David Gilboa was a on a backpacking trip while in business school in 2008. Sadly, he lost his glasses on this trip. Shocked by how expensive it would be to replace them, David decided to not get a new pair. More importantly, he and one of his business school friends, Neil Blumenthal, began investigating why glasses cost so much money. Learning that the eyewear industry was dominated by a few major players that kept prices artificially high, David and Neil teamed up with a few other friends to found their own company Warby Parker.
Warby Parker started by eliminating the need for expensive designers by creating their own stylish glasses. Knowing that retail involved huge markups Warby Parker also began by only selling online. Pricing their glasses at $95, a price significantly below their competition, Warby Parker sold out of products in a few weeks. Even though their online business was doing well, David and Neil quickly realized that customers wanted a retail store experience. Pivoting to offer this retail presence, Warby Parker has quickly expanded into 26 stores nationwide and has 800 employees. Though they have profited off of this expansion, Warby Parker now has the good problem of being too popular and their stores are often overcrowded. Farnoosh Torabi wants to follow David and Neil to understand how they lead Warby Parker as the company deals with figuring out how to grow in a sustainable way by using online technology to improve the in store experience.
A key problem impacting Warby Parker currently is that they are so popular that their stores are packed with customers. Though many companies would love to have this problem, Warby Parker prides itself on providing a great customer experience and need to figure out how to alleviate this problem. A solution to this problem could be for the company to hire more staff, but their stores are even too crowded for this solution. Instead, the company wants to leverage their unique technology. Starting off as a tech company, Neil and David want to develop a ‘Favorites’ program that allows customers to make a list online of glasses they are interested in that can then be accessed by employees at a store. This program will allow employees to shave minutes off of each customer interaction.
Farnoosh sees this as one of the reasons why Warby Parker is doing so well. They not only want to improve the customer experience on the retail end, they want to create system that allows customers to easily educate themselves about Warby Parker’s glasses.
Spending time with just David and Neil, Farnoosh also notices how close the two men are. Farnoosh is not only impressed that these Co-CEOs have been able to remain friends, she is also impressed by just how honest they can be with one another. Farnoosh sees them as almost unnaturally mellow but views this as why they can be so honest with one another. While spending time with Neil and David, Farnoosh visits Warby Parker’s SoHo location. David and Neil make sure to visit each of their stores on a regular basis. They do so not to monitor their employees but to get a sense of the store from the customer’s perspective.
In addition to these in-person visits, Warby Parker benefits from mining a treasure trove of data from online users. This data helps the company determine where their online consumers are geographically located. From this, they can better figure out where to open up new stores that will help solve their overcrowding problem as well as bring in new customers. This data will become crucial to the company as they plan to almost double the number of stores they have.
Currently, Warby Parker is primarily focused on building a new location in Brooklyn. With the stores closest to Brooklyn being in SoHo and the Meatpacking District, they are hoping that the -customer traffic in Manhattan will be reduced as they pick the Brooklyn store instead. Though Warby Parker is doing well, David and Neil are aware that retail locations are expensive. In addition to having to build out a space and hire new employees, a new lease could lock them into a property for a longer period of time than the company has been around and cost a substantial amount of money for rent. As such, Warby Parker needs to make sure that each new location is the right location for them.
Returning the next day, Farnoosh gets to see David and Neil test new eyewear designs. Knowing that they are a lifestyle brand, Warby Parker is always coming up with new designs because if they become stale then they will become dead in the water. David and Neil first ask employees for honest feedback, but explain to Farnoosh that they will have at least a hundred people give them feedback on prototypes. Given how expensive a new line can be, Neil and David try to make sure that they have enough data to make intelligent decisions.
Neil and David hate meetings that focus on just updates and presentations. As such, they try to make sure all meetings focus on making decisions. During one meeting about an upcoming line, Farnoosh learns that illustrations and other animated aspects of the marketing are carefully planned. Farnoosh learns that they place such importance on to these illustrations because they help the company differentiate itself by coming off as more fun than its competitors.
Another unique aspect of Warby Parker is that David and Neil have worked to build a company culture that has fun. Knowing that enjoying your job is just as important as salary and benefits, Neil and David created a Fun Committee that is focused on creating events for employees to have fun at. The idea behind this is that by having fun at work, people are more willing to work hard and help implement big ideas.
After spending some time with Neil and David, Farnoosh understands why they are so successful. Inspired by a personal experience that caused them to want to solve the problem of eyewear being so expensive, David and Neil have guided Warby Parker as it moved from e-commerce to retail while still maintaining a technological edge to keep customers happy. As such, that they’ve learned that the divide between online and real world shopping is a thing of the past. It is this business insight that has so many wanting to follow their leadership.