The first challenge Warby Parker co-founders and co-CEOs Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa faced was having a factory take them seriously enough to produce their first collection. “Could we sell a premium product manufactured on state-of-the-art production lines using top-of-the-line materials for one-quarter of the price,” says Blumenthal. “We knew if we could do that, without the middle man, we’d be able to have a viable business.”
Their second challenge was convincing consumers to purchase eyeglasses online. The pair surveyed their friends and families and learned that people wanted to be able to touch and feel the glasses, which led to their home try-on program. The brand launched in 2010 (when DVDs were still loaned through the mail), and GQ called Warby Parker the “Netflix of eyewear.” “It was so novel, it really got attention,” Blumenthal recalls. “That helped the business take off.”
The founders were equally excited about Warby Parker’s social mission. “We recognized there were 2.5 billion people around the globe who needed glasses but didn’t have access to them,” Gilboa says. They built on Blumenthal’s expertise directing VisionSpring (a nonprofit that works with men and women to sell eyeglasses in developing countries) and created the Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program, which has already distributed more than 4 million pairs of glasses. The founders also launched the Pupils Project, bringing free vision screenings, eye exams and glasses to New York City and Baltimore schoolchildren in need.
Gilboa and Blumenthal plan to continue opening stores and launching more innovations, like the Prescription Check app Warby Parker launched in 2018 – a telehealth service that enables eye doctors to assess an eligible eyeglass wearer’s vision and update their prescription. Gilboa says they don’t differentiate between ecommerce and brick and mortar: “It’s all retail,” he says. “Whatever the next medium will be — maybe virtual reality — we’ll be excited to experiment, adjust and create a great customer experience.”