LOLA’s Jordana Kier spent the entire second year of the full-time MBA program at Columbia working two days a week at Rent the Runway. “It gave me a front seat into a growing, successful startup that was pushing boundaries on fashion,” Kier tells Poets&Quants. Around the same time, she was in the recruiting process at CBS — a process she wasn’t particularly fond of. “I just wasn’t sure I was ever going to be someone who would want to go work at a big company,” Kier says. “And those were the sort of companies that were coming on campus to recruit.”
Kier decided, instead, to start one of her own. During a brainstorming session in which Kier was thinking of the products on the market that frustrated her most, she began seriously thinking about the feminine care market — specifically the materials that make up feminine care products like tampons, liners, and pads. Neither Kier nor anyone she knew had any idea what materials those products were made of and or they came from, so she decided to start a subscription-service business model selling 100% organic cotton feminine care products. In the end, it was the advice of a manager at Rent the Runway that pushed her to take the leap.
She should go for it, the manager said, but with a deadline. She advised Kier to spend a few months doing research, finding a partner, and reaching out to and meeting manufacturers. “I didn’t really have an industrial design background — I didn’t really have any business creating products,” Kier says. “That said, I had been a tampon user for 15 years. I knew what was the right product for me and what wasn’t, and what women might want.” She began conducting focus groups and market research. Kier also met her co-founder, Alex Friedman. LOLA has now raised $11.2 million, including a $7 million Series A Round in December 2016, placing the business 45th on last year’s list and 47th this year.
MENTORING, CONNECTIONS KEY TO GROWING NETWORK OF WOMEN FOUNDERS
Similarly, Vow to be Chic’s Kelsey Doorey used an experience at Rent the Runway to jump into entrepreneurship after having been in consulting. When given the choice to launch a business or take a high-paying job in fashion retail, Doorey chose the former right after graduating from UCLA Anderson’s full-time MBA program. Her choice brought her into a network of women that led her to launch Vow to be Chic instead of taking the position at Bloomingdale’s.
After a strong push from her own mother, UCLA Anderson Dean Judy Olian introduced Doorey to Susan Feldman, another Anderson grad and founder of One Kings Lane. The meeting with Feldman is what eventually led Doorey to launch her online rental service for high-end bridesmaid dresses.
Networks of women is one potential for overcoming the funding gap. In October 2016, Sequoia Capital, which invested in four Top MBA Startups including all-women founded Dia&Co, made Jess Lee its first-ever woman investing partner. Last October, Lee announced a new initiative called Female Founder Office Hours, dedicated to connecting investors to women founders and entrepreneurs for one-on-one mentoring sessions.
Doorey believes those types of initiatives and a push similar to the one she received is pertinent.
“We need to push more and more women to get outside of their comfort zones and try it out,” she says.