About Speaker Neil Blumenthal…
The online eyeglass retailer Warby Parker, which Neil Blumenthal and his business partners launched last February, sells a variety of vintage-inspired frames for $95, with each purchase triggering the donation of a pair of glasses to someone who needs them. In less than a year, Warby Parker has distributed approximately 20,000 pairs of eyeglasses in 26 countries.
Blumenthal traces the evolution of his project to 2003, when he began working with VisionSpring, a nonprofit that trains low-income women around theworld to sell eyeglasses to people in their community. That skill can get them jobs from which they can earn a decent income; meanwhile, the community as a whole benefits, because eyeglasses are “tools to see, which enables people to learn and increases their productivity dramatically,” asBlumenthal explains.
During his five years at VisionSpring, Blumenthal helped expand the nonprofit’s presence to 10 countries, supporting thousands of female entrepreneurs and boosting the organization’s staff from two to 30. He then went to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania to obtain his MBA and met the three classmates who would become his Warby Parker co-founders.
In launching Warby Parker (the name is inspired by two Jack Kerouac characters), Blumenthal and his partners focused on one thing they all had in common: glasses. By designing eyewear in-house, cutting out licensing companies and optical shops and going directly to customers through the Internet, they found that they could sell stylish, vintage-inspired eyeglassesmade on the same manufacturing lines and from the same high-quality materials as major-brand eyewearfor less than $100. Customers can have glasses mailed to them so that they can try them on at home, or they can try them on virtually, through facial recognition software.
The business was an immediate success, earning accolades from GQ, Vogue and the trendsetting DailyCandy email newsletter and hitting first-year sales targets in three weeks. In fact, it was too successful-within four weeks: Warby Parker sold out of their top 15 styles and had a waiting list 20,000 names long. Soon enough, they worked out the kinks, and they have continued to grow, recently hiring their 15th employee.
Building off of Blumenthal’s experience at VisionSpring, the company makes sure to responsibly distribute the glasses they donate. They work with nonprofit partners that give the glasses to female entrepreneurs, who in turn sell them in their communities for affordable prices.
Warby Parker has also marketed sunglasses to benefit causes, including breast cancer research and Invisible Children, an organization that helps rehabilitate former child soldiers in Uganda.