Jenny Fleiss

The co-founder of Rent the Run­way saw the fash­ion-rental ser­vice grow to six mil­lion cus­tomers and a re­ported $100 mil­lion in rev­enue. Then she re­al­ized it was time to walk away

Inc. (USA) - - THE LAST WORD - By ZOË HENRY Pho­to­graph by SHANIQWA JARVIS

What should founders be aware of be­fore tak­ing ven­ture cap­i­tal? When Rent the Run­way first raised fund­ing, we were so ex­cited to get a term sheet from Bain Cap­i­tal that we signed it right away. We might not have given due time to meet­ing all the play­ers out on the West Coast. Tak­ing a cou­ple more weeks in those crit­i­cal mo­ments and ex­pos­ing your­self to all net­works of ven­ture cap­i­tal can be valu­able. What are some of the challenges that women en­trepreneurs face that men don’t, and how did you over­come them?

Women of­ten start busi­nesses that ad­dress a fe­male need. Rent the Run­way is a good ex­am­ple. We were our own cus­tomers. The prob­lem is that most ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists are men, so get­ting them to re­late to the prob­lem that you’re solv­ing can be chal­leng­ing. We came up with a good so­lu­tion: Show, don’t tell. We took videos of our trial runs show­ing the emo­tional con­nec­tion women have to fash­ion, which can oth­er­wise be lost on men. You want to point them in the right di­rec­tion of your tar­get de­mo­graphic. How has be­ing a mother changed your view of en­trepreneur­ship? The nice thing is that you don’t take things for granted as much, and that def­i­nitely ap­plies to startup life. When I ad­vise young star­tups, I tell them not to for­get that these are the best of times. These are the mem­o­ries. Write them down, be­cause this is the stuff you’re re­ally go­ing to miss at some point. Last night, I was up for most of the night with my youngest kid, but it was a mo­ment in time, and I know that even­tu­ally she will grow up. Drink lots of cof­fee and try to en­joy the ride. You’re now CEO of Code Eight, a com­pany launched by Wal­mart’s tech in­cu­ba­tor. How do you know when it’s time to leave your com­pany and start some­thing new?

I com­pare it to when your kids are ready to go off to col­lege: You re­al­ize they don’t need you in the same way, and it’s bit­ter­sweet, but it’s a nat­u­ral next step. It has to be this com­bi­na­tion of per­sonal drive— you’re ex­cited to go back into the trenches of start­ing an­other com­pany—and that the com­pany is ready to let go of you.

Women en­trepreneurs need to un­der­stand that VCs usu­ally don’t go for con­ser­va­tive ideas, says Jenny Fleiss. “The main thing I wind up ad­vis­ing them is to dream big­ger.”

GRAND VI­SION

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