‘Go do it’: Jay Reno ’10 receives Elon University Medal for Entrepreneurial Leadership

Reno, the founder of Feather and investor at 645 Ventures, is the first of Elon's alumni to receive this honor.

Jay Reno ’10, founder of Feather, speaks after he received the Elon University Medal for Entrepreneurial Leadership from Elon University President Connie Ledoux Book, April 4, 2023, in the LaRose Digital Theatre in the Ernest A. Koury, Sr. Business Center.

Jay Reno ’10 always had trouble fitting the mold. The New Hampshire native felt as though he were on the “other side of the world” when arriving at Elon University. He spent his first two years at Elon searching for where he fits in and found that many support systems at Elon welcomed him fully.

But the summer before his junior year, Reno traveled to Spain and began to embrace a less-traveled path. Spending the summer “shirtless and surrounded by wild donkeys” was surely a less traditional approach to summer internships but it helped him understand that the impending future of “working a cubicle, nine-to-five just didn’t feel like me.”

“And it was there that I serendipitously came across two things that changed my life,” Reno said during his address following his acceptance of the Elon University Medal for Entrepreneurial Leadership on Tuesday, April 4. The Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurial awards the medal to an entrepreneur who is a leader in their industry and exemplifies the university’s values — integrity, innovation, creativity, lifelong learning and building dynamic communities.

Those two inspirations were the book “Stirring it Up: How to Make Money and Save the World” by Gary Hirshberg and the growth of Facebook.

“The book is a testament to ‘doing well by doing good,'” Reno said. “At the same time, Facebook was then just getting off the ground and the idea that anyone with an idea in their dorm room could start a world-changing business.

“That was extremely inspiring to me.”

Reno receiving the Elon University Medal for Entrepreneurial Leadership from Elon University President Connie Ledoux Book.

Reno spent the following summer shadowing Hirshberg, the CEO of Stonyfield Farm at the time. This experience solidified the idea of starting a company with the mission of “doing well by doing good” — assuming the responsibility of giving back to society. (Sustainability had been a focus of Reno’s as he was named a Green Plus Sustainability Fellow in 2010.)

After a nonlinear entrepreneurial journey following graduation, Reno founded Feather in 2017. Feather is a furniture subscription service that offers a flexible and sustainable alternative to ownership.

“The ‘American dream’ has changed. People don’t want to own big houses, cars and the white picket fence. Instead, they want freedom and flexibility instead of being tied down by stuff. They want to live on their own terms,” Reno said. This sentiment is what Reno pitched at the end of the three-month-long Y Combinator startup accelerator program. In front of more than a thousand of Silicon Valley’s most prominent investors, Feather was well received and earned its first round of funding.

What started with eight orders that Reno ran out of his tiny Brooklyn apartment with his dog was soon scaled to over 150 employees and tens of millions of dollars in revenue before the company was sold in 2022. Today, Reno is a partner with 645 Venture’s investment and research team where he brings his operational experience to investing.

Taking something of a break from active entrepreneurial endeavors, Reno knows that when the time calls and he wants to get back into the fold, he’ll be so much more prepared because of his experiences with Feather.

Reno concluded by sharing the biggest takeaways he’s gathered in his entrepreneurial career. He urged students to first find themselves and then learn how to be themselves. Reno told them that the best entrepreneurs are curious, courageous and optimistic and if they learn how to inhabit these qualities themselves, they’ll “win at anything you do.”

Making sure that you work on something you care deeply about was a major mindset shift for Reno in his journey and something that he imparted to those looking to follow a similar path. Finally, he told students to simply go do whatever it is they want to do. “There’s this invisible barrier that people have that is holding them back from doing the thing they actually love to do. My advice to you, if you’re feeling that, is just do it,” Reno said.

Reno standing next to a portrait of Robert E. LaRose during the Elon University Medal for Entrepreneurial Leadership reception.

“And if things don’t work out for you perfectly, just go do it again. There’s nothing stopping you other than yourself.”

Doherty Scholar interns Uwera Izabayo ’25 and Joshua Mason ’25, Dean of the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business Raghu Tadepalli and Director of the Doherty Center Alyssa Martina gave remarks during the event. President Connie Ledoux Book presented Reno with the medal, saying, “This 2023 medal for entrepreneurial leadership could not be a prouder moment for our university. Jay exemplifies using your education to provide leadership and entrepreneurship.”