Rent The Runway Cofounder Fleiss Bows Out As Company Preps For IPO

Rent The Runway Cofounder Fleiss Bows Out As Company Preps For IPO
By Clare O'Connor. Source: Forbes.

Rent the Runway cofounder Jennifer Fleiss is stepping down from her executive role at the fashion tech company as it gets closer to an initial public offering.

Fleiss’ departure leaves cofounder and CEO Jennifer Hyman to run the show at the apparel and accessories rental firm, which raised a $60 million Series E in 2016 – the biggest round of the year for a women-led startup.

She’ll remain on the board of the company she and Hyman launched fresh out of Harvard Business School in 2009; she’ll advise on recruitment, a particular strength and area of interest.

Fleiss told Forbes she’d been waiting for Rent the Runway to turn a profit before bowing out. It did just that in 2016, as well as surpassing $100 million in revenues for the first time. The company also debuted a store-within-a-store format at high-end mall chain Neiman Marcus last year.

“My role was ‘chief firefighter’ early on,” Fleiss said of the startup’s early, less stable days. “The fire is out.”

She and Hyman each own 13% stakes in Rent the Runway, landing the two on Forbes’ Richest Self-Made Women To Watch list in 2016, with estimated fortunes of $80 million each.

Hyman will continue to scale the company in preparation for an eventual IPO, but its profitability — as well as the regular cash flow provided by its $1,700-per-year Unlimited subscription service — means she’s in no rush.

“There’s no time pressure,” Hyman said. “We’re kind of at the beginning of what Rent the Runway can become.”

Fleiss didn’t disclose what exactly she’d be working on next, but indicated she’d like to focus on something earlier-stage.

She leaves a workforce that now numbers upwards of 1,000 – and an executive team that’s 65% women, and 20% non-white, setting it apart in a homogeneous tech landscape often hostile to women and people of color.

“85% of our employees are not white men,” Hyman said.

The two will continue to run the company’s foundation side by side. On the weekend of April 7th, they’ll co-present the latest incarnation of Project Entrepreneur, the Rent the Runway Foundation’s startup bootcamp and venture competition in conjunction with financial services firm UBS.

“I think so often female cofounders are positioned in this competitive, catty way,” Hyman said. “It’s just awful. It’s not reality.”

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