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How Harper Wilde’s Founders Turned a Fundraising Hurdle Into an Opportunity That Became the Brand’s Strongest Customer Acquisition Channel

'We experienced this dilemma firsthand when we began raising money for Harper Wilde.'

It’s no secret that female entrepreneurs face more hurdles during fundraising than their male counterparts. Even as the percentage of female venture capitalists grow, female entrepreneurs receive a smaller proportion of total funds awarded. Research has concluded that the questions entrepreneurs are asked, or more significantly, how those questions are framed, is a key driver of this phenomenon. But what if potential funders don’t know what questions to ask?

We experienced this dilemma firsthand when we began raising money for Harper Wilde. We get it: it can be difficult to understand a product if it’s not one you use. Bras are the poster child for that lack of understanding – an industry which serves women, is largely marketed to men, and has long been dominated by one player, which was founded by men.

Although bras at their core are a functional item, the historical tendency to sexualize bras made pitching mind-blowingly challenging. Men didn’t know how to respond to two women talking about bras, and they certainly didn’t know what questions to ask about a business that sells them. Hell, some of them would barely touch the product. While we are now kicking ourselves for not having carried around a camera to meetings that would have undeniably resulted in a hilarious piece of content, at the time, we were focused on just one important question: how can we get a room full of men to understand just how terrible shopping for a bra really is?

Then we realized what we knew to be true about bras but men did not: the bra a woman wears 90% of the time isn’t the lacy one that comes with a pair of wings. The bra most women wear most of the time, is actually as functional as a pair of socks or an everyday pair of white boxers. And that’s when it hit us:

What if men had to shop for boxers the way women have to shop for bras?

What if the best way to show how ridiculous the process of bra shopping had become was to highlight the absurdity of juxtapositioning it with an analogous process that most men (and women) know to be quite benign.

Immediately we changed our pitch. Instead of starting with market size and unit economics, we began with the storefront of “Dick’s Drawers” where phallic videos play on large screens in dressing rooms, and we walked investors through the options of “The Padded Crotch Version,” “The Family Jewel Collection,” and posited – what if one pair of boxers cost $70? The conversations changed instantaneously. Whereas before their eyes glazed over after the word, “bra,” all of a sudden, we were able to focus on the extremely attractive market with one incumbent owning 60% share, a novel business model, and an opportunity to become the next Go-To for Everyday Bras.

Not only did the story resonate with investors, but it also resonated with consumers. Women took a step back and realized maybe we don’t have to deal with the status quo – maybe bra shopping doesn’t have to suck.

Thus, our launch video was born, showcasing what it would look like if a man had to shop for boxers the way a woman shops for bras. Since its release, the video has been a huge success in terms of building our community of passionate (and formerly frustrated) women and as a means of encapsulating our humorous, relatable brand.

Our initial challenges in fundraising taught us a great deal. As women operating in a male-dominated industry while selling a hypersexualized product, all the while attempting to embed female empowerment into every part our company, we knew that resiliency and not taking ‘no’ for an answer was going to be crucial to our success. This, we knew we were good at. What we hadn’t realized was that in the process of fundraising, we would also learn about creativity and empathy. And in doing so, we would not only turn around the course of the fundraise, but also chart the course for successful customer acquisition over the lifecycle of the brand.

Looking back, perhaps it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise had we looked for guidance from author Harper Lee, one of the inspirations for our company’s name: “You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” For us as female entrepreneurs, truer words were never spoken.

Jane Fisher
Co-foudner, Co-CEO
Supply Chain, Manufacturing, Operations

Jane has a passion for driving change within and operating businesses. For her first job, she chose McKinsey & Co. to pursue this passion and put her skills to work across a variety of businesses. After 2 years, she diverged from the traditional consultant track to work on internal strategy projects within McKinsey in order to have a more hands-on operating role. There she was able to also pursue her desire to help empower women in the workplace by taking a leading role within Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In initiative. More recently, she worked with the operating team at Providence Equity Partners in New York to further hone her skills. Jane received her B.A. from Emory University and is pursuing her MBA at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

So why Harper Wilde and why now? For Jane, the only thing better than helping drive change at another company, is actually doing it within her own. Her personal frustration with bra shopping and passion for empowering women in the workplace combined with her innate passion for operating businesses makes Harper Wilde the ideal fit.

Jenna Kerner 
Co-foudner, Co-CEO
User Experience, Web, Marketing, Branding

Jenna has always had a passion for building things. She left a steady job in consulting to join an e-commerce startup and get her hands dirty helping an early-stage company grow. She used her experience in human-centered as a product manager overseeing the company’s mobile app. More recently, she worked as a product manager at a mid-stage startup. She focused on launching a new web product, including initial marketing strategy and ongoing feature development. Jenna received her B.A. in Neurobiology and Economics from Cornell University and her M.B.A. from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

So, why Harper Wilde and why now? Jenna has been wearing bras for quite some time and has been frustrated with the experience of buying them – from the lack of a brand she loves to the high prices – for nearly that entire time. Her past experiences helped her uncover unmet needs in the market, and she co-founded Harper Wilde to help solve those needs for millions of women like her. She is driven by the desire to empower women and build the next generation of leading women, and has helped build this into every facet of the Harper Wilde brand. 

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