission to just act like myself and %HESITATION I was as a
00:06:41twenty two year old is the same person is who I am today it's the person who had a creative idea about the experience economy and I wanted to share it what would you into doing with the with the idea I mean you you pitch this to the to
00:06:57the president of Starland yeah I think he thought I was so little bit crazy for going in and pitching to him that his response was like yeah yeah yeah sure whatever and I took that as a yes when he he said he didn't say yes he just person
00:07:14yeah that's interesting and you went back to your your desk and you started to map out how this could happen I started to work on it I spent the next three years working on it and you know star would still participates in the honeymoon registry to this day
00:07:30and now has taken it to a whole other level since I left but it was such a fun experience for me to a work on something that I loved and was passionate about and be be part of the process of creation so you were obviously on the fast
00:07:46track to like if you were still star would today you might be running the place and you were doing this is such a young age why did you decide to leave after after a couple years well I always thought that I would go to business school huh both
00:07:59my parents have gone to business school and so I thought that the track was you work for four years between college and then you go to business school so when I was at Starwood for three plus years I applied to business school and I got into Harvard Business
00:08:14School so here here's a question for you about because we're gonna get I want to ask you about of course what happened business school which is key and critical to rent the runway but you know the vast majority of the of the optional but have been on the
00:08:27show did not go to business school and you had all this incredible experience and you were really ambitious and you were entrepreneurial already am why did you think you needed to go to go to business school well first I have always had big dreams for my career but
00:08:44I didn't exactly know what those dreams were you know Serra Blakely was aghast on your program and she is someone who has always been an inspiration to me I remember being a younger girl and seeing her on Oprah she had this amazing business but she also like seem
00:09:08like a real person who cared about getting married and having kids and having friends and having a social life and that was really important to me I was still fearful that you had to make a choice between having an incredible career as a woman or having a family
00:09:27and I've always wanted both so %HESITATION when sense going to business school is a chance for you to really think those things through to think it through to get that kind of extra potentially stamp of approval that I thought that I needed I had lots of opportunities that
00:09:43I could go into different kinds of companies in different fields but I really wanted the time to think about like where do I want to spend my time what are my most passionate about yeah you I'm while you were at at Harvard Business School you met the person
00:09:59who become the cofounder rent a runaway %HESITATION Jennifer Fleiss yes how did you %HESITATION while you have me so it's a really funny story my sister Becky prior to me going to business school put a post it note on my pillow one night with Jenny Fleiss's made a
00:10:19name on it which was Jenny Carter and she's sad that you have to meet this girl when you go to business school because a friend of a friend of hers new Jenny Carter and my response to Becky at the time was you know all meter fine meter needless
00:10:36to say Jenny was one of the first people I met at Harvard Business School because we were placed in the same section because her name had been on a post it note for me I was like oh my god you'll never believe that my sister told me we
00:10:50need to be friends and we became really fast friends and you know the rest is history and at what point did you say let's do business together when we leave this place so we were friends we actually through our birthdays together I'm in September of that second year
00:11:08business school and in November of the second your business school I went home for thanksgiving and I was in Backes apartment and Becky had just gone to a store and bought a dress %HESITATION that was higher costs than her rent and as her responsible older sister I was
00:11:28remarking how she should probably where one of the dresses in her closet again as opposed to being in credit card debt and her response to me was you know everything in my closet is dead to me I've been photographed in at the photographs are up on Facebook and
00:11:46I need something new and you know back he was a twenty five year old like normal girl who lived in New York she wasn't a celebrity but she was talking about being photographed in not being able to wear something again and I like it was a light bulb
00:12:03moment for me because I realized I was having a conversation with my sister about the experience of wearing an amazing dress of walking into a party feeling self confident and feeling beautiful and that's what she cared about and she didn't care about the actual ownership of the items
00:12:21in her closet the other thing she cared about was the photograph that would exist after the party that she could post on Facebook and kind of share with everyone she knew how awesome she felt and how confident she felt at that wedding so anyway this idea happen on
