Jenny Fleiss is an entrepreneurial force to be reckoned with. She started her career as a strategic planner at Morgan Stanley, and then Lehman Brothers. After a few years of strategy work, she went off to Harvard Business School in 2007. When she first started at HBS, Jenny couldn’t have predicted how going to business school would forever alter the trajectory of her career. But, that it did. It was during those two years that she met her future co-founder, Jennifer Hyman.
While in business school, they launched Rent the Runway, a one-stop shop to rent dresses and accessories by famous designers. If you’re reading this and you’re a woman, you know this problem all too well: there’s a special event coming up, like a friend’s wedding, a black tie gala, or a New Year’s Eve party. You have a few options: buy a beautiful dress that you’ll only wear once, or throw on something you already own. The former option is expensive, and the latter option is not at all exciting.
Enter: Rent the Runway, where you can rent designer dresses for a fraction of the cost. The business model works because—let’s be honest—if you buy a beautiful, expensive dress, you’re probably only going to wear it a few times. The ROI for renting (versus buying) a designer dress often makes more sense.
Women around the country seem to agree: the business has flourished since the company started in 2008. Fleiss and Hyman were named two of the top 100 most influential women in tech by Fast Company in 2011, and they were also chosen as one of the top 40 under 40 by Fortune Magazine.
Even Beyonce is partnering with them. Beyonce. That’s pretty impressive. If this story doesn’t convince you that business school may in fact be an incredibly valuable experience for budding entrepreneurs, I don’t know what will.
Technori partnered with the Young Entrepreneur Council to bring you a seven-part Q&A series featuring some of the most successful young female entrepreneurs in the country, including Jenny. She lets us in on the habits that keep her productive day-to-day, the popular entrepreneurial advice she disagrees with, and the three key elements she attributes to running a successful business.
What ignited the spark in you to start a business?
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial bug since realizing how fun it was to run a business, starting with good lemonade stands! At Harvard Business School, I was inspired by the community around me and the rapidly evolving e-commerce space to launch Rent the Runway. I noticed a few industry trends that made the timing perfect; rental behavior and collaborative consumption was taking root in many industries, but hadn’t yet hit retail. The recession made people more excited to make smart money decisions, but social media increased the social pressure to constantly have new outfits. Rent the Runway was the perfect fix, and a business that would enable me to learn a ton across many different industries.
What are the three key elements you’d attribute to starting and running a successful business?
JF: Great partnership with my co-founder, can-do attitude and bias towards action, executing and getting stuff done like going to the customer and not just writing business plans.
What habits help you stay focused and productive day-to-day?
Exercise! I am a spinning and running fanatic. I often work out with my husband, so I also get to spend quality time with him. I have a new baby who is incredible, and walking in the door to her smiling face each evening always makes any stress fade away. I find myself being more efficient because I know that when I get home, I want to be able to focus my time on her.
It’s no surprise that start-up growth is often where entrepreneurs struggle most. What advice do you have for scaling a business?
JF: Don’t think too much! Roll with it but always keep a pulse on your customer and company culture.
What is the most challenging aspect of being a female entrepreneur? The most rewarding?
JF: Pitching to make entrepreneurs can be difficult especially when it’s a female-oriented product. It is incredibly rewarding to know you’re setting an example and making more women feel confident to go after their dreams.
What popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with? What advice would you give to fellow entrepreneurs instead?
JF: I disagree with writing business plans and trying to have everything figured out in advance; it’s unrealistic with startups. It’s best to get a minimal viable product out there and test direct with your customers. Many are also naysayers on venture capital, where I think especially for first time entrepreneurs it is.
What mantra do you live by?
JF: No doesn’t mean no, it just means not right now.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.
Other articles in this series: