Guest Contributor

How vision, mission and culture helped build a multi-billion dollar business

By | John Preston

Most business school conversations about beers ended with a hangover, Neil Blumenthal ending up with a billion dollar business.

If you’re not familiar with Neil’s name, chances are you’re familiar with the brand he and his co-founders started: Warby Parker. Because the Warby brand is ubiquitous thanks to the company’s product and marketing success, many consumers around the world see the company as an overnight success. In reality, the brand is a product of years of blood, sweat, and, of course, a few beers.

“Warby Parker was founded with a rebellious spirit and a lofty goal: to offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.”

On the most recent episode of The Growth Show, we sat down with Neil to discuss the success of Warby Parker. Below are some key insights from our conversation that you can incorporate into your company’s growth strategy.

Invest time in what is important

Warby Parker achieved his annual sales goal within three weeks of launching his website, so it’s easy to think he was successful right out of the gate. But the truth of the matter is that Neil and his classmates spent a full year and a half creating the brand, product, strategy and values ​​that would eventually become Warby Parker — the initial success of the launch was a direct reflection of that hard work.

Neil said the brand’s intent to break into the world of “health and fashion” made it particularly important that it be purchased from top-tier consumer periodicals. To that end, Neil and his team rallied around 40(!?) fashion PR firms and consultants before settling on a team he helped land in Vogue and GQ the month of its launch. Warby’s team recognized early that the bar for a minimally viable product is significantly higher in the consumer fashion market than in other realms of technology — and invested time, money, and energy accordingly.

Selective listening

Most parents are outraged when kids selectively listen, but blocking certain people and messages can be an invaluable skill when launching a business.

Example in point: Neil and his team were told by countless people that no one would buy glasses online, but his team was convinced that there was a significant need in the market for a player willing to think and act differently by cutting out the middleman from the market. process.

However, the Warby Parker team did not block all outside advice. They met with a Wharton pricing professor before the launch, who warned them that their cost of goods would double after the launch and they needed to double their price accordingly. Warby’s team went with a price tag of $95 (well above their initial idea of ​​$45, but lower than $99 for fear of being perceived as a discount brand) and built the Wharton professor’s vision on their model.

Of course, their cost of goods doubled as they updated the hinges, finishes, and supplies to fit their perception of premium branding, and the professor’s sage advice resulted in a pricing and packaging benefit for the company.

Hire empathic employees

Entrepreneurs talk a lot about hiring aptitude and cultural fit, but very few prove empathy as a core value in joining the team. Neil and his co-founders fired one of the organization’s early employees because he wasn’t friendly enough in emails to customers.

Sound drastic? Not for a company committed to delight. For some brands, customer delight is a public relations strategy. But for Warby Parker, it’s a non-negotiable part of the company’s business model and recruiting model, ensuring that each person on his team, whether retail associate or CFO, is unequivocally committed to delivering the best for the company’s customers.

Align with the right mission

Warby Parker sells eyewear, but the brand is also on a promise to give back to developing countries by providing eyewear to the people who need it most through its “buy a pair, give a pair” business model. Mission is important not not only for Warby’s customers, but also for its employees, allowing the company to rapidly grow online and in the retail space.

Warby Parker is a great example of an organization that does good by doing good, leading with its mission front and center. The enthusiasm of the company’s fans and supporters shows that the focus is coming closer to paying in spades. Your business model may change, your pricing may alter, but your mission must continue to engage your team and your target market, whether your company is 10 months or 10 years old.

Prioritize the long game

Having 20,000 customers on a waiting list sounds like a big problem to have, but actually having 20,000 impatient and unhappy people could be the be all and end all of a business if mishandled. When the company quickly ran out of its existing inventory, Neil and his three co-founders worked with their outsourced developers to develop “out of stock” functionality (they hadn’t imagined they’d need it), calls in the field, and customer emails, and were transparent about shipping delays to keep people up to date on orders and engaged with the brand until their glasses arrive. Warby recognized that his startup is not defined by short-term demand, but by long-term relationships, and the strength of his business and brand is a direct reflection of investing in those relationships early and often.

Make feedback a cornerstone of your culture

In addition to beers, Neil and his co-founders spent a lot of time at their favorite corner table at a local restaurant giving each other feedback. While the entire founding team had worked long and hard hours before, they knew that actually starting their own company would be routine, and that launching a company often meant friendships and relationships would end badly.

So rather than wish and hope it would work, Neil and his co-founders made an early pact to commit to the business and to be open, honest and constructive in their feedback to each other. One of my favorite quotes from Neil was that “arrogance and entitlement prevent innovation”. It’s a good reminder to all of us that the smartest idiots in the room don’t put the customer or self-improvement first. So be transparent with your team about what matters, what doesn’t, and how you’ll work together—doing so prevents countless roadblocks and cracks down the line.

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