00:12:36a Saturday night I go back to school on Monday I happen to have lunch that day with Jenny we were talking about our weekends I was like oh I had this idea %HESITATION like what if we rented dresses and she responded %HESITATION this sounds fun you know let's
00:12:52like work on this idea together who do you think we should call to figure out if it's a good idea and I said you know we should really call Diane von Furstenberg and see like the famous fashion designer Jenny said to you know Donald Furstenberg yeah and I
00:13:10said obviously I don't know Diane von Furstenberg but we could probably figure out her email address you could at this point figure out anyone's email address in the entire world great so Jenny and I wrote an email that afternoon too many different versions that run first emerging all
00:13:29address and we basically said Hey we're we're two women at Harvard Business School we have an idea %HESITATION we'd love to come in and talk to you about it and this is where a lock plays into the situation because she or someone from her office open that email
00:13:46she responded I'll see you tomorrow at five PM tomorrow at five PM yeah and we drove down to New York that next day put on our TV after **** and walked into her office and introduced ourselves as the co founders of rent the runway you had the name
00:14:04at that point you came up with the name yeah we just we did everything very quickly now we didn't really have a structured idea so you know we were kind of iterating the idea bite pitching it and the initial idea actually which you know we've never really told
00:14:23the initial idea was what if we could rent the dresses that she is selling on her website so what if we powered rental for her on DVF dot com and you know when we went to chat with her she was not too thrilled about the idea of renting
00:14:42close in general and thought that it would cannibalize her %HESITATION retail sales and it would dilute her brand and she was ready to end the meeting with us after a few minutes and I started asking her questions about what she disliked about the idea what was she scared
00:15:01about and by the end of what was almost a you know an hour and a half conversation we learned that a lot of her customers were in their fifties and sixties and not if we were to build a business that could make her relevant to put her products
00:15:23into the hands of women in their teens twenties thirties and forties that that might be interesting to her and she might want to work with us so was which warm ocean eyes were you guys nervous I mean you're stuck you still business school students mean I can't imagine
00:15:40like what that would feel like to walk into that room and and try to get you know keep her attention and get her excited what's a funny story so at that first meeting I've always learned you know when you're in the first meeting scheduled second meeting so when
00:15:54we were in the first meeting we scheduled a conversation for a few weeks later with her fast forward a few weeks and we're driving to the meat and we get a call while we're in the car from her assistant and we're on the west side highway were about
00:16:09forty blocks from her office and her sister calls and says stand no longer wants to see you and I said oh you know well we're on our way will just come in and say hi and her assistants like no she really doesn't want to see you like she's
00:16:29not interested in this idea and I said oh yeah I'm we're just around the corner like what will just drop by for a second and again her assistant very firmly said she doesn't want to see you what do you not understand and I said we're cutting off for
00:16:46cutting off and I hung up and then I dad down the west side highway and we were at her office and we just showed up wheat most people in that situation would have just been like crashed would have felt felt so dejected like I don't know I would
00:17:02and would have just said well forget it forget Diane let's just move on how did you not feel that how did you how are you able to just say we're going we're just gonna do this for a walk in there will Jenny initially was actually started to cry
00:17:17and was a little bit upset about the situation which I think is some people would yeah which I think is the much more natural reaction and I was like we're just going to do that's what we have to lose like what's the worst thing in the world we
00:17:30show up and she doesn't meet us what if you walked in there and they were like security police escort these women out great then we have a story that we could tell all of our friends when we come back what actually happened when Janet Jenny finally showed up
00:17:45at the handler Furstenberg's office I'm guy rising you're listening to how I built this from NPR Hey everyone just a quick thanks to two of our sponsors to help make this podcast possible first to twenty three and me personal genetics company name for the twenty three pairs of
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00:19:15I'm of your Eisenberg join me on NPR's ask me another as we challenged contestants and celebrities to nerdy word games music parodies and wonderful trivia find is every week on the NPR one apple and where ever you listen to podcasts welcome back to how I built this from
