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 Fashion-preneur. In it she'll dole out advice and lessons learned on everything from raising funds, branding yourself, sales and generally managing a business. She's also taking your questions. Fashionista asked me to begin what will be a regular column with something that I think is applicable to every dreamer, future entrepreneur and job holder out there: How to ask for money.
First, why me? Well, I founded Rent the Runway with my close friend Jenny Fleiss, and over the past two and a half years, we’ve asked for and received a lot of money--$32MM to be exact, from some top venture capitalists. More importantly, we asked for money as women in our 20s, without much experience in running a business (especially one in fashion), but with a lot of passion for following our dreams, smarts to iterate our idea, and humility for how much we both had to learn. Fast forward two years and RenttheRunway.com has grown to a community of millions of young women who are able to rent designer dresses and accessories before special events in their lives, fall in love with new brands and feel their best everyday.
So back to the money. There is a lot of money out there--way more than there are great ideas and ambitious people who will go after their dreams, without fear of failure. I believe that asking for money should have the same rules as asking for anything else in your life. Follow these three rules and you should be off to a good start. 1) Answer questions before they're asked. This seems counterintuitive but there are going to be LOTS of reasons why people will not want to give you money. Figure out what these reasons are and attack them head on. When Jenny and I pitched Rent the Runway to venture capitalists we knew their hesitations would sound something like: a) would women rent dresses or perceive it as icky? b) Would designers sell us inventory? c) Could we send designer dresses through the mail?
Instead of allowing them to grill us on these questions, we would preempt the conversation by encouraging potential investors to call designers who were already on board, showing videos from our customer trunk shows with women raving about the experience of renting a dress and sending dresses through the mail ourselves. Your boss/funder is not a sugarmomma--so show them that you’ve eliminated the risk and they’re not going to lose money on you.
2) No means “no for now.” Remember that lyric “Nothing’s gonna stop us now”? Whether you're an entrepreneur or you just want a promotion--you absolutely cannot accept no for an answer. Now listen closely. I am not advocating for you to argue as this will not change anyone’s mind. Rather, ask questions – why won’t you give me a raise? Why didn’t I get the job? And then LISTEN. Listen to all the ugly reasons why you may be unqualified for the position or why they are hesitant to give you want you want. Hearing the truth allows you to grow, evolve your skills and even change your business model. A year before we launched rent the runway, we asked Diane von Furstenburg to sign on to our concept, and she was very skeptical. While hearing one of the most seasoned, smartest designers in the industry poke holes in our idea was certainly unnerving (there were some tears when we left 14th St), we learned from Diane how we should change our business to address her concerns. Because she said no, we now have a business.
3) Just do it. Women plan and strategize and analyze and discuss obsessively before carrying out simple actions (yes we have all edited emails to a crush too many times to count before pressing send). When it comes to asking for money, there will never be a perfect time. You just have to go for it. You deserve to live the life you dream--so start living it today.
Now that's some good advice. If you want more please write with your questions to Jenn in the comments! She's waiting...