Jennifer Hyman – Renting Brands for a Living

In the past few years, there has been a clear rise in women’s entrepreneurship. We have seen women transform several industries by tier innovation. Only in the last twenty years,  there has been a 114% growth in female-owned businesses. One of these successful wonder women is Jennifer Hyman who has single-handedly changed the retail industry; she founded Rent the Runway(RTR) in 2009. RTR is your closet in the cloud. Yes, ladies, you heard me right. Thanks to Jenn, we do not need to spend $2000 on a dress because we can rent it!

There are always lots of dresses that we buy at a certain time for a special occasion. We never come around to wearing them again because it is just not right, right? For ten years, Jennifer has been providing the ladies with expensive dresses that they can wear once and return. The original model was to let people rent expensive dresses for weddings, important meetings, dates, new year eves, etc. However, on interacting with the customers they realized that there was more of a demand for everyday clothes – work clothes. She says, ultimately you want to look best for the job you want, we cannot show up in a blue shirt and jeans. She added, women are expected to dress a certain way and that takes effort and big bucks. 

As a result, they found the subscription model which was the boom of RTR. Rent the Runway is an addition to the sharing economy, where women rent clothes at least 120 times in one year on average. The sustainable growth came from these subscriptions with over 9 million users as reported in an interview with Goldman Sachs. In ten years, RTR has raised 200 million dollars in venture capital and is worth $1billion. 

The family of Jennifer Hyman

Jennifer Hyman recognized her privilege long ago. She comes from the town of New Rochelle, New York. Jenn dedicates most of her resilience to her parents and the way she was brought up. One of her younger sisters is severely autistic and yet her parents chose to wear it like armor. They worked as a team to facilitate and never hid or separated her sister from the family. Secondly, her high school played a huge role in diversifying her experiences. Jenn met people from every race and culture during her highschool. It made her realise not everybody has the same set of advantages as her. 

How is RTR different?

Jenn’s business strategy is different from most young CEOs. As opposed to most, she owns up to her mistakes. Firstly, a few years back she realized that there is income inequality in her own company. How? The hourly employees were not given the same benefits as salaried employees. There was already a class difference because hourly employees were usually found in the warehouses yet salaried ones in the corporate office. Jenn revised all her policies and gave the hourly employees the same health and leisure benefits as others. She said in her interviews, the passing of my parents or the birth of my baby is not superior to the life events of my warehouse employees. This change in her company benefited her since fewer people left their jobs and retaining employees became an easy task. 

Picture from WSJ

Another mistake which she highlights in her interviews is that her team did not estimate their growth numbers correctly. The influx of users was way more than the team could manage which affected the user experience. RTR customer representatives were not responsive and did not get back to their customer issues in a reasonable amount of time. 

Consequently, deliveries were delayed and returned outfits were not restocked on time. Jenn says we emailed our user base and said we are sorry. One thing that she prides herself on is transparency and honesty with her customer base. In a conversation, she said when we screw up we admit to it and then tell the customers here is how we plan to rectify it. To solve this particular problem they shut down for a couple of days and then reopened before the committed date to users. 

COVID Strategies by Jennifer Hyman

Moreover, Jennifer Hyman also adopted very strict guidelines for managing the COVID crisis. She sent out emails to her userbase and her employees. To run the company smoothly, she started the four-part plan to keep her warehouse employees safe. Jenn is well aware that the company will fall apart without the warehouse army hence she takes good care of them. The four-part plan included on-site nurses for workers, listening tours with warehouse employees to specifically to hear their concerns; a reward of $500 to employees for their dedicated work to the company and lastly voluntary furlough for associates while they continue to get medical benefits and can return to their position once the restrictions are lifted. 

The right way is the Jenn way

Jennifer Hyman has done her research and continues to increase her knowledge. When you listen to this wonder woman every strategy is backed with numbers. The Harvard grad focuses more on her data than anything else. It is because of her data that she says, RTR has more information about the client than the client’s family. There is post-order data, inventory data, chemical data research on the material to preserve designer dresses, and many more. Even while pitching her ideas for her seed capital she had already run an experiment by renting 10 dresses to her batchmates. 

Thus, she has a lot to say from her experience of ten years. Below are just a few of the features she likes to emphasize:

It is possible to have it all. You can have a family or a hobby and still have a successful business. She says it is better to be obsessed with something more than your work; it helps you concentrate better when you are relaxed. 

Do not sit back with your idea. Go ahead and make it happen before anyone else does. Enter the market with resilience and do not give up during difficult times. 

When you prepare your pitch, present it at least twenty times. Get it out of your system as much as you can and be comfortable with your pitch. Make so many people listen to it that you are ready for any question thrown your way because you already anticipated the question. For women entrepreneurs, specifically the ones in fashion, it is a tough job to convince the 45 50-year-old men to believe in your cause. Thus let your numbers speak, give them proof and physically familiarise them with your customer acquisition idea to make them believe in it.

Sakina Nayani