00:19:33NPR I'm guy rise so before the break Jan was talking about how she and her co founder Cheney basically busted into Diane von Furstenberg's office to have a second meeting and amazingly die and agreed to meet with them and in fact she went up giving them some pretty
00:19:50good advice actually that was the meeting where she told us you know I don't want you to do this on my website you are going to have to sell this idea to other designers and get lots of people on board if I'm going to do this to her
00:20:05so in a sense in that meeting she gave us permission to make it a consumer facing business and to approach the rest of the industry wow so to me it sounds like she should have rewrote your business plan right right there yeah sit so did you walk out
00:20:18of our office would like names or contacts or did you just walk out of the %HESITATION her her office to saying all right cool this is this is clarifying we now know where had next well we did ask her for some introductions and I think that she introduced
00:20:33us to one or two people in the industry we then would meet with those people and we asked them for introductions and so on and so forth but we continued to just call call people so one of the next people that I cold called was the president of
00:20:48Neiman Marcus %HESITATION because he was both the H. B. S. a lot %HESITATION so I had access to his email address and I thought that you know if this whole rent the runway thing falls through a like maybe I could work for Jim gold at Neiman Marcus when
00:21:04would he say he said yeah this is a really good idea %HESITATION women have been renting the runway for my stores for decades it's called buying something keeping the tags on and then returned to the store which probably cost them millions of dollars yeah it's kind of the
00:21:20dirty secret of retell the the return rate especially addresses and and special occasion a tire is extremely high Kish part for second and ask this question which is I'm wearing the outfit I'm wearing today like I've worn this in the last few days %HESITATION I am no shame
00:21:38about it obviously there's different societies different standards for men and women but what what what is this about like what's this thing where where women feel like they can't wear the same dress at that into different functions I really think that there's a value that women place on
00:21:55self expression and that clothes make you feel a certain way about yourself you put on an amazing outfit in the morning and it makes you feel powerful or beautiful or sexy or relaxed or however you want to feel that day there's just a general value in our society
00:22:12right now around individuality and self expression and so the way that you're going to achieve that with fashion is via a variety so I had seen at the time and it's even more true today that the way that women were accessing variety and individuality was through fast fashion
00:22:33and off price because the only place that you could buy a quantity of items was at a place that was selling them for a very cheap price forever twenty one or HM exactly so I think that when you don't have to buy something it allows you to try
00:22:51new things to constantly be playful to experiment to try things that are in colors or and trends or you know different kinds of styles that you never would purchase because they're irrational so with run run way it's like a **** Wonka land a fashion you can have whatever
00:23:07you want whenever you want it let's say you have a job interview you had a party you have a wedding you're going to you're saying I wanted to arrive at my home on September fifteenth and I'm gonna wear it and use it for a few days and then
00:23:20I'm gonna return it and it's about ten percent of the retail price so how did you know for sure that you know that women will be interested in in like doing this man did you did you guys do any research on no we never did research in an
00:23:34academic sense we did real life research which was we went to Bloomingdale's we bought about a hundred dresses all in our own sizes so that if this whole experiment didn't work out we would have an awesome new war hero we spent a lot of our savings on this
00:23:51and we hosted a pop up at Harvard undergrad and we invited different groups of Harvard undergrads to the pop up in the idea behind this was to learn AA will women red dresses beat what are they rent how much will they pay what brands to they want and
00:24:12most importantly if they do rent what happens to these garments after they were after they get destroyed %HESITATION can you send them through the mail how do you dry clean these items and so on and so forth this is like still like what I mean today this seems
00:24:29like a no brainer but this is what two thousand eight two thousand nine this our first pop up was in April two thousand nine so I mean at that time Netflix is like mailing DVDs through the mail so that was going on I guess app pose you could
00:24:44get shoes you can mail it back but still it wasn't like what it is now it was still new it was in it feels both so long ago and also yesterday so you got the the the sense right away that this that this can work because these these
00:25:02undergraduates he's these women were like yeah I want to rent this I got the sense that it would work because I saw the a motional a fact so in this pop up I saw girls you know stripping down trying on these amazing dresses and feeling beautiful and you
