In just four years, Warby Parker's chic glasses and affordable prices have helped establish the company as one of the go-to places for eyesight-challenged. On Wednesday at The Next Web Conference in New York City, co-founder and co-CEO Neil Blumenthal explained how Warby Parker has managed to come this far while maintaining its mission and brand authenticity.
"All too often, especially within the tech community, we're talking about growth that comes at the expense of everything else," Blumenthal said. "We believe that it's not intelligent to grow in the short-term at the expense of the long-term potential. For us it's all about wild, fast growth while maintaining awesome customer experiences."
Blumenthal said his team was determined to grow the company in a predictable, deliberate, consistent, and long-lasting way, while still being ambitious and pushing boundaries. They also focused on improving their economics of scale and making "de-risked investments" while at the same time maintaining autonomy and their core values.
That kind of well-thought out strategy takes time. You can't do it all on day one, as evidenced by the mayhem that occurred at Warby Parker when it launched and couldn't handle the volume of orders.
Still, the company met its sales goals for the first year within three weeks of launch, Blumenthal said. That's why it was key that it started out simple with one product--glasses. In 2011 it was able to add sunglasses, and this year began selling progressives. "If we had launched all this at once, I don't think we could have done it all well," Blumenthal said, adding that Warby Parker tried to "be deliberate and focused in our growth, become exceptional, and move onto the next thing."
Warby Parker followed the same trajectory in terms of how it sells its glasses. At the start, it was all online. But customers soon began to ask if they could come to the office to try on the glasses, so the company opened up some pop-up stores. Then it launched a tour bus that drove around the country selling glasses. Today, it has 10 brick-and-mortar stores.
Another interesting way that Warby Parker stimulated sustainable growth was by sharing its financials despite being a private company. Simply by opening up to the public and being honest about its sales, Blumenthal said, Warby Parker spurred its three highest sales days at the time. Although that wasn't the original intention of sharing the numbers, it ended up leading to an unconventional method for growth.
Ultimately though, Blumenthal said, Warby Parker's fortunes hinge on creating a compelling narrative and encouraging fun through creativity, while at the same time keeping communication within the company clear.
"Our traffic and sales even four and a half years in are still being driven mostly by word of mouth," Blumenthal said. "As we keep doing interesting things people will want to talk about us, and if we keep making people happy that will perpetuate growth."