Jenn Hyman is the CEO and co-founder of Rent the Runway. Before that she went to Harvard Business School (and Harvard for undergrad too, NBD). She’s writing a column for us that we’re calling Fashionpreneur. In it she’ll dole out advice and lessons learned on everything from raising funds, branding yourself, sales and generally managing a business.
Over the past two and a half years, Rent the Runway has grown quickly to a community of nearly three million young women. We had 100,000 members sign-up in our first week of business and beat our first year projections by week four–which was surreal both to us and to our investors. Because of this, I am often asked by hopeful entrepreneurs how to build this kind of buzz and turn your brand into something people keep on talking about. I’ve laid it all out for you in three simple rules.
My first rule is: Work it Girl!
Before Rent the Runway’s launch, Jenny Fleiss and I had no real connections to the media. But, we knew that we needed to get out there, make the media take notice of us and hopefully, love us. We trolled through all of our contacts (most of these “contacts” were of the 6-degrees of Kevin Bacon ilk), and we began by meeting with anyone and everyone who was even remotely connected to the media. You could have been an assistant, someone who used to work in media, someone whose distant cousin worked in media and we would take the meeting, listen, and ask for that person’s advice. Asking for advice and really meaning it is key because people invest more in your ideas when they feel like they are being heard. Thank you Oprah.
At the end of every meeting, we would ask folks if they had any suggestions of other people we should meet with, and hence our tree of contacts grew and grew because when people like you, they connect you to other people they like. Our tree of contacts led us to a Ms. Jenna Wortham.
While now, Jenna is a very big deal at the New York Times, at the time, she had just started there as a young technology reporter. Jenna found our story interesting, and she invested her time in writing a meaty piece about us that drove over 100,000 members to our site in our first week and became one of the most shared articles of the year. Beyond giving some credit to some incredible luck working for us in this situation, there are a few lessons here:
1. Respect everyone regardless of their level. If we had waited for more senior writers to pay attention to us, we could have been waiting a lifetime, and we likely would not have gotten the type of incredible coverage Jenna gave us. Often, in the brand building biz, people focus too much on getting to the top of the food chain. Realize that people in the middle or the bottom of the chain may have more sway than you think and will likely show you more love.
2. The best contacts come from everywhere. We found Jenna through a friend of a friend of a friend who thought she knew someone who worked at the New York Times.
3. Be nice–You may have the most genius idea on planet earth but you will only get buzz if people WANT to cover you. Throughout the process of working it all over New York, we not only networked with tons of media folk, we also made some new friends, many of whom we still grab lunches with.