00:25:21saw it their facial expressions change and they threw their shoulders back and they tussled their hair and they walked with a new sense of confidence and you know I really thought while this could be a business that isn't just about offering her a rational or smart choice but
00:25:39it also can be a business that is delivering something emotional to her making her feel beautiful every single day check out a lot of founders choose to do it on their own like in like Gary Erickson from clif bar or even stare blankly from spanks and she runs
00:26:00a hundred percent of our company but you guys went for venture capital pretty quickly pretty early on why we had to raise money because we needed to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in inventory to even launch a business or to assess whether it was a viable idea
00:26:24and I don't come from a family that has hundreds of thousands of dollars of savings especially you know savings that they're going to invest in their daughters crazy idea into when you were pitching venture capitalist how much money were you looking to raise in that first round we
00:26:42raised one point seven five million dollars wow so I mean with that money what could you do I guess build a website right you could buy initial inventory in various size runs with some depth because we knew we needed many different designers we needed a selection right you
00:26:59weren't going to come and start renting if there were only five units of inventory on the site we could hire some people we could launch a website that was about it and take photos of the dresses and put him on the website yeah that's another funny story until
00:27:14two weeks before the website launched we didn't realize that we would have to take photos the inventory we thought of course in this industry there some centralized place that takes photos of this how ridiculous is it that every retailer would have to photograph this inventory over and over
00:27:29again needless to say we we figure out like right before the websites meant to launch that we have no photos and we put together eight impromptu photo shoot where we found a photographer on Craigslist who ended up working with rent the runway for six years while and we
00:27:51bring our own issues in our own accessories to this photo shoot and are you know initial team of five employees in many interns at the time kind of figure out how to do it so once you launch how do you get the word out how he had to
00:28:07get people to even know what the says hustling so what was the hustle the hustle was we wanted to build a list of as many women as possible you know the sex and the city movie had come out that summer and we would go to movie theaters with
00:28:27women who were attending that movie and we would get their email addresses we would convince friends to send us email addresses of other friends up there so like we were really doing anything and everything so one of the names that was on this list that we had built
00:28:43around the right way had a at New York times dot com and I was like oh look they're someone who works at the New York times on this email address and I looked her up and I saw that she was a twenty two year old technology reporter invite
00:28:59her in maybe she could write about rent the runway so we met with her and we decided we were going to give her a story and I thought that if Jenny and I were photographed for this article potentially we could be on the front page of the business
00:29:15if if there was a photo of the two of you yes because it was a technology reporter and no women are ever covered in the technology section yeah so I say to this reporter %HESITATION maybe you know you should take it maybe you could take a photograph of
00:29:30us at the quote unquote warehouse which was a dry cleaner at the time so we put on like these crazy dresses and we showed up when the photographer I showed up to the dry cleaner and we stood on ladders and we told the photographer to take a photo
00:29:47of us on ladders in front of kind of the array of of dresses that were on the kind of dry cleaning sheen and because the photo was so utterly absurd it ended up on the front page of the business section and the headline a one photo on NY
00:30:07times dot com so we had a hundred thousand people signed up for rent the runway off of that story wow so you had did you all of a sudden have people making orders gas did you have the inventory to handle all the orders now so what you do
00:30:24we raise more money so because of of hustling to get the story in the lock of ending up on the front page of The New York Times we met our first year sales projections and three weeks and we had a clamoring of venture capital investors who work kind
00:30:44of coming into our office pitching us on series day so we got we have gone from you know a very undesirable investment to like people showing up at the elevator in our building to meet with us unannounced while because they wanted to pounce on the deal to chill
00:31:06I mean off you and Jenny are you know unfortunately still rare in in the start up world and that your your two women I'm leading a huge company and and but at the time when you were raising money did you ever get the sense from venture capitalists who
00:31:24presumably most mostly men that I don't know they were like a little bit dismissive or condescending or you know I don't treat you differently yeah we had several different very condescending conversations one in which a partner at a very prestigious firm took my hand into his and he
