BROOKLYN, N.Y. ― On a September morning in Cobble Hill, Jennifer Hyman, the 37-year-old CEO and co-founder of Rent the Runway, was once sitting criss-cross applesauce on her sofa, her lengthy legs clad in stretchy black pants. Newly married and not too long ago again from her honeymoon in Italy, Hyman held her 6-month-old daughter, Aurora, on her lap.
Before working wild with assumptions, this isn’t a tale a couple of “female entrepreneur” or a “girl boss” or a “She-EO,” degrading phrases that give a boost to the perception that an actual chief is a man. There will likely be no revelations about “how she does it” or “juggles” all of it.
Please. This sofa, that child. It’s Hyman’s energy pose. This is a tale a couple of natural-born chief and startup founder, worthy of inclusion on any listing of genius tech CEOs. Hyman, who just about a decade in the past got here up with the speculation of an internet industry renting pricey fashion designer clothes to ladies who want them for particular occasions, is a straight-up entrepreneur. No qualifiers essential.
Hyman has raised $190 million from undertaking capitalists, who’re notoriously lower than beneficiant to ladies, and her corporation, based in 2009, is now ultimate in on so-called unicorn standing, a time period ascribed to outfits price $1 billion or extra. On Monday, Rent the Runway rolled out a made over subscription carrier and a countrywide promoting marketing campaign on TV, a primary for the virtual carrier.
But to get to that sofa in that tony group in Brooklyn, Hyman needed to run uphill in the course of the sexist muck of the industry international. She mentioned she’d been referred to as the C-word through a male colleague two times her age, disregarded as a “girl into dresses,” sexually propositioned through an investor and advised she had to “shut-up” and act extra ladylike. She has additionally navigated her manner in the course of the delicate biases feminine marketers face each day. Some would possibly by no means even understand them. Hyman does.
Being a girl looking to get started a industry is a “tale of a million paper cuts,” Hyman mentioned all through a dialog over a salad within the corporation’s downtown New York place of work in August. “The repetition of little slights over time that lead to women being in situations that are just slightly more difficult for them.”
Perhaps one of the most extra hurtful moments for Hyman got here in 2015 after 5 former workers accused her of working a majority-female corporation with a “mean girl” tradition, anonymously accommodation their lawsuits in a Fortune article revealed after 5 best executives left the company ― some no longer voluntarily.
Then and now, Hyman mentioned the departures have been a part of the pure order, the arduous possible choices a pacesetter makes when scaling a corporate up from two folks to masses. That yr she made some high-profile hires. Maureen Sullivan, a former AOL government who’d additionally frolicked at Google, got here on as leader working officer. Scarlett O’Sullivan left her perch as COO at Softbank to function leader monetary officer. They’re nonetheless with the company. The corporation’s former COO, Beth Kaplan, continues to be on its board. At the time, she advised Fortune that the one mistake Hyman could have made again then was once ready too lengthy to make staffing selections.
Still, the tale, which contained no particular examples of what that tradition was once like, did its injury. It undoubtedly made recruiting tougher, Jennifer Fleiss, who co-founded the corporate with Hyman, advised HuffPost.
“It was almost worse than if the company had gone bankrupt,” mentioned Fleiss, who left the corporate in 2017 for a place at Walmart however stays at the board. “The phrase ‘mean girls culture’ feels sexist. Is there a ‘mean boys culture’? I don’t think anyone talks about that.”
It is difficult to believe a male CEO getting hit as “mean” or developing a median tradition. In truth, Netflix ― a corporate run through Reed Hastings, a person hailed as a genius ― has been celebrated for its relatively ruthless tradition. In corporation paperwork on its tradition and values that surfaced in 2013, Netflix explains that if somebody is appearing simply adequately, they’re fired however given nice severance. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg referred to as it “maybe the most important document to come out of the Valley.” Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Apple’s Steve Jobs had been celebrated for competitive control kinds.
