How asking for 'a few million dollars' as a 21-year-old at her first job helped this woman build a $200 million company

Jennifer HymanBusiness InsiderFounder and CEO of Rent the Runway on right

Jennifer Hyman’s first job out of college was at a travel company at one of the worst times for travel companies: Right after September 11.

“Industries that are chaotic are ripe for innovation,” Hyman said during a talk at SXSW Friday afternoon. “They are open to anyone who has an idea.”

That was certainly the case at Hyman’s company, the hotel and resort businesses Starwood, and she decided to take advantage of it. She’d realised, looking at trends and the lives of people she knew, that couples were getting married later and that they valued experiences over owning things.

So, at only 21, she went to the president of the company and asked for a few million dollars to start the first honeymoon registry in the world. She wanted to create a way for newlyweds to receive trips and adventures instead of new cooking sets.

Almost unbelievably, the president gave her the money.

“I spent the next few years as an in-trepreneur, trying to build this business from scratch and influence people as a very young person at a big corporation,” Hyman says. The honeymoon registry she created started to blossom and grow and eventually even got a shout-out on the Oprah Winfery Show for how innovative it was.

But for Hyman, that was just the beginning. As she continued to hustle her way through her young adult life, she kept the same thesis: That people valued experiences over ownership. One area that she thought that this idea could be especially true was in clothing.

Everyone cares about feeling amazing for a job interview or on a first date, she thought, more than they care about owning the clothes to create that feeling.

“We put all this stuff in our closets that we eventually push to the back,” she says. “I wanted to empower people to rent instead of buy.”

So, using the entrepreneurial (and funding) skills she learned at Starwood, Hyman started Rent the Runway in 2009, an ecommerce site that lets women rent and return designer clothes for special events.

Rent the Runway has raised about $US114 million in funding so far, and was last valued at $US220 million. It has 5 million shoppers.

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