00:31:47said you know this is so adorable you're gonna get to wear such pretty dresses this must be so fun for you how did you react we both froze a little bit %HESITATION I thought we were very polite and we walked out and we said you know thanks for
00:32:04the feedback no of course we never interacted with this firm read this investor again we never pitch them on any subsequent round we were like kind of good riddance to these people so there's an element of you know we had we had access to capital we had choices
00:32:24because the business was growing and that's a privilege I read in an article that you that one investor so it's not like %HESITATION you know let me let me talk to my wife about about this idea well that's something that we heard all the time that wasn't one
00:32:40investor that was most let me talk to my wife my daughter or my admin those were the three you know target customers that we would hear and let me tell you why each is problematic number one the wife of a venture capitalist is a billionaire so the wife
00:32:57of a venture capitalist is not my target customer right the daughter of a venture capitalist in most cases is about twelve because most venture capitalists are when they're in the prime of their careers their kind of forty five to fifty so you know their daughters not a great
00:33:17target either and there admin admins who work in the venture capital industry because it's such a prestigious job are often women who were in their fifties and sixties again not women who were in my target demo so we would pre empt that by showing videos and inviting these
00:33:39investors to some of our pop up show them who the customer was so that they really got a sense for who we were catering to that there's been a lot of a lot of attention recently to to the third row ash culture of of venture capital in Silicon
00:33:57Valley and %HESITATION and how women are are finally in a publicly be able to come out and talk more about their experiences %HESITATION did you experience some of that culture in in this process I through the process of building rent the runway was sexually harassed %HESITATION by one
00:34:17individual and I'm happy to share that experience however I will say that I've had interactions with dozens and dozens of venture capitalists at dozens of firms and this was just one individual so V. so far far far majority of my interactions have been incredibly positive but I was
00:34:44in a situation once where I was kind of propositions sent sexual texts messages this is why you were trying to raise money for rent the runway while I was building the company yes from someone in the investor community sending you text messages like what's gonna date or whatever
00:35:02it was bad and things that are more explicit than that would you shocked to to to see to get those I was I thought that it was inappropriate in and fairly bizarre given that it was happening over text message so there was evidence created another was also you
00:35:22know conversations that were happening in person that were also threatening and very bizarre yeah did you just ignore it was or anything you could have did you feel like you can really do anything about it except just ignore it so I initially ignored it and that was the
00:35:43plan I was planning on ignoring it and you know decided you know I was gonna keep it silent and then this person decided to call one of my board members up on the phone and say you know Jan never response to me and I think that this is
00:36:02a real problem and she's a really unresponsive CEO and she's probably she's doing this to me she's probably doing this to other people and he really challenged my behavior is a C. E. L. and actually that board member came into my office to give me feedback and say
00:36:20I need to be more responsive which was might instantaneous reaction was all my god I can't believe that this person after being rejected by making the sexual advances is now trying to ruin my career and just a minute how Jan handled that very tricky situation I'm guy rising
00:36:42you're listening to how I built this from NPR this is Terry gross the host of fresh air we do long form interviews with the people behind the best books pop culture journalism and more so you can get to know the people whose work you love you'll find fresh
00:37:02air on NPR one or wherever you get your podcasts just one more thing before we get back the show we still have a few tickets left for our upcoming live show in LA on December fifth at the ace theatre it's with Michael do then he's the co founder
00:37:21of dollar shave club and it's an amazing story of how he turned that into a billion dollar company and if you haven't been to a live show they are so much fun it's a chance to meet me in meet the team behind the show and also a chance
00:37:35to meet your fellow H. I. B. T. listeners so if you want to get a ticket go to NPR presents dot org the show is supported by American Express and I hope to see you there Hey welcome back to how I built this from NPR I'm guy rise
00:37:57so in those early days and from the runway Zhenhai men faced the situation where one of our investors was harassing her and when she ignored his advances he took it out on %HESITATION he actually complained about her to a member of her board SO when that board member
