Neil Blumenthal & Dave Gilboa

Co-founders & CEOs of Warby Parker

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON November 17, 2015

Discussion

Neil Blumenthal@neilblumenthal
Hey, we're Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa, co-founders and co-CEOs of Warby Parker. We founded Warby Parker in 2010 with the hope of transforming an industry and doing good in the world. We also enjoy eating hard pretzels, listening to Hall & Oates, and running marathons in flamingo costumes.
JJ Tang@jjrichardtang
Hey Neil and Dave! Thanks for being here today 🙌 a) If you could time travel back to day one of Warby Parker and have 15min with your former self to communicate any lessons you've acquired with the intention of saving yourself mistakes and heart ache, what would you tell yourself? b) What is something you might believe in that others find crazy/insane/out of the ordinary? Bonus quick fire questions: - Favourite emoji and why? 🤓 - Who do you think of as successful and why?
Neil Blumenthal@neilblumenthal
@jjrichardtang a) learn to code (and hire more software engineers sooner) will try to get to the other questions after I answer a few others
Jeffrey Lai@jeffreywlai
@neilblumenthal @jjrichardtang Could you elaborate on learn to code, such as developing a general understanding or going deep into a specific language?
Neil Blumenthal@neilblumenthal
@jeffreywlai @jjrichardtang I'm mainly referring to a general understanding earlier on which likely would helped us recognize the need to hire more folks with technical backgrounds sooner. of course, it I had deep knowledge in any of the languages we use (eg Python,) it would help. early on, knowing HTML/Java/etc would have enabled us make edits to the website faster in the early days when we more of a player/coach than a traditional CEO role.
Jack Smith@_jacksmith · Serial Entrepreneur & Startup Adviser
A startup having co-CEOs has a bit of a bad reputation among some investors. Has it ever been an issue for you when fundraising? How do you also divide up responsibilities internally and avoid a 'parent syndrome' of an employee asking one of you something and if not getting what they want, going to the other person?
davegilboa@davegilboa
@_jacksmith before we raised our seed round a few investors gave us advice that we would have to change our co-CEO structure and/or move to Silicon Valley if we ever wanted to raise money from "real" investors. Thankfully we ignored them. We have now raised money from some of the best investors in the world and have maintained our roles as co-CEOs. I wouldn't recommend this structure for most companies but for us it works well. We were close friends before we started the company, we trust and respect each other fully, and feel comfortable having direct and difficult conversations with each other. Every department in the company (except for Talent) only reports into one of us so there is no confusion throughout the org but Neil and I think of ourselves as partners and feel fortunate we always have someone to think through major decisions.
Jack Smith@_jacksmith · Serial Entrepreneur & Startup Adviser
@davegilboa cool. thanks for the insights
Corley@corleyh · COO @ Product Hunt
@neilblumenthal @davegilboa thanks for joining us today! I have to admit to being a big fan of your business. I still remember traveling to NYC after reading the Vanity Fair article and making sure that I left time to buy my first pair of glasses from you all. And I've been buying glasses from WP ever since.... What was the moment you knew you were on to something that resonated with people? What is your process for keeping your collections fresh and interesting? And can you share one of your favorite stories about getting glasses to those that benefit from the social good aspect of your business? THANKS!
Neil Blumenthal@neilblumenthal
@corleyh Thanks so much!! The first moment that we felt we were on to something was the first day we turned the website on. Like all things in a startup, we were delayed in launching the website (took twice as long and cost twice as much to build.) We launched it the day articles hit in Vogue and GQ and we were immediately overwhelmed with orders. It was awesome and terrifying. We then spent every waking hour trying to respond to customers and process orders (we were in grad school at the time and had to cut a bunch of class to respond to customer inquiries.)
Brady Crandall@crandallbrady · Client Services, Integral Ad Science
@neilblumenthal So cool to hear! I was one of those customers who ordered immediately after the GQ article. I fell in love with the brand and noticed your exceptional customer support from day one. Really really admire the business you all have built and will be a customer for life.
