Warby Parker founders Dave Gilboa and Neal Blumenthal were recently featured on the National Public Radio (NPR) show How I Built This with Guy Raz. How I Built This is a show that interviews successful entrepreneurs and founders of well known companies about their business journey, trials and tribulations, and how they got started.
It's an interesting show for those that are interested in business and entrepreneurship. The podcast has interviewed Michael Dell of Dell Computers, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger of Instagram, Whitney Wolfe of Bumble, Sara Blakely of Spanx, Howard Schultz of Starbucks, Joe Gebbia of AirBnB, and more. My personal favorite episode is with Richard Branson who started Virgin and all the related “Virgin” branded companies.
Anyway the How I Built This episode goes into how Warby Parker got started and where the idea and inspiration came from.
One interesting part of the Warby Parker story is that the founders met going to Wharton Business School. They decided to enter the Wharton Business Plan Competition with a business plan they created in an Entrepreneurship they took together. Dave Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal got eliminated in the semi-final round of the competition. This only motivated the Warby Parker team. “That put a chip on our shoulder. Now we got something to prove. At that point we felt really passionate that this was going to work.” said As Dave Gilboa in the How I Built This podcast episode.
Something else people may be surprised, or annoyed to hear, is that the founders originally wanted to sell glasses for $45 dollars. What they found was there is a psychological barrier for quality when weighed against price. They settled on $95 because of gut instinct.
The episode also talked about how the founders of Warby Parker named “Warby Parker”. I previously wrote about the story here on OpticalOwl. For those are not aware the name “Warby Parker” comes from two characters from a Jack Kerouac book Zagg Parker and Warby Pepper. Combine the two, you have the name.
The founders worked for a year and half without paying themselves. They pooled savings they had from working before going to Wharton and raised $120,000 to get Warby Parker off the ground between the 4 founders. They did win a couple grants from Wharton. It was over 1 year before they raised funding.
When they initially launched the company was helped by a GQ article. One thing they thought helped them get initial press was the fact the company was novel at that point. The price point of $95 and the home-try-on program were key.
This made them sell out of frames when they launched. They had 20,000 orders wait listed. They didn't anticipate having so many orders to start. At this point the founders were also still in business school. Responding to customers was a top priority and they setup a Google Voice number to ring all 4 Warby Parker founders cellphones. Whoever wasn't busy or in class would answer.
On whether the business succeeded because of skill or luck, “Timing is everything. The public was looking for ways to save money and our brand resonated even more.” said Neil Blumenthal.
Warby Parker is now valued at over $1 billion dollars. You read that right, $1 billion dollars and they sell glasses. Sound crazy? Well EssilorLuxottica is a billion dollar company too and it's the optical monopoly.
Listen to the How I Built This episode and let me know what you think. Good or bad? Interesting to hear the story?