What if, instead of buying a top or a blazer you know you will only wear once, you could rent one you actually like and send it back at your leisure?
Female-founded Rent the Runway provides customers with a dynamic living closet where they can rent and return designer clothing as needed, connecting millions of women across the U.S. with fashion options from more than 600 top designers. And there’s a lot of tech behind it.
The company has built one of the most sophisticated tech stacks in town while developing processes and technological infrastructure for its reverse logistics shipping systems. We spoke to Rent the Runway’s tech leadership to learn more about how smart software decisions have made easy fashion rentals a reality for millions of customers.
WHAT THEY DO: Rent the Runway is a tech-enabled fashion company. Its advanced reverse logistics platform helps customers to rent clothing and home goods, rather than buying, saving them money while providing access to thousands of designer clothes.
WHERE THEY DO IT: The company is based in New York City, just a few blocks from the Hudson River.
FASHION ON A DIME: Rent the Runway offers unlimited choice to all members of the company, encouraging employees to interact with the product — and look really good doing it.
Denitza Anderson, Senior Software Engineer
As a senior software engineer, Denitza’s job is to ensure Rent the Runway’s technology is providing the best customer experience, driving innovation and better practices, and mentoring junior engineers so they can do the same.
BEYOND WORK: Denitza is an avid runner. She’s run four marathons to date, including one in Paris. She’s training for the upcoming New York City Marathon along with fellow runners from Rent the Runway’s running club.
What are some of the technical hurdles you had to clear in developing the company’s subscription service?
I joined Rent the Runway around the time when we first started exploring the idea that a subscription service doesn’t have to be one size fits all. That accelerated from testing experimental features on a small group of users to building a robust platform that could support more of an a-la-carte subscription model.
Our subscriber count grew more rapidly than we ever could have anticipated, increasing the need for automation, faster and better processes, and warehouse space to house exponentially more inventory. We had to rethink what it meant for a customer to have access to a dynamic, living closet powered by Rent the Runway, bring it to life, and make it enjoyable.
I’ve had the opportunity to push the limits of what’s possible and watch innovative ideas redefine what a dedicated team can do.”
What’s one complication that people don’t generally expect when discussing the technology behind Rent the Runway’s services?
Using Rent the Runway, customers can rent or subscribe based on their needs, tastes or lifestyle. We have to understand our customers so we can ensure that we have inventory available to meet their needs. We need to know what inventory to buy, how much and when to buy it. The amount of data science and analytics that goes into solving the ongoing inventory question is one of the largest technical challenges we’re tackling here.
You’ve grown at Rent the Runway — but the company has done quite a bit of growing, too. What it’s been like working at a company that’s scaling this fast?
The team was much smaller when I first joined Rent The Runway! But watching the company grow into such a multi-faceted business has been an amazing journey and one I’m happy to continue on. I’ve had the opportunity to push the limits of what’s possible and watch innovative ideas redefine what a dedicated team can do.
Josh Builder, CTO and Head of Product
As CTO at Rent the Runway, Josh oversees the engineering, data science and product management teams.
BEYOND WORK: Josh is an ardent record collector and has been collecting since middle school. He listens to everything — making his collection way, way too big to ever move.
From the outside, Rent the Runway doesn’t look like a particularly techie enterprise. Why is that wrong?
We are the world's most complex and interesting technology-driven consumer tech, inventory and reverse logistics business — we just happen to be fronted by a clothing rental company. In order to give customers access to a dynamic living closet, technology has to be at the center of everything we do.
Building everything ourselves has given us immense freedom to create and build what we need instead of having to stick to the old ways of doing things.”
Your team is creating custom software to enable this new kind of reverse logistics system. Why was that the right move for the company?
No one has ever tackled reverse logistics at the scale, complexity and level of nuance that we have. Building out this technology ourselves is, and always was, our only option. But that’s also been a huge benefit for the company. Building everything ourselves has given us immense freedom to create and build what we need instead of having to stick to the old ways of doing things.
If you look at what your team has achieved in the time you’ve been at Rent the Runway, what are you proudest of?
While we have achieved a lot over the years, the thing that I am proudest of is the team itself. Since I’ve been here, we’ve built a team with some of the most creative, diverse, smart and outside-the-box thinkers I’ve ever worked with. The work they do humbles me on a daily basis. Candidates need to be comfortable operating in an environment where there is little precedent for the challenges and problems we’re tackling.
Becky Case, VP Consumer Engineering
Becky oversees all consumer technologies at Rent the Runway, including engineering teams dedicated to the company’s site and mobile apps, as well as customer service tools.
BEYOND WORK: You might say Becky collects hobbies. She’s tried everything from French cooking and roller derby to painting, photography, improv, and singing in a band.
You’ve worked with some other big name, logistics-heavy businesses in the past. How is Rent the Runway different?
The rental business model means we receive as much merchandise as we deliver. Most other logistic companies only need to focus on delivery, so this is somewhat uncharted territory. At Rent the Runway, we have to optimize inbound, outbound and reverse logistics. Plus, all of our inbound items must be repaired, cleaned and pressed and then sent to the next customer, often on the same day. There’s a lot of pressure for our systems to be efficient and streamlined.
Our members interact with the product daily, sometimes visiting our site or stores as much as twice a day. We’re a utility, an extension of their own closet, so reliability is paramount.”
What is an average day on the job like for you?
I like to run errands or go to appointments in the mornings before work, so my workday generally starts around 10 a.m. My teams have standups between 10 and 10:30 a.m., and I like to drop in to listen when I can. After that, I run to meetings varying from the latest company initiatives to touching base with my direct reports and mentees. Between meetings, I generally work on some type of organizational project related to process or technical improvements. No matter the day, I always make a trip to our rental closet to pick up or return my clothes for the next day. It’s my favorite office perk.
A lot of people think of Rent the Runway as an e-commerce site. Why is that wrong? How are the demands you’re responding to different than those in e-commerce?
In traditional e-commerce, the number of interactions you have with a customer is limited to a few times a year. You’re likely not shopping on the same site every single day, so a single issue with the interface doesn’t create much friction.
Things are completely different for Rent the Runway. Our members interact with the product daily, sometimes visiting our site or stores as much as twice a day. We’re a utility, an extension of their own closet, so reliability is paramount. For key life events, the pressure is even higher. It is imperative that we ace every delivery.