Neil Blumenthal is the co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker. The nine-year-old eyeglasses company was a direct-to-consumer pioneer, known for its style, service, and reasonable prices. In its early days, the co-founders thought Warby Parker would also become known for its ambitious social initiative: to give a pair of glasses to someone in need for every pair sold. It turned out, though, that customers weren't as motivated by the mission as the startup was. The experience taught Blumenthal some important lessons about honing your company's message. --As told to Christine Lagorio-Chafkin 

When we started, we had a very strong point of view about brands in general--and of course in particular our brand. When we would start talking about the branding we'd created, it was very deliberate. But it was still verbal diarrhea.

We'd get in front of an editor or a writer and we'd just talk. We'd do a desk-side at Vogue, and bring our collection of frames and a bunch of photography from our first shoot, but there was so much that we wanted to get out around building a lifestyle brand, about our price point, and how we were selling by going online directly to consumers. The fact that we had this home try-out program. That we had "buy a pair, give a pair." The dynamics of the industry. We were so excited to tell that story. But it was a long one, and multifaceted. If we spoke for too long, our audience's eyes would glaze over.

Rather than eliminate messages, we chose those that were more important to customers and emphasized them first. We sought the input of our [Wharton] classmates to understand what was most important to them as consumers, through focus groups and surveys. What we learned is that style and fit come first; glasses are one of the few accessories people wear on their face, so it's natural that customers want to look and feel their best while wearing them. So, fashion and design came first for us.

After style and fit come value and customer experience. Customers want the highest-quality product for their price point, and at Warby Parker, this means selling $95 glasses made with premium materials that are traditionally sold for hundreds of dollars, all while providing amazing customer experiences. Third comes our Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program. While customers certainly love the fact that we give back, at the end of the day, it's not a critical factor in deciding whether to buy a pair of glasses. 

We used to have the "buy a pair, give a pair" on the front page of our website. Now it's just on the social-mission page. Unfortunately, that page gets updated the least frequently, because it's not viewed as much as the homepage or the gallery page and the product page or checkout. Instead of incorporating the program into our checkout flow, we began including an insert card in every customer order that explains it. Within our retail locations, we don't incorporate physical fixtures like artwork or signage that reference Buy a Pair, Give a Pair. And as we introduce new social media platforms, style continues to take precedent.

But, frankly, the social mission is what drives us. It's what gets us up in the morning. It's what prevents us from hitting the snooze button and spending another 15 minutes sleeping. And for our 1,800 current employees and for people that we're recruiting, we lead with social mission. That's the No. 1 reason people want to come work for Warby Parker.

To date, we've distributed five million pairs of glasses to people in need around the world. And that is something we are super proud of. I think we're going to try and be louder about the program. Not because we think it will sell more glasses, but because we think it will inspire other entrepreneurs and executives to invest more in mission-related work. Our hope has always been to demonstrate that you can build a high-growth company that's profitable, that provides exceptional value to customers, and that does good in the world.

We want to be that example that other folks can follow. We need more business leaders to be considering the impact of their products on all stakeholders, and we need leaders to be thinking about that impact in a much more sophisticated way.

Published on: Apr 11, 2019