We’ve always been fans of Warby Parker, a transformative eyewear brand that offers designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially-conscious businesses. For every pair sold, a pair is distributed to someone in need. We recently had the chance to catch up with co-founder and co-CEO Neil Blumenthal. Neil loves helping people see, he’s named Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, became a member of the United Nations’ Global Entrepreneurs Council and was named one of Crain’s “40 Under Forty”. Neil previously led VisionSpring, a non-profit social enterprise that trains low-income women to start their own business selling affordable glasses to rural communities in South Asia, Africa and Latin America.
We are huge fans of the brand ethos. How did the social entrepreneurial element come about? It came about organically. Jeff, Andy, Dave and I were all deeply involved in nonprofit work. I (Neil) previously worked as director of an organisation called VisionSpring, which is one of our primary partners today. VisionSpring’s mission is to train entrepreneurs in low-income areas to perform eye exams and sell glasses to their communities at affordable prices. Not only does the process help restore good vision to those who need it for their livelihoods, but it supports local economies in a thoughtful, lasting way. Warby Parker’s social innovation efforts grew directly from our collective experiences.
How much of your early-stage growth was word-of-mouth versus online marketing such as social media? None of our early growth resulted from paid online marketing, although a good deal of early growth resulted from organic social media interactions. Almost immediately after launching, we were responding to Tweets and Facebook posts, inviting bloggers into our office, and encouraging customers to upload pictures from their Home Try-On programmes to our Facebook and Twitter channels for feedback. Even today, over half of our traffic and sales is driven by word-of-mouth.
How important is social media to your overall marketing strategy and which platforms does the brand focus on? We go wherever our customers want us to be, whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, or whatever the future brings. Buying glasses is an intimate process but it’s also a social process, and mediums like Facebook or Instagram are great ways to get and give feedback.
We think of social media as more of a customer service gateway than a marketing tool. From our perspective, the question is always, “How can we make the process of buying glasses as easy and fun as possible?”
How do you want customers to feel when they buy a pair of Warby Parker glasses? We want customers to fall in love not only with the product, but also with the experience of buying, wearing, and owning Warby Parker glasses. We want every moment of a person’s interaction with the brand to be remarkable, from the moment she first hears about us to the first time she gets a compliment on her new frames. That’s the reasoning behind every decision we make, from our free shipping to the photobooths and custom library-ladders in our retail stores to our holiday gift cards (this year’s version came with a bonus Make-a-Snowman Kit).
Each customer will have his own personal wants and needs from a pair of glasses, but all customers have two things in common: they want glasses that work well and look good. We started from that premise and worked to create an experience that was delightful and seamlessly easy.
Do you have any favourite books that you think entrepreneurs should read? A recent favourite is Adam Grant’s “Give and Take”. We’re also fans of Juan Enríquez ‘s “As the Future Catches You” and the novels of Jack Kerouac, whose adventurousness and iconoclasm inspired us to take a less-travelled path.