In this David and Goliath story, David wears stylish, quality eyewear that he got for $95.
Monolithic corporations get aloof and arrogant when they fail to pay attention to people’s needs and wants—all while a fresher, leaner business model, attuned to the real world, moves stealthily under the radar disrupting everything.
Born-online eyeglass brand Warby Parker did just that.
L. Ron Hubbard wrote in his article of 2 September 1979, “SURVEYS ARE THE KEY TO STATS”:
“To find out what people want or will accept or will believe, one does SURVEYS.”
“. . . in surveying, you are in actual fact seeking to know WHAT SERVICE THAT YOU CAN DO WILL PEOPLE CONSIDER VALUABLE ENOUGH TO GIVE MONEY OR VALUABLES FOR.”
“When you have this answer, you have the answer to prosperity stats.”
“So the word is:
“KNOW BEFORE YOU PROMOTE!”
It started with a mistake.
The spark that became Warby Parker was cofounder David Gilboa leaving a pair of $700 Prada glasses in an airplane seat-back pocket.1
“I’d just bought the iPhone for $200 and it did all these magical things that people wouldn’t have believed even a few years earlier,” he recalls. “Meanwhile, a pair of glasses: The technology has been around for 800 years. It didn’t make sense that I was going to have to pay that much for a new pair of glasses.”
Gilboa then learned about Luxottica.
Founded in 1961, with a $30 billion market cap and close to 80,000 employees worldwide, Milan-based Luxottica operates a vision empire, which includes proprietary brands Oakley, Oliver Peoples and Ray-Ban, with licenses for Armani, Chanel, Prada and Ralph Lauren; retail chains LensCrafters, Pearle Vision and Sunglass Hut, as well as many other brands and chains—all Luxottica; plus they own top vision-insurance carrier EyeMed.
Not that there’s anything wrong with being publicly traded, vertically integrated and charging several hundred dollars per pair—but prepare to be disrupted.
“There’s always a moment of serendipity in any startup,” says cofounder Andy Hunt. “For us, it was meeting Neil [Blumenthal]. The company couldn’t have existed without him.”
“We’re often asked why Warby has been successful. If we sum it up in one word, it’s deliberate,” says Blumenthal, who shares the unorthodox title of co-CEO with Gilboa.
“When you’re starting a business, you want to invest as little time and money into an idea as possible before you get that confidence to continue to invest more time and money,” explains Blumenthal. “I know that’s counter intuitive ’cause everyone’s always saying, ‘Take risks! Take risks!’ but we actually didn’t believe that.”2
What getting the confidence meant for Warby Parker was doing extensive survey work and customer research.
They surveyed their friends, then went into optical shops, watched how people purchased glasses and asked them if they would ever buy glasses online, to which most answered no—although some said yes, and with that confidence they continued to move forward with the basic steps needed to truly test their idea. First they designed and built a collection of 27 shapes in two to four colors each; next they constructed a website, and then they had to figure out a price that would work the best.
Their pricing models indicated they could charge as little as $45 for a quality product that would normally cost someone $500.
They did more surveys with glasses priced at $45 and higher, and they found that people’s willingness to buy went UP as the price went up, plateaued at around $100 and then came down.
Charging only $45 was “outside the realm of believability,” and at that price people wouldn’t trust the product. Meanwhile, their production costs doubled as they opted for higher-quality components.
So, instead of the usual $99, which sounded “discounty” and didn’t fit their brand, they settled on $95.
They integrated a virtual mirror, where users could upload a photo and see how different pairs looked. Then, in their aha moment, they implemented a system whereby customers could select five frames to try on at home for five days, free of charge, with free shipping.
By 2014 they’d sold 1,000,000 pairs of glasses, while donating another 1,000,000 pairs to nonprofits like VisionSpring, where Blumenthal had previously served as director. Almost one billion people worldwide lack access to corrective lenses. But instead of straight charity, the donated pairs are offered at heavily reduced cost within underserved communities worldwide.
Warby Parker has meticulously built their brand with a distinct identity and philosophy.3
The name was coined from two characters, Warby Pepper and Zagg Parker, found in a Jack Kerouac journal. Each new hire is given a copy of Kerouac’s novel The Dharma Bums.
Their website, in addition to eyeglasses, now features things that fit well with the Warby Parker aesthetic: playing cards, a monocle, and books that call Simon and Garfunkel to mind, with titles like Every Person in New York and 50 Ways to Lose Your Glasses.
“Warby Parker” is also described as a person: “Quick-witted, informative, wears their intelligence lightly. Looks sharp without planning to. Takes a dare. Never pretentious, sarcastic or long-winded. Always offers to help with the dishes.”
Basically, the perfect houseguest.
Warby Parker, the company, has been doing well over $100 million annually, has 500 employees, nearly 50 retail locations, and a $1 billion valuation.
That’s someone you’d want over for dinner.
- Chafkin, Max. “Warby Parker Sees the Future of Retail.” FastCompany.com. Fast Company, 17 Feb. 2015. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.
- Inc. Video | Origin Stories. “Warby Parker’s Neil Blumenthal: How We Turned $120,000 into a Billion-Dollar Eyeglass Brand.” Inc.com. Inc., 7 Apr. 2016. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.
- “Warby Parker: Online Eyeglasses & Sunglasses—Rx Glasses.” WarbyParker.com. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.
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