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SXSW

Rent the Runway CEO Tells SXSW: 'We Need to Put UPS and FedEx Out of Business'

Future of e-commerce may depend on delivery upstarts

Jennifer Hyman Getty Images

Discussions of retail don't usually make for the most bombastic presentations, but Rent the Runway CEO Jennifer Hyman was certainly an exception as she addressed (and won over) the crowd of South by Southwest.

The impact from her panel's presentation, "Defining the Next Generation Retail Experience," didn't stem from any theatrics—Hyman didn't wave her arms or throw up fists to get the audience's attention. Instead, it was all about what she and her co-presenters had to say.

For instance, while lamenting the increasingly expensive "Big Two" delivery services and suggesting they were inefficient beasts, the founder of the five-year-old digital fashion rentals company went for the jugular.

"We need to put UPS and FedEx out of business," Hyman said, drawing applause from hundreds of e-commerce-minded onlookers in the Austin Convention Center. "The delivery [industry] needs to be completely ripped up and totally recreated."

And she had a message for disruptive-minded delivery startups: "I hope you make it. I hope you all make it. ...The only way that [e-commerce is] economically viable is if the delivery [industry] changes."

A smattering of more applause then ensued, as the retail practitioners in the room seemed to be on the edge of their seats to hear what Hyman would say next. With Hyman sharing the stage alongside StitchFix CEO Katrina Lake and Sephora chief digital officer Julie Bornstein, entrepreneurship and the empowerment of women were recurring themes throughout the presentation.

On launching a startup, Lake, whose online company offers personal styling services for $20 per month, offered, "You are either the smartest person in the room or the dumbest person in the room when no one else is doing what you're doing."

Hyman said her company's customer surveys have shown that women who use the service are confident and wise with their money, not focused on impressing others.

"The No. 1 thing they call themselves—the thing they love to call themselves—they call themselves 'smart,'" she said. "They are not using Rent the Runway to fill some emptiness today."

Here are some of the other quips and nuggets of wisdom offered by Hyman:

  • "We run the largest dry-cleaning business in the country."
  • "We need to break this obscene habit of pattern-recognition when it comes to [startup] funding."
  • "Data is the most important aspect to personalized, competitive online retail."
  • Growing up, she "didn't see many female entrepreneurs." Today, "the psychographics of women have changed. ... Of course they are going to start a company."
  • Rent the Runway has 5 million customers, who are on average 30 years old and make $100,000 a year.

The panel sparked quite a bit of positive social feedback from the SXSW crowd:

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