I recently had the chance to hear the CEO of Warby Parker, David Gilboa, tell the story of how he and a team of college friends built this new powerhouse brand. He told the remarkable story of his kitchen-table startup and its almost immediate rise to success.
To give you an idea of the viral success of this brand, during it's first year in business, the company made its annual revenue target in just three weeks. David and his co-founders had hoped to sell a few glasses to friends and family while finishing school and ended up with a waiting list of 20,000 buyers to fulfill manually. This trend continued as the first store opened and had to shut its doors after 2 days because they had sold 100% of inventory. So what is it that has made this little company such a brilliant, shining star?
Lesson #1: Be Original and Relevant
The chunky, classic glasses target young milennials who care about fashion but can't afford pricey prescription glasses. The original design was inspired by the popular 'Mad Men' show. By tapping into a hot trend and a market void, the brand likely got a jumpstart. The standout design, combined with a low price point, and a tie in to a trending show, all added up to a formula that sparked huge, viral interest.
Lesson #2: Engage with Customers
So many companies today are automating customer interactions to cut down on costs instead of focusing on growth by delivering a personal, bespoke experience. Not Warby Parker. As I sat listening to David, I tweeted during the session and was quickly thanked with a personal message from the Warby Parker brand. Brian explained they don't consider social media as part of their marketing department — their properties are handled by customer service.
Lesson #3: Have a Mission
During the session, I learned that Warby Parker donates a pair of glasses to charity for every pair they sell. One participant asked, “Why don’t you advertise that more? I had no idea.” The response? “It’s really more about who we are and the reason we started our brand, which was to prove you could build a profitable business while doing good for the world.” Not a person in the room didn’t respect this man, and this brand, at this moment. Part of making people care about your brand is aligning with a purposeful mission that makes consumers feel great about their choice.
Lesson #4: Own the Customer Relationship
On being asked whether he would consider a move to wholesale, Brian stated, “There is a huge advantage to owning the customer relationship.” He understands that his customers are his marketing engine. His followers are the ones he needs to impress. Not Wall Street, not analysts… just everyday consumers. And so, of course it’s important to always hold the reins on the entire experience.
Lesson #5: Keep it Simple
I love a good brand story like this. It’s a story where everything is just so simple. I can imagine teaching this very simple story to MBAs wanting to know how to build a business. “Well students,” I would say. ”There’s one small company that got it right, and that’s pretty much all you need to know. It goes something like this —
• Envision something people will love
• Make every experience special
• Be good to those who support you
And that’s it, really. Because the rest will follow.