Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal explains how he and his partners developed a methodical strategy for disrupting the eyeglasses industry … and then did just that. It’s not always the flashy ideas and over-the-top execution that launch great companies. Sometimes it’s just the composure and know-how of the founders to stick to the game plan.
Neil Blumenthal: There's this narrative around entrepreneurship that "no guts, no glory" and you have to take these giant leaps of faith. But we've seen that some of the most successful entrepreneurs take a really methodical approach and don't necessarily go all-in in day one. We think that the best businesses solve real problems and Warby Parker is really a solution to a problem that the four of us co-founders had in walking into an optical shop, getting excited about a pair of glasses, and then seeing the bill and walking out feeling like we got punched in the stomach. So it didn't quite make sense to us that a pair of glasses should be so expensive, $400/$500. The technology has been around 800 years. There's no rare earth minerals in a pair of glasses. So when we started looking a little bit more into the industry, you start to realize oh well it's pretty consolidated. There are few very large companies, one of which owns Oakley, Ray-Ban, Oliver Peoples, Persol, and Arnette and licenses all the big fashion brands, whether it's Chanel, Ralph Lauren, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana. The same company also happens to own a lot of the large retail chains like LensCrafters and Pearle Vision and Sunglass Hut and Target Optical and Sears Optical. And the same company owns the second largest vision insurance plan in the country.
So, when we saw that level of consolidation, that made sense — oh maybe this is why glasses are so expensive. So we thought if we're able to design the frames that we love, work directly with manufacturers to produce them, and then sell them direct to customers, we could effectively shorten the value chain. What we would be doing is selling glasses at less than wholesale and it would be fine for our business because we are the retailer. We were the brand, the designers, the manufacturers, and the retailer. So we removed steps from the process and customers were able to save. During those moments where you're standing on the edge of a cliff and you feel like you have to take a leap of faith, take a step back and figure out how to break down that problem or challenge into a bunch of the smaller pieces and then just take baby steps forward. And that's how we've approached Warby Parker from day one.