Neil Blumenthal@neilblumenthal
@crandallbrady @corleyh thanks so much! really appreciate you taking a bet on us. that GQ article practically built our business overnight. what was it in the article that initially convinced you to give us a try?
Neil Blumenthal@neilblumenthal
@corleyh One new thing we're doing on the social mission front that we're really excited about is a partnership with the City of New York. We're going to be working with the city to provide eye exams to 65,000 children in need across 130 schools and provide 20,000 pairs of glasses to the kids that need them (and one thing that we're really proud about is that the children get to choose which frame style/color they'll receive.) http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-th...
Corley@corleyh · COO @ Product Hunt
@neilblumenthal @corleyh so cool! I love that you are focused on your community and making a difference right there in NYC. Love what you guys are doing! Keep it up!
Andrew Ettinger@andrewett · 👟 @wearAtoms // ex @Twitter @ProductHunt
Bought my first pair of Warbys this summer in Wynwood and absolutely love them, Recently, I saw a young couple with a child at a local eyewear store struggling to come to terms with having to pay $350 for glasses. On their way out I told them about Warby and they were genuinely gracious and interested. Hope they became customers! How were you guys able to get your price point so much lower than anyone in the industry?
Neil Blumenthal@neilblumenthal
@andrewmettinger thank you so much for recommending us and for buying our frames!! Our business model enables us to maintain lower prices than our competitors - we design and produce our own frames and sell them direct to customers through www.warbyparker.com and our stores which enables us to avoid ever having to wholesale (and to sell through other retailers.) We effectively sell direct for less than wholesale since there's no 3rd party retailer to mark them up. We also only sell our own brand, so we don't have to pay a licensing fee to license another brand like other optical companies (most optical companies license existing brands eg Chanel, Prada, etc and pay a 10-15% licensing fee to slap a logo on the frames.)
Theoharis Dimarhos@theo_dimarhos · Marketing+Biz Dev at AngelouEconomics
Hi guys! Who are the best storytellers that inspire you?
Neil Blumenthal@neilblumenthal
@theo_dimarhos we grew up with Spielberg and Seinfeld, so they're definitely at the top of the list. i had the opportunity to see Seinfeld perform last night for a benefit for Baby Buggy (http://www.babybuggy.org/) and he was absolutely amazing. He is in a league all on his own. If you've never read about his process (how he writes, prepares, iterates,) I highly encourage you to do so. Excellence in storytelling is much more similar to most disciplines, including software development than most realize. You typically have a seed of an idea, you research, you build, you test, you edit/improve and you repeat the whole process over and over again.
Jesiah Bonney@jesiahbonney · director, animator, mindier
Am I allowed to double dip? I will anyway. Who do you think the most creative person alive is?
Neil Blumenthal@neilblumenthal
@jesiahbonney wow, that's a toughy. I'm certainly not qualified to answer that one. A couple of incredibly creative people that I deeply admire are/were John Lasseter and Florence Nightingale Is there anyone who you feel is particularly creative?
Jesiah Bonney@jesiahbonney · director, animator, mindier
@neilblumenthal @jesiahbonney haha it's easier to ask than to answer, but I would say Philipe Petite is my creative hero.
