Jane Fisher and Jenna Kerner are 2nd year MBA Students at Wharton, and the Co-Founders of Harper Wilde, a retail brand that is revolutionizing the bra industry. Formerly management consultants, Jane and Jenna are using their time at Wharton to solve a number of issues in the bra industry, and amidst their busy schedules, had some time to tell us more about their story.
MBASchooled: What is Harper Wilde, and how did you come up with the idea for it?
Jenna & Jane: Harper Wilde believes buying bras doesn’t have to suck. We are revolutionizing the bra shopping experience to one that enables her busy life, rather than one that obstructs it.
We streamline the purchasing experience by simplifying the number of options from 200+ at our competitors, to just 5 core proprietary styles, and by offering free home-try-ons. Our purposeful designs and limited SKUs not only make things easier for customers, but also allow us to save money in production costs and pass those savings on to our customers. In this way, we empower women by providing them with more fairly-priced products, at nearly half of what competitors charge. Finally, a percentage of every bra purchase will be donated to help put girls through school – further building on our mission to empower women. Together, we can lift your ladies AND the future leading ladies. #liftuptheladies
The idea came about very organically from a simple question: “Why are bras so expensive?” We both had recently endured one of those all-consuming bra shopping trips – spending countless hours sorting through hundreds of over-priced options – and immediately bonded over our horrendous experiences. We knew something had to change, and thus began our quest to answer just that question. What could possibly make these bras so damn expensive?
MBASchooled: When you were coming up with the idea of Harper Wilde, what kinds of research did you do? What interesting insights/ideas did you find?
JJ: We initially did a lot of high-level research around the industry including market size, competitive landscape, and the profit margins top lingerie brands are making today. We then began running focus groups and surveys with women to better understand what the true pain points were. One thing became crystal clear almost immediately – women HATED buying bras. It’s expensive, time-consuming, and overall, a humiliating experience. Busy, driven, successful women were so fed up with the process, that they were buying bras they didn’t love and keeping them for way longer than they should, just to avoid going through the process again. One woman even told us “buying bras is like a tax on being female.” A tax on our gender? We weren’t about to let that stand.
MBASchooled: How have your past work experiences helped prepare you to take on starting a business?
JJ: We are both former management consultants, which has given us the skills and resilience needed to solve the complex problems we face on a daily basis. We’re also both very accustomed to diving deep into a new industry, and getting up to speed quickly. Over the past 18 months we’ve learned everything there is to know about the industry, our demographic, and our products, and have pulled in a number of experts along the way to advise us.
MBASchooled: What has your experience been like in managing the demands of a top MBA program with starting and growing a business?
JJ: We learned the hard way that it’s nearly impossible to balance a full-time class schedule with starting a business. Our solution has been to marry the two. We have created schedules that are primarily made up of classes which are directly applicable to the business. We’ve also learned to divide and conquer. Jenna focuses on the user experience and digital side of the business and takes courses in that domain (e.g. Digital Marketing, Needfinding) while Jane spends her time on the physical product side of the business (e.g. Global Supply Chain Management).
MBASchooled: Sometimes, it can be easy to glorify a career path such as entrepreneurship/startups. What’s something about entrepreneurship that you think most people don’t always see or understand?
JJ: There is no clear roadmap on what you should be doing, and you will often get contradicting advice. This can be very unnerving – it means making decisions you’re not 100% sure of and carving your own path that may be new or different from anything anyone has done or seen before. It’s critical to have the perseverance to power through, and to have a good partner who you trust fully as a sounding board when making those tough decisions and progressing down an unknown path. Also, it’s important to be able to trust your intuition and be willing to be wrong and figure out a plan B (or C, D, E…) as needed.
MBASchooled: What has been the most surprising aspect of starting your own business? What about the most challenging?
JJ:You’re the expert on your business. This is both surprising and challenging for us. In the beginning we took each piece of advice we received very seriously, and considered changing aspects of the business model based on discussions with industry experts or experts in a particular field. It’s hard to recall when the exact inflection point occurred, but at some point we realized that we know our business better than anyone and sometimes, we may be the only ones able to make the right call on what we should do. It’s challenging to figure out when to follow advice of an industry veteran, and when to trust our instincts and do what we believe to be best for our vision.
MBASchooled: What are you focused on over the next 3-6 months for Harper Wilde?
JJ: We are preparing for a launch in late Spring ’17, so we are working hard to get all the pieces in place for that. This includes overseeing manufacturing with our factory, finalizing our 60-second ad with a production company, building our branding and website design, and all the details in between.
MBASchooled: If people are interested in learning more about Harper Wilde, where can they find more information?
MBASchooled: Do you have any advice for anyone looking to go to business school to start a business or to work on a business while in business school?
JJ: Pick a problem that you genuinely believe in solving and choose a business partner whose values are aligned with your own.