On November 14th, I had the pleasure of attending Project Entrepreneur’s #PESummit in Washington, DC. Rent the Runway co-founders Jennifer Hyman and Jenny Fleiss have partnered with UBS to launch a foundation – Project Entrepreneur – with the goal of breaking the traditional barriers in women’s paths by helping to provide them with the knowledge and resources to build impactful businesses. They kicked the foundation off with a 3 city tour in New York, Austin and Washington, DC.
I had initially signed up for the New York summit, but wasn’t able to go. I took a chance and signed up for the #PESummit DC wait list, with the hopes of getting an invite. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d get in, but then I got an e-mail on November 9th telling me I was off the wait list (woo hoo).
It was a 5 hour event, but being an entrepreneur on a budget, I wasn’t able to stay for the whole event. What I did hear, however, was great. You might think I’m crazy for hopping on a plane and flying to another city for less than a day, but in my eyes, it was well worth it. Sometimes you have to get up and go be in the same room with the people that have what it is that you need to hear.
The event kicked off with a Q &A with Rent the Runway co-founder Jennifer Hyman. Aside from being both smart and beautiful, she was also very funny. What stuck with me most was when she had described a former job she had, where she dreaded hearing the alarm clock go off in the morning because that meant she had to go to a job she hated and do work she wasn’t passionate about. Sometimes, as a person moving from corporate America to your own venture, you second guess yourself a lot, wondering if you had made a mistake by not staying on the traditional path or maybe it was you, not the environment. Her statement was so validating and just confirmed, for me, that taking the leap into entrepreneurship was the right decision.
There were 2 workshops throughout the event, broken down into several break out sessions. In the first workshop, I chose the break out session with Georgetown Cupcake founders Katherine Kallinis Berman and her sister Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne. They left corporate jobs to start their dream business back in 2007, right at the beginning of the recession (pretty gutsy, if you ask me). From the outside world, their corporate jobs looked very successful, but it wasn’t their passion; baking was. Fast forward 8 years and they have 5 locations across the United States, with their online business booming. They shared so many things that were so important like using customer data to help direct future business decisions, but one of the things that Sophie shared that struck me the most was focusing on making a great product, providing excellent service and not being above doing anything in your business, even boxing cupcakes and ringing up orders, as the owner (which she still does at their various locations). I also love that they’re self funded and chose slower, steady growth over quick growth with someone else’s money. I was also struck by the fact that, despite being extremely successful business women, they were also very humble (Jennifer Hyman, included) – no airs, no egos, no pretense; just honest and real.
I hate that I wasn’t able to stay until the end of the event, but just being in the room with so many smart, educated, ambitious women, creating their own paths and writing their own stories was inspiring. There’s nothing like hearing real stories from women entrepreneurs who have accomplished what you’re looking to achieve. It’s just confirmation that, if you work hard and don’t give up, anything is possible