Jesiah Bonney@jesiahbonney · director, animator, mindier
Howdy from Nashville! Sooo I have this "friend" who loves Warby Parker, wears whiskey tortoise prestons (almost 4 years straight), has a practical bachelors degree in theology, does stop-motion videos, is a car salesman (salesman for 6 years), has Ryan Hoover as a reference, and also enjoys eating hard pretzels. (a) What would be your advise to my "friend" if he wanted to be a part of the Nashville Warby Parker team? (ps: he unsuccessfully applied in march) (b) Have you ever found yourselves listening to Hall and Oats while eating hard pretzels in flamingo costumes? 👆🏼Much more important question.
davegilboa@davegilboa
@jesiahbonney Howdy! a) We are fortunate that we often have dozens or hundreds of qualified applicants for open roles we are hiring for. We find that our best performing employees are curious, passionate, empathetic, self-driven and tend to have driven meaningful change in previous roles. I would recommend that your friend focus on creating impact and driving results no matter where they are currently working and during the interview process focus on highlighting why their strengths can create positive change in a rapidly growing company like Warby Parker. b) Not this week, but its only Tuesday
Niv Dror@nivo0o0 · VC at Shrug Capital
@davegilboa NeilBlumenthal I would like to vouch for @jesiahbonney too. cool guy from his own Product Hunt LIVE with Ryan a few weeks ago, and objectively one of the most creative creator on the Mindie app. See 👇
Harry Stebbings@harrystebbings · Podcast Host @ The Twenty Minute VC
@neilblumenthal hi , thanks so much for joining us today. I would love to hear what has been the hardest aspect of growing Warby and why do you think it is that you have managed to beat traditional incumbents at their own game?
davegilboa@davegilboa
@harrystebbings Thanks Harry. I think hiring and building a world class organization is always the most challenging (but also most rewarding) part of growing a business. We are now over 700 people and growing quickly. Having our core values codified and using them as the basis of our interviews has allowed us to scale while building a cohesive and impactful organization. I think we are able to exist and grow while operating in an industry with massive incumbents due to innovators dilemma. It is really challenging for large, profitable companies to change and cannibalize business models that drive their profitability. As a result there hasn't been much innovation in the eyewear industry and is what give us an opportunity to change that.
Lauren Goode@laurengoode · Senior Editor, The Verge
Hey guys, question about shipping. Do you ever feel pressure to expedite the ship time on your glasses given the proliferation of e-commerce companies and third-party services that are now offering on-demand or one and two-day shipping?
davegilboa@davegilboa
@laurengoode Hey Lauren, we spend a lot time thinking about how we can deliver better experiences to our customers and one important element is speed of delivery. I would say that pressure is generated by us internally as opposed to looking at what other companies are doing but we are seeing customer expectations starting to change as rapid delivery is offered by companies like Amazon. The difference with our (prescription) orders vs Amazon's is that we have to custom manufacture each product before shipping. That results in slightly longer processing time but we are investing in a number of ways to reduce the overall time it takes from when a customer places an order and when they are wearing our glasses.
Mathias Böhm@boehmmathias · Founder and CEO of TailorArt
@davegilboa @laurengoode is this "custom manufacturing" also the main aspect why you didn't expand jet to more countries? Because much more complex than scaling a "normal" e-commerce?
davegilboa@davegilboa
@boehmmathias @laurengoode We say that strategy is what we say no to. Startups often spread themselves thin and chase growth. We think there is a large opportunity for international expansion but want to be deliberate in our approach.
davegilboa@davegilboa
Thanks everyone--fun chatting and happy to continue these conversations.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@davegilboa @neilblumenthal Thanks so much for taking the time out and answering so many of our questions today!! We've absolutely loved having you here :)
PK Fields@eldersense · Founder, ElderSense
How did you find customers in the very beginning before you had marketing dollars?
davegilboa@davegilboa
@eldersense we have always thought of our customers as our best marketing channel and the majority of our traffic and sales to this day come through word of mouth. We bootstrapped Warby Parker and did not raise our seed round until 15 months after we launched. In the first 2 years we didn't spend a penny on customer acquisition. We just focused on creating beautiful products and delivering great experiences to customers. We were also very deliberate with using press to drive awareness--we were fortunate to launch with great features in Vogue and GQ and were blown away by the power of traditional media in the early days of our business.
Lejla Bajgoric@lejlahunts · Intern, Product Hunt
Thanks for being here :) Any big upcoming projects we can expect? What's been consuming your guys's thoughts as of late?
