Unicorn Watch: Glossier and Rent the Runway, two female-led unicorns swell the ranks of a rare breed
Unicorn startups - new firms that had attained a valuation in excess of US$1bn - used to be rare enough to justify their name. The term, coined by Cowboy Ventures partner Aileen Lee in a 2013 TechCrunch article, was intended to express three qualities: Rare (at the time, only 0.7% of all startups made it to unicorn-hood); Aspirational (unicorns want, and often do, change the face of the consumer and business landscape. See: Uber); and Magical (A UC Berkeley Professor of Linguistics said, “the term romanticizes techno-companies: takes them from the remote and unintelligible to the magical and even lovable, while also being rare and powerful”).
According to Hiten Shah, “every entrepreneur is chasing the unicorn dream, and the effect is felt throughout the startup world and on the bigger economic landscape.” Since the term was coined, the number of unicorns has exploded, but there is one sort of unicorn that is, perhaps, more deserving of the title. Of the 150 unicorn companies based in the United States, fewer than 20 had a female co-founder.
This week, that number grew by two, as beauty startup Glossier achieved a $1.2bn valuation, and fashion on-demand service provider Rent the Runway secured a $1bn price tag following a $125mn funding round.
Founded in 2010 by Fortune 40 Under 40 fashion luminary and CEO Emily Weiss as beauty blog Into the Gloss, Glossier is a beauty and skincare line that provides a direct-to-consumer service. Its latest funding round saw the company raise $100mn in a Series D funding round led by Sequoia Capital, alongside Tiger Global Management, Spark Capital, Forerunner Ventures, Thrive Capital, IVP, and Index Ventures, according to The Wall Street Journal. “We are building an entirely new kind of beauty company: one that owns the distribution channel and makes customers our stakeholders,” says Weiss.
Rent the Runway
“Shared, dynamic ownership is a movement that Rent the Runway has pioneered over the last decade and we’re excited to continue to lead the market and innovate our subscription service,” Rent the Runway CEO Jennifer Hyman said this week. Launched in 2009 by Hyman and her co-founder Jennifer Fleiss, Rent the Runway provides designer dress and accessory rentals. According to Fortune, “the company launched with a formalwear rental service and now also offers a subscription service for all kinds of clothing. It recently expanded into home goods as well. With this round of funding, Rent the Runway plans to continue to scale its subscription business, which it says grew 160% year-over-year, and broaden the categories it offers.”
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.