Since that point, turnover appears to be relatively standard, particularly for a startup. In the 250-person company place of work, the common worker tenure, together with new hires, is greater than 3 years, in keeping with interior knowledge. And during the last yr, 20 former workers have come again to paintings at Rent the Runway after having left for different jobs. Among the ones operating in operations (that’s basically the dry-cleaning industry), turnover is lower than 2 %. Rent the Runway employs 1,200 folks, most commonly in its company place of work in New York and its operations heart in New Jersey.
To be transparent, Hyman’s tale isn’t some more or less Horatio Alger story of rags to riches. Everything about her upbringing set her up for pro good fortune. She grew up in an upper-middle-class group in New Rochelle, north of New York City, the cherished eldest daughter in a circle of relatives of 3 women and a boy, surrounded through loving folks and grandparents. Her youngest sister is significantly autistic, and her mom gave up a promising profession in finance to stick house with the kids complete time.
And early on, she had the intestine instincts of a killer salesclerk. In 2d and 3rd grades, the children at her non-public Jewish college have been tasked with promoting Passover sweet, which is most often non-dairy and will’t include flour. “It’s disgusting,” Hyman mentioned flatly. “I’d sell the hell out of it, more than anyone else. I’d go to untapped neighborhoods,” she mentioned, talking the language of a industry college graduate. “I’d position it as something unique and interesting to non-Jews.”
While her daughter made little noises and squeezed a giraffe squeaky toy named Sophie, Hyman casually discussed she was once valedictorian of her highschool category however insisted she wasn’t that into lecturers. She didn’t wish to pass to Harvard, however her grandfather satisfied her. She would’ve most popular Brown, she mentioned, the place the scholars have been a bit extra eclectic.
At Harvard she was once simply as a hit. As editor-in-chief of the Harvard Crimson, she introduced an annual function at the 15 Most Interesting Seniors that’s nonetheless revealed these days. She was once some of the founding category of one of the most college’s first girls’s golf equipment, the Seneca Club, created as a result of males already had non-public social golf equipment the place they might community. At Seneca, Hyman based the Red Party, “literally the biggest party of the year,” she mentioned.
But after Harvard got here truth, and Hyman bumped up towards what gave the look of the one impediment that may obstruct her nearly pre-ordained future: She was once a girl.
At her first task out of school, a technique place on the lodge and go back and forth corporation Starwood that she landed via a Seneca Club connection, Hyman’s boss, a girl about 15 years older, sat her down and advised he she was once too loud and enthusiastic in conferences.
“She told me to try to be sweeter. To listen more. That it isn’t coming off well for a woman to be so bold and confident,” Hyman mentioned.
She cried. “Hysterically,” she mentioned. “I’m bad at hiding my emotions.” It felt like she was once being advised to forestall being herself. The second was once pivotal. “Had I decided to listen to her at that point, we wouldn’t be here today.”
After a couple of years at Starwood, there was once a stint at a Los Angeles startup, however then Hyman returned to New York to be together with her center sister, Becky, who was once unwell with most cancers, deferring beginning Harvard Business School through a yr. She took a role at IMG, a well known ability company that’s below other possession now. Hyman was once the one girl on an 80-person staff in an atmosphere that was once “cutthroat and nasty,” she mentioned.
It was once at IMG that she discovered what misogyny actually felt like. After Hyman pulled in combination a multimillion-dollar promoting deal, a male colleague two times her age strutted into her place of work and let her know he’d be taking credit score for it. “He was once, like, ‘No one is going to believe that some 26-year-old woman executed this multimillion-dollar deal, and I have three kids and I’m taking the fee.’
“I was, like, no you’re not.” And, reader, he didn’t.
Hyman advised her superiors the placement and were given their make stronger ― despite the fact that handiest to an extent, as a result of she says this guy wasn’t fired. He even had long gone as far as to e mail different colleagues on the corporation calling Hyman the C-word, she mentioned.
“If this happened now, this guy would’ve been fired,” Hyman mentioned. “But then people were given permission to act like that and you had to be really tough in order to survive. Most women who started there just quit.” This was once handiest about 10 years in the past.
At industry college, which she began after her sister recovered, she didn’t must battle too arduous for connections. Hyman met her Rent the Runway co-founder, Fleiss, at the first day of categories.
