The smartest entrepreneurs aim low when picking a mentor


CEO Jenn Hyman and her co-founder Jenny Fleiss explained this perspective, rooted in their own experience, at the 2017 Project Entrepreneur NYC Summit, a meet-up of over 200 women founders co-hosted by Rent the Runway Foundation and UBS.

“When someone is too senior, or too far away from the stage that you’re in, they become inspirational, but they stop being helpful,” Hyman said. “[W]hat Jenny and I needed at the beginning of our company was tactical help. I mean, I remember that we didn’t understand or know in the early days how were we going to pay our employees, how do benefits work, how do you pick what PR firm to work with.”

The entrepreneurs who were most helpful to Rent the Runway in its early stages, Fleiss said, were those who just a few years earlier had lived through the exact problems she and Hyman were asking about.

As an entrepreneur seeking to be taken seriously—and, sometimes, funded by top-level entrepreneurs—it’s easy to feel stupid asking such tactical questions to people who are far more senior, and successful, than you and your company are, says Hyman. This problem is particularly challenging for women, and especially women of color, who are significantly less likely to receive venture-capital funding than their male counterparts. This is why Hyman and Fleiss created Project Entrepreneur, a network for women helping other women scale their companies.