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Inside View: Rent the Runway

Two Harvard MBAs bring designer style straight from the catwalk directly to your door. Find out about careers at the "Netflix of fashion"!

Jenn Hyman and Jenny Carter Fleiss, who were section mates at Harvard Business School, launched Rent the Runway in 2009 after seeing their friends and family struggling to find great designer fashions at reasonable prices. 

Together, they decided to start a business that would allow women to rent designer clothes and accessories at accessible rates. Described as “the Netflix of fashion” by the New York Times, Rent the Runway has recently just raised another $20 million in capital, mostly from Advance Publications Inc.,  bringing its total amount of venture capital financing to a about $51 million. Rent the Runway has also signed up over three million members on its network.
 
After hearing Jenn and Jenny talk about their burgeoning business, Michelle Labbe joined Rent the Runway as VP of Talent and Culture. Among other things, her duties include scouting for new talent to join the firm and making sure that the culture at Rent the Runway remains fun, fresh, and fashionable.
 
How did you get involved with Rent the Runway? 
I met with Jenn and Jenny after they called me in about the open position. After spending time with both of them, learning about the company and meeting a lot of the employees, I was inspired and amazed. The enthusiasm and commitment that each person feels for Rent the Runway is incredible. I knew that this is a company that I wanted to help build and be a part of.
 
What is an average day like for you as VP of Talent and Culture?
Lots and lots of interviewing and conversations. Not only am I meeting with folks about our open positions, but I am also networking for future relationships and openings. I also believe that it is critical to spend time regularly with as many employees as possible. We are a bottom-up culture. I want to hear what the employees have to say, any concerns they have, where they see their career going, what training they need and what motivates them. We want everyone to be part of setting company goals and initiatives and we embrace all feedback and ideas. 
 
Given your job title, what’s the kind of workplace culture you’re trying to create at Rent the Runway?
We are a very transparent culture and we celebrate any ideas from any member of the team. Our most recent and biggest ever company launch came out of an engineering hack day. Rent the Runway is a place where everyone works very hard, but also has a lot of fun. Our culture supports that we are all in this together - it's not a job, it's an adventure!
 
Does Rent the Runway have a particular “type” in mind when it comes to new hires?
We have a strong culture that is based on our core values. Not only do we look for people who have strong skills in their area of expertise, but they also need to be a cultural fit. Some of those values include: an entrepreneurial sprit, scrappiness, a positive attitude and a true love of collaboration. We want people who want to roll up their sleeves, learn from and teach their peers and have a passion for what we do. 
 
What kind of challenges are you currently facing in filling your open positions?
We have been very lucky to have a steady stream of talent that is referred to us every day. While we do have a lot of candidates applying to our site, our number one hiring source is employee referrals. As we continue to grow our engineering team, we are challenged in finding enough talented technical folks that are also a cultural fit. The market for engineers is extremely competitive, so like all other technology-based companies in New York, we find ourselves in a challenging marketplace. 
 
How would you, as VP of Talent and Culture, rate the value of a newly minted MBA?
We have a lot of employees- especially recent grads- that have their MBAs. While I always see this as a positive, it is not a requirement to be hired at Rent the Runway. I do see MBA grads as being able to join in a more ambiguous role, multi-task efficiently, and later define what specific department and job they want to hold. 
 
How much does a candidate have to know about fashion in order to mix well with the rest of the company?
We have quite a few employees that are not fashionistas. While an interest and excitement for fashion is a plus, it is definitely not a requirement.  
 
Besides the clothes, what’s the best perk that Rent the Runway offers its people?
Being surrounded by really smart people who you know have your back. There are no politics or hidden agendas at Rent the Runway. Everyone is completely dedicated to the Company, their role and their peers. We are always learning, risks are supported and your co-workers are there to help.  
 
Do you have any tips for people looking to get into Rent the Runway? Any specific skills they should highlight on their CVs?
We want to know where you have worked, but also, who you are as an individual. What you like to do in your free time, how you think and approach challenges and how you collaborate with others – these are all important qualities to convey to us. 

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