Rent the Runway is arguably one of the most successful startups we have seen emerge in the last decade (it started in 2009.) After all, it solved multiple problems. The first one it fixed was that young women have limited funds to spend on their wardrobe and at a time when they are making appearances at high stake opportunity events both in their career and social lives.
When social media exploded and became an outfit killer once your outfit was seen on multiple platforms, it let you never repeat an outfit again with the launch of Rent the Runway Unlimited. And, for anyone that doesn’t have a closet like Cher from Clueless (so the majority of us), this expanded our closet infinitely without having to build an addition on our homes.
With Americans experiencing “wardrobe panic” 36 times a year, an infinite closet is pretty darn smart. That is why this past February the company received $21 million from Blue Pool Capital, which is run by Alibaba founders Jack Ma and Joe Tsai, bringing the company’s total venture funding to nearly $210 million, (they just had a $20 million investment), according to ReCode.
No network, many problems
Cofounders Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss are now household names and startup legends but when they first launched their company, now dubbed “the Netflix of fashion,” fresh out of Harvard Business School they felt a bit lost as they didn’t really have that absolutely essential network of people you need for your career to succeed.
“At the beginning we had nothing! We had Jenny and I, who had limited work experience to start out, and there was really no entrepreneurial community in New York at the time. Every single question that came up we just had to figure out on our own, which we did but it just took us longer than it probably need to,” Fleiss told Ladders recently.
That is why the cofounders, in partnership with UBS, started Project Entrepreneur in 2015. The foundation’s goal is to take the already stellar pipeline of female founders and help them build scalable companies at an accelerated rate.
Project Entrepreneur has trained over 1,600 women entrepreneurs through its educational programs and events. More than $18 million has been raised by program alumni and 100% of the 2016 Project Entrepreneur Accelerator Participants raised seed rounds within 16 months of the program.
“We wanted to democratize entrepreneurship in this country to help female founders scale their businesses into big impactful companies. We saw a lot of women with great ideas become founders but then something stops them. They never build the $10 million business, the $100 million business, etc.,” Hyman said. “We wanted to help women who are already founders, who already had ideas, who have already developed products, who already had raised a little bit of money so we could help accelerate them.”
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