00:38:13asked Jen about it and she decided to be totally transparent about what was going on I I showed this board member the text messages at that time and basically you know ask my board member how how they'd like me to respond what the board member saying I mean
00:38:33the board member was shocked I bet and I proceeded to tell everyone else on my board as well as some key executives who were working with me at rent the runway at the time and the board was unbelievably supportive and we decided that we were not going to
00:38:53do business anymore with this individual or his firm so there is that form of sexual harassment and I think that that's a lot of what's been getting recent media coverage yeah and hopefully by nature of a lot of very brave women speaking out right now that sort of
00:39:13sexual harassment will be stamped out of the industry in one way that I think over time that it needs to be stamped out is by diversifying the sources of capital making sure that fifty percent of investors are women but let's put that aside just for a second the
00:39:31second form of sexual harassment slash gender discrimination is way more subtle and it's way more difficult to prove but for instance overall I have seen male founders receive you know sometimes more mentorship or more chances to be successful they get more strikes against them before their investors kind
00:40:02of pull the plugs in in a lot of cases women are only given you know it's a one strike or you're out as the CEO and founder %HESITATION there are situations where I've now come to understand that a lot of how deals get done and how companies let's
00:40:19say get acquired is someone is saying something like %HESITATION you should really meet this guy he's a visionary is incredible yeah should get to know him and I think across the board more of those comments are being made about male entrepreneurs than they are about female entrepreneurs we
00:40:35as a society feel uncomfortable using the words visionary or brilliant to describe women that's not always intentional I think it's just ingrained in people I would say in in in a lot of different instances people have actually genuinely been trying to be helpful to me like there was
00:40:58a time early in my career where an investment firm you know said to me %HESITATION Jen you know you should really neat these other entrepreneurs there around your so your own age their brilliant you could learn a lot from them they're building incredible companies they're gonna change the
00:41:15world now all of those entrepreneurs were men and they were kind of preface this being geniuses brilliant except our a and the same firm never introduced me in that same way to the same entrepreneurs even though we were at similar tenure and similar stages in our company the
00:41:33irony is a lot of those guys their businesses you know aren't around anymore can and you know I'm the one who's still chugging now I don't think that they were trying to be intentionally sexist it's just that there's a shade to which we all operate that puts women
00:41:53at a bit of a disadvantage yeah it's really amazing I mean you it speaks to the this like perception of of power dynamics that that's so prevalent in in the in the venture world I think that those power dynamics exist in so many different industries and I don't
00:42:11think that it's just a Silicon Valley or technology problem and that's why I think that the more agreed yes sending you a text message in the middle of the night asking to sleep with you sort of sexual harassment hopefully can peace stamp out via just being more vocal
00:42:34about it I think though that the more subtle form of harassment slash discrimination or just lack of opportunity is actually the harder problem to solve them more pernicious problem it's the reason why only four percent of venture capital dollars are going towards women and you know very very
00:42:54few investors are women so you know we need to fundamentally diversify who has access to power who has access to capital in order to get a diversity of ideas and entrepreneurs out there yeah in in you obviously you have had incredible success despite the challenges that the you
00:43:12faced and that women in in and tax face and as you sort of begin to develop as a leader as a CEO how did you how did you sort of make that transition how did you figure out how to you know manage lots of people I think that
00:43:28it is a continuous work in progress I had never manage people across the diversity of functions that we haven't rent the runway to rent the runway is primarily a technology in logistics company yeah we have twelve hundred employees ten employees are in my fashion department and you know
00:43:46hundreds are in my logistics department hundreds are into my engineering department and these are areas in which I had no experience and you know one thing that I've learned is that leadership of falls over time first of all being a leader of a twelve hundred person company is
00:44:06different than being a leader of a hundred person company and so I have to really evolve even though I've had the same title for eight plus years like there are so many things that you know I've done wrong along the way and I think that the things that
00:44:23has made me grow and develop is the recognition of failure and the desire to improve in the desire to get better I don't want people to have the impression that this was all you know you just freed from success to success that was easy and there were no