“[Hyman] had a Post-It note with my name on it,” Fleiss mentioned on a choice with HuffPost, recalling how her long term industry spouse got here marching as much as her all through lunch. “We had a friend in common, and she said, ’So-and-so told me I needed to meet you,” she mentioned. Hyman later advised HuffPost that it was once her sister Becky who’d urged she meet Fleiss.
Fleiss and Hyman threw themselves into the industry after college ended. After finagling their manner onto the duvet of The New York Times Business segment ahead of their industry had even in reality gotten off the bottom, the object precipitated Hyman’s boyfriend on the time to damage off their dating. Her new popularity spooked him. He advised her he didn’t wish to be with a girl who was once his equivalent.
As they constructed the industry, fundraising in Silicon Valley was once a part of the deal, and so was once that on a regular basis sexism. One investor advised them they have been going to have such a lot amusing “with their pretty dresses,” Hyman mentioned.
Although Hyman’s buyers now rave about her ― she emphasizes over and over how nice they’re ― she has for sure that if she have been Jim Hyman as a substitute of Jen Hyman, she’d have pulled in much more money.
Indeed, remaining yr girls were given handiest 2 % of the cash flowing from undertaking capital companies. Part of the issue is that almost all undertaking capitalists are males.
Most of those buyers imply neatly, Hyman mentioned. But no longer all.
A few years in the past, one in every of her buyers propositioned her, each in user after which by the use of sexually particular texts. When she rejected him, he took his lawsuits to the Rent the Runway board. He advised them Hyman wasn’t responsive and that was once an indication that she was once a nasty CEO.
“The gall he had in trying to ruin my career was unbelievable to me,” Hyman mentioned. At this level, Hyman had already raised tens of hundreds of thousands of greenbacks for her corporation. “This is happening to women in this industry and across many industries regardless of how successful they are, regardless of how much money they raise.”
She handiest not too long ago began telling this tale, opening up about it on an NPR podcast in August, all through a time when folks have been speaking about a couple of different incidents of intercourse harassment within the undertaking capital international.
Hyman’s board of administrators was once disgusted when she advised them concerning the investor’s harassment. “I used to be surprised,” mentioned Dan Nova, a spouse at Highland Capital, a Boston-based investor who sits at the Rent the Runway board, in an interview with HuffPost. “I had such an emotional response. I wanted to go ring the guy’s neck.” They stopped operating with him, however at Hyman’s request didn’t take additional motion.
Other feminine founders had been much less fortunate on the subject of make stronger.
At Rent the Runway, Hyman’s been in a position to create one thing beautiful uncommon: a majority-female corporation. Women make up part of the board, 70 % of workers, 62 % of company workers and an astonishing 75 % of the chief staff. The corporation says that total, 71 % of workers are nonwhite. But it doesn’t wreck down demographics additional than that, so it’s unclear what share of the company workers are nonwhite.
One girl who works there despatched me a video from a corporate amassing this summer time the place some workers got awards for embodying the group’s “core values.” Hyman, visibly pregnant, sings a company-specific model of Jefferson Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” with COO Sullivan, additionally pregnant, and two different workers. The track attracts applause and titters from the personnel.
“I spend a lot of time changing the words to songs,” Hyman mentioned through telephone the weekend ahead of the advert marketing campaign for Rent the Runway’s expanded subscription carrier was once in a position to release.
These days, she additionally spends much less time keeping off overt sexism, however nonetheless, there are a few things that make her think carefully. When she’s out elevating cash in entrance of all the ones males, she nonetheless spends about part her time explaining why girls purchase numerous garments and need selection of their wardrobes, she mentioned. That’s no longer one thing you’d have to give an explanation for to a room with extra girls in it.
She additionally mentioned she doesn’t assume she will get sufficient credit score for having the imaginative and prescient to look that American customers are more and more transferring clear of purchasing stuff to renting it. She identified that she based Rent the Runway ahead of Uber or Airbnb have been off the bottom, ahead of Spotify got here to the United States, but her corporation doesn’t get discussed when folks communicate concerning the so-called sharing financial system.
“Is that gender discrimination? I don’t know. The difficult thing is it’s hard to pinpoint.”