(Chris Devlin) #1

FOCUS


VENTURE


56


FORTUNE.COM // JUNE.1.19


school in Manhattan that was very mission-
driven. I ended up working for a nonprofit
that trained women in foreign countries on
how to start their own businesses selling
eyeglasses to people in need. People under-
estimate folks with a nonprofit background,
and I thought that having an imprimatur
from Wharton would help my career. That’s
where I met [cofounders] Jeff Raider, Andy
Hunt, and Dave, and we became best friends.
GILBOA: In the summer of 2008, before
starting school, I took a few months to back-
pack around the world and lost my glasses
on a plane. I went most of the first semester
without glasses because I was shocked at the
cost. I could buy a new phone for $200, but a
pair of [designer] glasses cost $700. I started
complaining to anyone who’d listen that I
couldn’t believe glasses were so expensive.
BLUMENTHAL: Andy asked, why aren’t people
buying glasses online? I knew the margins
were big and knew where we could get glasses
produced.
GILBOA: So we agreed to meet at a local bar
one night to kick around ideas, and when we
got home at 2 a.m., one of us sent out a three-
page email about the business idea. The rest
of us responded and were really excited from
the get-go.
BLUMENTHAL: The biggest challenges were
how could we move fast enough, thought-
fully enough, and balance our priorities. For a
fashion accessory and health care product, we
wanted to have a quality product and a brand
that would influence culture.
GILBOA: Each of us took the lead on some-
thing. I took point on building the website,
setting up our supply chain, hiring our first
employee, setting up a phone system, and the
customer service system.
BLUMENTHAL: I worked on branding, looking
at our values and mission. We spent a lot of
time getting feedback from customers and
focus groups. We wanted to understand the
business model of Luxottica [the 800-pound
gorilla of the eyewear industry] and the large
optical retailers. We were scared and awed.
But we knew we could lower the cost of a pair
of glasses from $500 to $99.
GILBOA: The four of us each put in $30,000,
so that we’d have equal stakes. We launched
in February 2010 while we were still in school.
The process of starting a business was all-

consuming. I had to drop my
second degree program.
BLUMENTHAL: We thought that
we’d have to beg friends and
families to buy glasses from us.
GILBOA: We spent all our
money on getting the website
built and the initial inventory.
We hired a fashion publicist
because we knew we needed
to get into established publica-
tions to develop credibility and
relationships. We ended up get-
ting articles in GQ and Vogue,
and social media picked us up.
BLUMENTHAL: GQ referred to
our Home Try-On frames, but
within 48 hours of launch, all
our glasses were out with cus-
tomers, so we had to suspend
that. We hit our first-year target
in three weeks and ran out of
inventory. People started calling
to complain. We would apolo-
gize profusely and explain that
the company just got started.
We found that the more vulner-
able and transparent you are,
the deeper the relationship you
build with customers.
GILBOA: The customers
became champions of the
business. They saw that we tried to make them happy. With 2,000
employees now, that’s a lesson we continue to practice in our cor-
porate culture.
BLUMENTHAL: Once we graduated, Jeff went back to the private
equity fund he had worked for, then went on to found Harry’s.
Andy went on to start Elephant, his own venture capital firm.
Warby Parker moved to a loft space in New York, and customers
came to try on glasses there. We sold millions of dollars’ worth of
glasses through our office and a pop-up store in SoHo, which gave
us the confidence to sign a long-term lease for our first store in
April 2013.
GILBOA: We’re still at the top of the first inning. As we open more
stores, we’re hiring optometrists to make it easy for people to get
their prescriptions. We’re using telemedicine so people can do vi-
sion checks from home. We’ve expanded our social mission. Five
million people around the world have gotten free glasses through
our Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program, and we’re now giving free eye
exams and free glasses to students in New York City and Baltimore.
BLUMENTHAL: The best businesses solve real problems. We’ve cre-
ated an example of a business that can scale, be profitable, and do
good in the world without charging a premium for it.

BEST ADVICE


DAV E GILBOA , 39


COFOUNDER


AND CO-CEO OF


WARBY PARKER


Never outsource
critical com ponents
of your business
None of us were
qualified to build
the website, so we
solicited proposals
and got a handful of
bids from agen­
cies. We chose the
cheapest option,
but a few months in,
we realized it was a
mistake. Their execu­
tion wasn’t what they
promised, so we
ended up firing them.
Now we develop
most of the tech­
nology we use
in­house to ensure
we maintain as much
control over the
customer experience
as possible. We’ve
developed our
website, a point­
of­sale system that
we call POE (or point
of everything), and
both of our apps
internally.