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Lessons Learned

Behind Rent The Runway's New Moves

Rent the Runway's CEO Jenn Hyman shares how she is evolving her business.

Behind Rent The Runway's New Moves

[Images: courtesy of Rent The Runway]

You likely know Rent the Runway as the e-commerce site where customers can rent designer dresses for special events. But the company has evolved since its founding in 2009. Last week cofounder and CEO Jenn Hyman announced the launch of Unlimited, Rent the Runway’s new program that allows customers to pay a monthly fee of $139 and receive three items including everyday clothing and accessories as well as formal wear.

Hyman spoke to Fast Company on a charter flight to New York City from San Francisco with 100 women leaders in tech, media, fashion, and policy during the final hours of the 36-hour bicoastal pop-up conference PowerTrip.

Hyman says her mission is to make it "normal, smart, and cool to have everything you wear not be something you own." She first made the announcement that she would be offering rentals for everyday clothing and accessories at the 2015 Fast Company Innovation Festival.

Here Hyman talks about the impact of Unlimited, shares an update on Project Entrepreneur, offers advice on how to be a brand disruptor, and discusses RTR’s next big move.

Disrupting Our Closets

Hyman says she designed Unlimited to help women be more strategic about the investment pieces they buy for their wardrobe while allowing them to have endless access to designer clothes. "In one week you might have a sales presentation, dinner with a client, a one-on-one conversation with your boss, and a meeting outside the office," Hyman says. "This requires constant newness in your wardrobe, and until now, the only way to achieve this without spending a fortune has been through fast fashion." Unlimited, she says, can help you look more sophisticated, powerful, professional—or however you want to look at work.

Helping Other Entrepreneurs

Rent the Runway Foundation’s Project Entrepreneur just announced the final 150 female-founded startups selected to attend a weekend intensive in New York City in April. "I’m in awe of the diversity of the finalists’ ideas, which range in industries from health care to beauty to finance," Hyman says. A dozen of the participants will have the opportunity to pitch their businesses to a panel of judges for a chance to be one of three teams awarded a $10,000 cash prize and a spot in a five-week accelerator program in the RTR offices. "My hope is that the weekend intensive, with the participation of several inspirational female leaders as mentors, has network effects of women helping women in a broader sense," Hyman says.

Pick An Industry That Needs To Be Disrupted

Hyman’s advice to all entrepreneurs is to really dig into and try to understand the industry they are hoping to disrupt. Find out how the industry works, what the competition looks like, and evaluate whether your value proposition is strong enough to make customers choose your product over the alternative. It’s also important to assess if there is strong enough demand for this product. Otherwise, Hyman says, you may set out to revolutionize an industry that doesn’t need to be revolutionized.

Disruption Never Ends

Rent the Runway is an example of the idea that disruption never ends, Hyman says. "While our mission has always been to deliver an experience that makes our customers feel amazing for every occasion in their lives, that mission has taken us to different places," she says. "Once we saw that our customers were comfortable renting not only for parties and weddings but also for everyday moments, we set forth to capture a bigger share of the closet." Hyman’s goal is to make Unlimited a "no-brainer in women’s lives," so that much like Netflix and Spotify, every woman will have a subscription to fashion within the next five years. "As long as you are focused on your original mission and core customer," she says, "there is no limit to the level of disruption you can achieve."

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