Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a talk at Columbia Business School by Neil Blumenthal, one of the four co-founders of Warby Parker, an eyeglasses retailer that I’ve written about here and also over here.
It was fascinating to hear how one of my favorite brands on the planet got its start, and there are lessons to be learned from the company’s approach to its business, brand and culture. A few of my biggest takeaways:
Always put people first.
Blumenthal said that the founding team laid out two requirements at the onset of building the company: 1) A vow to always bust their butts and work really hard, and 2) A vow to always remain friends first throughout the journey. These two promises informed every decision made after that point, and Blumenthal described feedback sessions among the four of them in which each person was brutally honest with the others about what they were doing well and what they could improve upon. This has, no doubt, contributed to their enormous success.
Culture is also a huge part of the Warby Parker mission, according to Blumenthal, as they work to create an environment where employees can learn and thrive. He cited a recent event in which all staff members were asked to dress in black tie gear and meet at their offices. Soon after, they were ushered into a separate room where they were served Five Guys burgers and fries, before hopping on the Subway to Grand Central Terminal. There, they enjoyed a murder mystery event before wandering over to a nearby bar for drinks and debauchery.
Being scrappy and strategic will benefit you in the long run.
Blumenthal, Andrew Hunt, Jeffrey Raider and David Gilboa started building WP while attending The University of Pennsylvania Wharton School. When it came to putting together a user-friendly website, Blumenthal said they used PowerPoint to wireframe it and then utilized their fellow classmates to help them decide what worked and what didn’t.
They would print out the wireframes, sometimes with different versions of the same page, hand them to classmates and say, “Here’s the homepage. What button would you press?” The group could then immediately correct and adjust the layout based on the feedback they received. This, no doubt, was a huge benefit to usability before the site ever went live.
Don’t underestimate the power of great customer service.
Warby Parker has a Net Promoter Score of 91 — above powerhouses like Apple and Zappos. (For those not familiar, a Net Promoter Score measures how likely your customers are to recommend your product to those in their circle.) The company prides itself on its “world-class customer service,” and takes customer calls from offices in SoHo. Blumenthal said he’s been called crazy numerous times for the expense associated with this business decision, but it’s hard to argue with him when you’re reminded of all those happy customers.
Blumenthal didn’t spend a lot of time on social media, but I’ve written about their approach previously, and it’s hard to ignore how spot on they are in this arena. Those manning the Twitter account respond to nearly every tweet they receive (maybe all of them), even those that aren’t direct questions. You’ll find a similar experience on Facebook, where they offer feedback and suggestions for those partaking in their Home Try-On program. Each of these touchpoints create a unique experience for customers and increase brand loyalty.
A few other random fun facts from Blumenthal:
- Less than 1% of eyeglasses were sold online at the time that Warby Parker began as a company.
- When deciding on a price point that would get people “super excited,” Blumenthal said the willingness to purchase increased with price — up until $100. So why not $99 instead of $95? It sounded “too discount-y and cheap.”
- Vogue and GQ were the first publications to showcase the brand, and within 48 hours of the GQ feature, Warby Parker had to shut down its Home Try-On program because they couldn’t keep up with demand. Within three weeks, they had hit their first-year sales targets.
- Blumenthal’s not allowed to talk about the rumor (weird, I know) that Warby Parker has been tapped to help Google make its forthcoming glasses more stylish.
- The company will debut its first flagship store at 121 Greene St. in April. (Can a girl get an invite to the grand opening?)