Undergraduate Blog / Career Development

Fireside Chat with Jennifer Hyman CEO of Rent the Runway

One of the perks of living in New York city is the plethora of start-ups and companies within a small radius. Yesterday, July 31st, I found myself in the headquarters of Rent the Runway in Manhattan listening to the advice of a young female CEO, Jennifer Hyman. Rent the Runway (RTR) is an online renting service of designer gowns and accessories. Founded in 2009, RTR was one of the pioneers in the concept of product as a service (PaaS) and one of the first to join the sharing economy. PaaS transforms the traditional business model of customers owning a product to a rent/pay-per-use agreement; the consumer doesn’t specifically want a product but wants the benefits the item provides.

In the Fireside chat Jennifer Hyman spoke about her experience as an entrepreneur, a mother and student. While narrating her story to a crowd mostly dominated by young women, she made sure to give a few pieces of advice:

  1. Networking, Networking, Networking. One of the things the CEO emphasized was the importance of the friendships and people you meet in college. Many times she mentioned how as an undergrad the most valuable asset she got wasn’t the knowledge but the connections that further on became job opportunities, customers and mentors. It was in her Harvard MBA that she met her co-founder Jennifer Fleiss and it was in the Harvard undergraduate campus where they launched their pop-up stores.
  2. Study Abroad and Travel. Jennifer was asked to touch upon the biggest regrets/changes she would make to her academic path. She emphasized that there are no regrets but the one thing she would do is study abroad and take a traveling gap year after graduating college. There will be no better age or time to travel to the places you want to see. If a company wants you bad enough they will be okay with you starting a bit later, it’s okay to ask.
  3. It’s the Team, not the Job. Something alluded to several times and clearly a pillar of RTR is company culture. Jennifer talked about her different labor experiences, the worst one being a position that “sounded sexy” but the reality was a different story. Something memorable she said was, “Whatever the senior executives are doing, that is the culture of the company”, meaning if the executives are leaving at 10:00pm every day then that is the culture of the company. Through this experience she realized that the job that you are going to do isn’t as important as the team and culture that surrounds you. Because of this she makes sure to push a healthy, entrepreneurial and supportive culture at her company.

Overall, it was beautiful to hear about the experience of a young female entrepreneur who is very passionate about growing her company, being an amazing mother and empowering others to be “their own founders”. This is only the beginning of Rent the Runway and I am excited sure to see more in the years to come.