Warby Parker’s CEO on Disruption and Consumer Experience

Almost one billion people worldwide lack access to glasses, which means that 15% of the world’s population cannot effectively learn or work. Neil Blumenthal co-founded Warby Parker# out of his apartment in Philadelphia in 2009-2010 to create an alternative to three problems:

  1. rising prices of glasses
  2. a mediocre customer experience
  3. low innovation in the sector

In the process, he learned a thing or two about what makes a good business work (B Corporation) by designing a product and experience that together make the marketing built-in.

They sold their first inventory in 3 weeks and had 20,000 people on their waiting list.

An example of built-in marketing beyond a product people want and a good customer experience is the company's choice to be a bit more creative with its content.

They launched their first annual report in 2011. Rather than it being a financial statement, it is a way to record what Warby Parker is up to and to share it to deepen relationships.

Many organizations create a content calendar to feed blogs and social presences, get traffic, followers and fans, leads, sales, etc. Warby Parker uses a content calendar to report on its year — and by communicating something meaningful in a fun way, it went viral and led to the three highest consecutive days of sales the company had.


Because of the 140-character limitations on Twitter, they started recording 30-second videos to answer customer questions. They found that people watch those videos 60-80 times.

Blumenthal retraced the company steps for the benefits of a group of brand marketers and strategists at this year's Brite conference.

What it takes

1.) Design glasses we love — then ask: how would we want to shop?

In their research, they found that stores had between 700-1,000 models, providing an overwhelming selection locked in a case and out of reach. Research confirms that too much choice hurts. So while selection gets people in the door, conversion is poor.

Warby Parker decided to design 27 shapes in between 2-4 colors each to cover the majority of facial types and style taste.

2.) Build a place to sell — a Web site — then figure out: how do we remove the barriers for people to buy online?

  • They settled on investing in old staples like free shipping and returns.
  • Test a tool to help people view fit online, and
  • Provide a good experience, the Warby Parker brand promise — thus the 5 pairs for 5 days for born

3.) Create a simple hierarchy of brand messages

  • A lifestyle brand — people case about how glasses look on their face
  • offering value and services — price and quality
  • With a social mission — part of why Warby Parker, purpose also helps with customer loyalty

4.) Launched officially in February 2010 — and was featured in GQ, Vogue and other fashion magazines

They sold their initial inventory in 3 weeks and has a wait-list of 20,000 people.

One principle they hold as reminder: with digital, brands have the ability to rise faster than ever before, and also to collapse rapidly when they don't keep their promises.

A question they are often asked: how do you keep the momentum going?

According to Blumenthal, it's all about customer experience and innovation. They monitor their net promoter score (NPS), a leading indicator, more closely than revenue booking, a lagging indicator based on whether they created a good experience.

Over 85% of their sales are generated by word of mouth. They view customer service as a brand elevator and marketing as a way to help them grow.

The medium does not matter, says Blumenthal. It is the experience that makes a difference. If you feel that something is broken, you can innovate.


Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effect on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.