GETTING BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM … THEIR FELLOW WHARTONITES
Of course, it hasn’t always been the smoothest path. Fisher and Kerner spent months coming up with a name — only to have it shot down when their legal help informed them it didn’t pass trademark. “It probably seems like a small thing now, but it took up so much time and was a tedious process,” Kerner says. That day last fall, within an hour of learning they were back to square one on their name, they also learned a potential investor had fallen through, and there was a hitch in their manufacturing deal. “We got together, we sat down and talked about how much that all sucked for a few minutes,” Kerner recalls. “Then we were like, ‘All right, let’s strategize on how to work through all of these things.'”
They’ve also been able to tap into the expertise of their classmates. “Our classmates have been unbelievable,” Kerner raves. “Pretty much any function that exists in a business, there is someone here who has done it before school.”
One time, in particular, she says that instead of enlisting a public relations firm or consultant, a classmate with previous public relations experience helped guide their initial PR efforts.
And of course, Kerner and Fisher have also done some of their own on-the-go learning.
“Entrepreneurship is kind of a black box,” Kerner explains. “Before you’ve done something, you really don’t know what it’s about and it feels like there are these insurmountable set of things you have to learn. But, once we started to uncover what some of those things were — everything from how to build a square-space testing page to how to run ads — we found out there was less mystery than what we built up in our heads.”
ENTERING A CROWDED, COMPETITIVE INDUSTRY
They’ll need to learn and adapt quickly to compete in an increasingly crowded market. To be sure, they’re not the only two women fed up with the bra industry. San Francisco-based True&Co raised nearly $13 million in venture capital funding since launching in 2012 and was acquired just last month. Third Love is another venture capital-backed futuristic bra company that allows women, using a smartphone app, to home in on a better fit. Negative Underwear is another mover in the space. Victoria’s Secret has caught on and is launching its own products similar to the ventures above.
According to an article published in Entrepreneur last year, some of the upstarts have had troubles gaining traction because established brands in the bra industry enjoy some of the highest customer retention levels. Still, Kerner and Fisher remain undaunted.
“One of our biggest advantages is not only how well we get along, but how well we trust each other, and how well we can give frank and critical feedback when needed,” Kerner says.
To overcome one of the biggest issues with the e-commerce clothing model, Harper Wilde features a try-on-for-free system where women can literally order and try bras for free. Plus, all of their bras are under $40. Even at upstarts like True&Co and Third Love, the majority of bras cost $50 or more.
FULLY LAUNCHING TO THE PUBLIC IN JUNE
Harper Wilde’s first shipment of product arrived in mid-April and Kerner says the two are rapidly converting Fisher’s apartment into an inventory warehouse, where they will soon begin packaging bras to ship to friends, family, and early supporters. A full public launch will happen this June, when the two will commit full-time to getting their company off the ground with the help of a few interns. Kerner and Fisher are also taking a page from the Warby Parker playbook and enlisting a social impact side to the business, where they will donate a percentage of each bra sold to “help put girls through school,” their website states.
Empowering and educating women was the big genesis of the brand, Kerner says.
“We thought a lot about what our business and brand was going to be about, and we kept coming back to empowering and educating women,” Kerner says, noting the name, Harper Wilde, is a combination of two of their favorite authors — Harper Lee and Laura Ingalls Wilder. “The brand was born from there.”
As for the decision to start a company instead of joining one?
“There is so much more to contribute and be a part of when you’re launching something than just joining,” Kerner says. “And a lot of the things I initially thought I’d be apprehensive about — like the details of accounting or some of the other things I find less fun — the downside of that pales in comparison to all the amazing things we get to figure out.”