Taylor Duvall WG’11 interned at Rent the Runway in New York, NY


2010-2011 Startup Internship Award winner, supported by the Neff Entrepreneurial Intern Fellowship fund

How did you find the position?
I met Jennifer Fleiss, President and co-founder of Rent the Runway, at Wharton’s 2010 Entrepreneurship Conference. We spoke at the conference about some of her business challenges and continued the dialogue after, which led to my internship.

What was your motivation for working at a start-up this summer?
I wanted to work for a start-up this summer in order to broaden my skill set and expand my experience working with start-ups of different stages. I was particularly drawn to Rent the Runway because I was looking to gain experience in the online space as well as experience working at a start-up with VC funding to understand more about the VC-entrepreneur relationship.

What advice would you give to students interested in working at a start-up this summer?
For a student interested in working at a start-up this summer, I would recommend that he first think about exactly what he wants to get out of the internship and what type of company will be able to facilitate a meaningful summer experience. I would also recommend reading as many industry publications and talking to as many people as possible in order to gain a feel for the industry and to develop short-list of potential start-ups of interest. Once the student has a short-list of start-ups he is interested in, I would recommend developing a value-proposition for each of these companies before reaching out to inquire about summer positions, e.g. what are their pain points, how can your skills help build their company, what types of things do you think you can do for them during your internship to grow their business or solve their problems?

Once the internship has been secured, I would recommend that the student ensure that he has one person he “reports to” and a clearly outlined set of goals for the summer to which he and the company both agree. Since internships at start-ups tend to be non-traditional and unstructured, spending time up-front to give yourself a little structure can go miles to ensuring that you have a meaningful experience and don’t get side tracked. This is not to say that there won’t be small projects that come-up, but having goals and checking-in with them periodically allows you to stay on top of how your time is allocated and adjust if you find yourself straying from your original internship plan.

About the Summer Experience

This summer I had a fabulous experience interning with Rent the Runway in New York City. Rent the Runway launched in November of 2009 and is an e-Commerce business that rents designer dresses and accessories for ~10% of retail (www.renttherunway.com).

I met one of the co-founders, Jennifer Fleiss (’09 HBS grad), at the Wharton Entrepreneurship Conference and, after speaking with her at and after the conference, fell in love with the disruptive nature of her business model: retraining consumers to rent rather than purchase clothing and accessories. In addition to being a start-up in the online space where I was looking to gain more experience, Rent the Runway had also just received its second round of venture capital funding and fulfilled my second summer internship desire, interning at a business where I could learn more about VC-entrepreneur interactions.

My primary responsibility throughout the internship was evaluating ways Rent the Runway can grow its business. Examples of corporate development opportunities I examined ranged from potential international expansion to Asia, Europe or Canada to new products or product line extensions such as weddings, bridesmaid dresses and maternity clothing. It was fun and encouraging to see how I was able to immediately apply some of the tools I had just learned in my first year at Wharton to the projects at hand and it is great to be able to see recommendations in the development pipeline… watch for Rent the Runway Weddings launch in January!

Additionally, since it is still a startup, I had the opportunity to work on a number of other aspects of the business. A good portion of my time was spent filling-in for the CFO they are hoping to hire soon which gave me a unique look at start-up financials and accounting challenges. I also worked with the entire Rent the Runway team to create monthly board presentations which allowed me to better understand the VC-portfolio company relationship. I was also able to experience and help with another challenge for start-ups, hiring the right talent, which was a very eye-opening experience to see just how difficult it is, even in this economy, to find the right person for each job opening. I also had fun assisting with other ad-hoc projects, analyses and fit sessions. And, rest assured, there was also the traditional start-up fun such as building desks and chairs for all of the new people that were coming in the door each week!

I was fortunate to have found such a unique and dynamic company to work with this summer and the exciting and entrepreneurial culture of Rent the Runway and its amazing team of people made coming to the office each day a joy. I learned a tremendous amount throughout the summer and am looking forward to watching ideas generated this summer launch in the months and years to come as Rent the Runway continues to grow and evolve consumers’ purchasing behavior.