00:44:44low points because there there have been like with any company N. and two thousand fifteen you got some some tough press about some people who left the company they were quotes newspapers calling it a %HESITATION a mean culture and and %HESITATION and things like that from from some
00:45:04of these employees who left to that which will hurt by reading that stuff was some people were binge criticizing you and and your state and your management style leadership it was the most difficult experience of my life actually it was such a difficult time because as a woman
00:45:25there's two things they could really call you as a woman all you the B. word right or they could say you're an idiot and I've never really had a had a fear of someone calling me an idiot but I do value myself for how I treat others so
00:45:43to be called mean and to you know be quoted as having a mean girls culture at the company was so unsettling and sad and horrible to me because it's the thing that's the most important to me you know what had been happening at the time was the company
00:46:06was going through a quite painful and difficult transition from being a you know what one phase of a start up to trying to develop some sense of entering our our teen years or adolescent years and I started to realize that I needed to make the tough calls and
00:46:29fire some people that was very unsettling to people because we give men permission as leaders and a C. E. O. is to make the tough choices via you know with women we don't give them as much permission to make those tough decisions and we often when when we
00:46:49do make those decisions were often labeled as the B. word or you know exciter us so it certainly was a low point but it led to the biggest outpouring of support of ever had it lead to more courage around my own decision making because I led the company
00:47:11into the best place it's ever been yeah and in a sense it makes the future less scary yeah because that article or a version of it it will come out again and the next time it comes out it's just not going to have the same impact on me
00:47:32you mentioned earlier in the interview how you always wanted to run a successful company in an or start a successful company but also have a family and a kid and %HESITATION and you did that you you have a child and a and a partner and how have you
00:47:46figured out how to to do in the way you wanted to do it well first of all let's backtrack to being twenty eight and having the idea for on the runway and I just want to tell the real story here because I think that a lot of women
00:48:00go through this and and they don't talk about it one of the major considerations that I had in starting rent the runway was is this a smart idea for me because if rent the runway is successful will I ever be able to get married I was always confident
00:48:21that I would turn rent the runway into a consumer behavior that millions of people dead and that I would build a you know I still believe we're going to build a multi billion dollar company but at the very very beginning when read the runaway launched I had been
00:48:38dating someone from Harvard Business School who I was very much in love with and the day that went around we came out and we were on the front page of The New York Times she broke up with me shortly there after and he told me that she realized
00:48:58that he didn't want to be with his equal so that was really sad and disheartening because I was very in love with this person and that's what led into this fear now it ended up that the sphere was completely unfounded and I had no issues you know falling
00:49:18in love while building rent the runway I just think that it it highlights me because the number one priority in my life has always been having a family and having kids so the amount of happiness that I have now having a daughter I just got back from maternity
00:49:36leave last week I am engaged to the love of my life I can't even describe to you the level of joy that it brings into my life on a daily basis to truly have all of my dreams have come true I guess plaster you guys had them you
00:49:56you became profitable which I should point out is very six exceedingly rare so quickly %HESITATION and I mean your revenue is over a hundred million dollars according to published reports the valuation of companies I don't even know what it is do you know what it is I do
00:50:14know what it can't say what it is yes but it's it's probably higher than you ever imagined even though it it it may still be on paper this thing that you built that you in an and Jenny built has made both of you wretched man you are even
00:50:30though maybe to be on paper you are wrecked your rich person you did not grow up that way well being rich on paper is very that being rich in reality so let's talk and if you say because I didn't grow up saying I want to found a company
00:50:44I had this idea for rent the runway I saw that it was mission driven I saw that it was driving self confidence and making women feel incredible about themselves and I knew that I had to commit my life to that and I'm really proud that we have had
00:51:00many different women leave rent the runway and then raise their own venture capital and start their own companies and go after their own dreams and Jenny and I two years ago decided to start a foundation where we've raised millions of dollars to support other female entrepreneurs scaling their
