Clothing rental service Rent the Runway has been an astronomical success since first launching in November of 2009, but it wasn't always easy for founders Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss. In a recent profile for Forbes, Hyman talked about the sexism she faced while trying to get Rent the Runway off the ground and how it spurred on the success of the company.
The very first paragraph of the Forbes piece describes a situation that occurred when Hyman was 29 years old and fresh out of Harvard Business School. While pitching the concept for Rent the Runway to a major venture capital firm in Boston, "one of the men interrupted the presentation, cupped her hand in his and said, 'You are just too cute. You get this big closet and get to play with all these dresses and can wear whatever you want. This must be so much fun!'"
How disrespectful is that? And this was only five years ago! Forbes writer Steven Bertoni reports that at the time "Hyman had gotten six term sheets from some of the country’s best venture firms, which valued her “big closet” at $50 million." And yet this venture capitalist felt compelled to belittle her excellent business idea by dismissing her as "cute." So gross. Luckily, Hyman didn't let one man's chauvinism get her down. She told Bertoni, "Opposed to screaming and shouting about inherent sexism in this entrepreneurial world, I thought, Let’s work it — let’s build the most kick-ass logistics company in the whole world, and then we’ll reveal what’s under the dress.”
And we should be glad she did. Women like Hyman and her business partner Fleiss are helping to pave the way for a younger generation of serious businesswomen who understand that fashion doesn't equal fluff. While it's appalling that intelligent and savvy female entrepreneurs are still being disregarded by some male counterparts, the Rent the Runway story is a clear victory. After all, the company is continuing to grow. This year alone they have launched a subscription service called Unlimited, began carrying wedding dresses for rent, and announced the opening of a brick-and-mortar location. Real "cute," right?
The more women triumph against workplace sexism, the less workplace sexism will exist. Let the Rent the Runway story inspire you to go after your dreams — even if some smarmy venture capitalist grabs your hand in the middle of a presentation.