Wednesday Wisdom with Maureen Sullivan, COO of Rent the Runway

Advice, fashion, Scaling, technology

We’re halfway through the week, and it’s time for a boost of inspiration to keep us going. Our #WednesdayWisdom blog series taps into the minds of industry leaders and disruptive visionaries who are working to build the future of entrepreneurship.

Maureen Sullivan is Chief Operating Officer at Rent the Runway and joined the company in 2015. In her current role as COO, Maureen guides the growth in all areas of the business through process establishment, team organization, and company goal setting. Before joining Rent the Runway, Maureen was most recently president of overseeing all of AOL’s lifestyle brands including MAKERS, a storytelling platform featuring trailblazing women from all walks of life. We caught up with Maureen to discuss market disruption, her tips for scaling a company, and her advice for female founders entering the tech space.

1) Rent the Runway is changing the way people think about their closets, and the new unlimited subscription service makes that even more evident. What’s been the most exciting thing about working for a company that’s disrupting the retail market?

It’s incredible to work for a company like Rent the Runway, and amazing to help lead a company that has grown to this size—more than 1,200 employees—and we still maintain a startup culture and mentality. Every person on our team is intelligent, hardworking, innovative and most importantly, deeply passionate about our vision and how we are disrupting the industry and fundamentally changing how women get dressed every day.

2) As COO of Rent the Runway, one of your major focuses is scaling operations. What is a common mistake companies make as they scale, and how can female founders avoid making the same mistake?

When you’re working to scale—and do it in a profitable way—it can be easy to make trade-offs that could negatively impact the customer, however the original north star of delivering the best possible experience and solving a real customer need has to remain front and center with every scaling decision.

My advice to any founder is to remember why you started in the first place—you saw a need in the market; make sure you’re delivering on your promise to fulfill that need everyday. Additionally, the process of scaling is never done, so don’t be so cautious to do things so preciously that you don’t out innovate yourself. Constantly challenge your processes and how you’re operating to drive to continual improvements.

3) You’ve spearheaded the launch of Rent the Runway’s tech-enabled flagship in New York City, which features a virtual “dream closet” and personalized shopping experience. How do you envision tech will continue to shape the way we shop?

Tech will continue to redefine and shape all aspects of our lives, not just the way we shop. But when we look at future purchasing behavior, we know that more and more purchases will be online, particularly on mobile devices. Technology has also raised the stakes on consumer expectations; 2-day shipping is a must, same-day is the new normal.  It means for all of us in the business of delighting customers with our product or service, we have to be that much better as all customers (especially female customers) feel as though time is their most valuable object and ultimately want things that are easy and convenient. Smartly designed products and services, leveraging technology to enable convenience, and making customers lives easier will be what rises above the rest.

4) While at, you led MAKERS—the largest collection of women’s stories ever assembled and a platform that empowered digital and video storytelling. What was the most rewarding part of leading that initiative?

Everything! It was truly one of the most incredible experiences I have had professionally. Every minute I worked on MAKERS, from its inception, to building the platform and launching it it, to profiling hundreds of the most inspiring women in the world, to making documentary films, to launching a world-class conference and corporate advisory board—every part of that journey was special and full of meaning for me personally. The ability to interact with and be inspired by so many groundbreaking women as a part of my day job was truly incredible and something that I will keep with me throughout my career. I also became a mom to two daughters while I was building MAKERS, so that time period in my life (completely focused on empowering female leadership) has beyond special meaning for me personally.

5) You’ve been a true leader in the digital industry. What advice do you have for women who plan to launch a tech company?

Don’t doubt yourself. There are plenty of moments when others will doubt you and you need to stay steadfast and secure in what you are capable of. Be self aware—and lead with as much EQ as IQ—as the combination of the two truly defines great leadership in my personal experience.