00:51:22companies and we've now helped thousands of women throughout the United States in scaling their organizations so this mission of empowering women and making women feel confident is the actual thing that I care about now if it happens to be that rent the runway brings me the ability to
00:51:45provide for my family and to think my parents that would be wonderful but honestly if it amounts to nothing it is the absolute best experience of my life and I would do it over a million times Jen hi men founder of rent the runway by the way her
00:52:04co founder Jennifer Fleiss recently left the company was amicable both Jan and Jennifer each down thirteen percent of the company and its put them on Forbes list of the richest self made women to watch rent the runway isn't just profitable it's also become America's single largest dry cleaner
00:52:22dresses from five hundred different designers including so it took awhile to convince her Diane von Furstenberg and please do stick around because in just a moment we're going to hear from you about the things your building but first a quick thanks to one of our sponsors mail check
00:52:40mail chimp does so much more than email they've outgrown their name with automation ad campaigns and audience management MailChimp could help your business grow its name to that just mail mail chip Hey thanks so much for sticking around because it's time now for how you build that and
00:53:00today we're going to update the story we ran a while back with more to come as rocky in San Diego California in her story starts a few years ago when her daughter lay %HESITATION was packing to go overseas on a gap year programme she was going to be
00:53:14traveling to fourteen different countries which meant that she was going to be living out of a suitcase so we needed to find the system where she would be very organized in her travels to be able to survive out of a suitcase pretty much for the year okay this
00:53:27for me or maybe even you you know we could just throw a bunch of clothes into a suitcase and forget about it but Monica she is incredibly organized I was a mathematician college in I was always very into order like in masters one solution but when it came
00:53:46to packing I just couldn't find the system we tried with zip lock bags we tried many other packing cubes but you couldn't see your things and I wanted to turn a suitcase into a set of drawers and one morning I came up with was a modular set of
00:54:03clear squishy plastic cubes that you could stack inside a suitcase and pull out by a handle when you open your suitcase you can see everything in your suitcase and eventually Monica ran into a friend at a barbecue who happened to work with factories in China so of course
00:54:20she showed him her plans then he says this looks really interesting man he took it to China many made a prototype for me if I told him I wanted to clear one the piping I wanted to have a handle and he made the first prototypes soon after that
00:54:35Marcus scrape together some money and placed an order for fourteen thousand of these packing cubes and a few months later a truck driver pulled up in front of her house I was getting maybe fifty boxes or something we had a twenty foot container full of boxes and I'm
00:54:53like oh my god what did we do and that was the precise moment when Monica realized she'd forgotten one very crucial detail she had not gotten the word out help the packing cubes now I didn't have a single client I haven't sold a single Q. fortunately her son
00:55:12Solomon had studied business and marketing in college and so he stepped in and he said mom said we are going to work really hard we're gonna put it online and we're going to sell this to Solomon started to email mommy bloggers about the cubes and one of them
00:55:27posted it on Pinterest and sure enough he says were to start you know six or seven orders and like that was a big deal at the time I was like wow like this is working you know and yet she liked the idea so much that Solomon bought the
00:55:42company from his mom's any called it easy packing now she still helps out with the accounting and her husband does the legal work and our other kids help out too but Solomon he now does the bulk of the work you know what it's been an amazing honor to
00:55:57work with my son I never thought I would work with my son if it hadn't been for him I would not have been able to do it that's money cameras right she easy packing today her son Solomon and his fiancee run the company full time but Monica still
00:56:12helps out in since we first ran the story expanded to selling in Europe and have basically doubled their business selling over ten thousand packing cubes in the past year alone if you want to learn more about easy packing or your previous episodes into our podcast page how I
00:56:29built this dock in V. R. dot org and of course if you want to tell us your story go to build NPR dot org thanks so much for listening to the show this week you can subscribe where ever you get your podcasts and while you're there please do
00:56:43give us a review you could also write us directly at H. T. S. P. R. dot org and if you want to send a tweet at how I built this show was produced this week but run of Delphi cat with music composed by Russ teen error of Louis
00:56:57thanks also to Neva grant St as Michigan four Lawrence woo Jeff Rodgers R. intern is me event I'm guy rise and you've been listening to how I built this from NPR

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