Neil Blumenthal@neilblumenthal
@lejlahunts we just launched some major improvements to our website, so please check it out. it's now fully responsive and we've overhauled the design making it more image heavy while improving performance. we've also been opening a bunch of new stores. this weekend our Nashville store opens which we're really excited about (we have an office in Nashville.)
daniellevine@daniellevine · Fireside
@neilblumenthal hey Neil and Dave! Thank's for doing this AMA. I'm wondering, what's the best thing you've come across in the last 30 days and why? Could be anything, a product, an article, a tea, a quote. Anything! Thanks for answering. P.S. I love my warbys!
Neil Blumenthal@neilblumenthal
@daniellevine best thing we've come across in the last 30 days - Different by Youngme Moon - great book on millennial consumer behavior and trouble that big companies can find themselves in (namely that over time, they lose their differentiation)
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@neilblumenthal & @davegilboa Thanks both for being here today 🙌 During your career to date, what has been your a) most challenging moment and how did you overcome it? b) proudest moment and why? c) most surprising moment?
davegilboa@davegilboa
@ems_hodge Thanks Emily. Lets see... a) We were blown away by the response to our launch. We hit our first year sales target in 3 weeks and then stocked out of inventory of nearly all our products. We had a waitlist of 20,000 customers who were going to have to wait months for their orders. We felt horrible about disappointing early adopters and those willing to take a risk on our new brand. We went out of our way to personally reach out to every customer, and even though we were watching every penny as a bootstrapped startup working out of our apartments without paying ourselves, we gave away a lot of free glasses to show people we genuinely cared about giving them a good experience with our brand. Many of those customers ended up becoming some of our biggest brand champions. We learned the power of customers empathetically during this time and now infuse this approach through our entire organization. b) When we announced we had distributed over 1 million pairs of glasses to people in need. Even though this number is much higher now, this was a huge milestone for our team and made us take a step back and reflect on the impact we've been able to have on people's lives in the few years we've been in business.
Mathias Böhm@boehmmathias · Founder and CEO of TailorArt
Hi to both of you and thanks for replying to questions today! Im curious about your onlinemarketing, can u share with us some growth hacks or stuff that didn't work at all. Maybe prioritise what channels you get the most out of it or got most out of it during early stage and growth stage?
neeharika sinha@neeeharika · Google, Threadchannel
@neilblumenthal @davegilboa thanks for this AMA session. I wanted to learn more about your journey with Warby Parker. what was your growth strategy? Did you believe in entering the market with some brand ambassadors or PR team or was it more word of mouth? How did you choose a strategy?
Andrew Ettinger@andrewett · 👟 @wearAtoms // ex @Twitter @ProductHunt
What are your favorite products/apps you guys use at WP internally that aren't made by y'all?
Neil Blumenthal@neilblumenthal
@andrewmettinger Apps: Waze, Harry's, Evernote, Nest, Spring Others: Infatuation, Jawbone Up
Robert Swart@robert_swart · Sales Consultant, Sleepmaster
@neilblumenthal I really thought everyone can daydream and it comes naturally which is why everyone has that little creativity about them. What prompted you to come up with a handbook of pre-fabricated daydream fantasies? Big fan of pretzels too, YUM.
Neil Blumenthal@neilblumenthal
@robert_swart it was the brainchild of one of the writers on the team (https://blog.warbyparker.com/day...) - the team is always looking for new ways to be creative and to help others boost their own creativity (one of our core values is to "pursue new and creative ideas."
Andre Jacobovitz@jacobovitza · Product Manager at Amazon
Would you ever consider selling Warby Parker glasses via Amazon?
Neil Blumenthal@neilblumenthal
@jacobovitza thanks for your question - we only sell through www.warbyparker.com and our stores. it's important to us to control our own customer experiences to make them as exceptional as possible.