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Building a brand on customer service
Warby Parker cofounder Neil Blumenthal on how a great customer service experience disrupted an industry
In this episode of the Tony Robbins Podcast, we are bringing you back to Business Mastery, where Tony led a panel discussion with the business leaders behind some fast-growing companies. Here, you’ll hear from one of the founders of a company that changed the eyewear business forever.
Neil Blumenthal, Dave Gilboa, Andy Hunt and Jeff Raider launched Warby Parker in 2010. The premise was straightforward – sell customers high-quality eyewear at affordable prices, and establish a convenient, direct-to-consumer business model so that customers could get eyeglasses anytime and anywhere.
Today we’re talking to Warby Parker cofounder Neil on the vision behind the company, why it was so critical for them to optimize every single dollar and the tools and strategies that helped them build Warby Parker into a billion dollar business.
Transforming an industry
If you have ever worn eyeglasses, then you know that the traditional process of buying glasses is expensive and inconvenient. On average, a pair of glasses costs nearly $300. And the trips you have to make to the retailer to sift through the pairs, try them on and order your final choice can stack up. It’s a pain point for a lot of people. But for four friends at Wharton Business School, it was an inspiration.
Neil and his cofounders knew there was a big disconnect between what it costs to produce eyewear and what it sells for. He also knew the market was dominated by just one company – a massive opportunity, not an obstacle. It gave him a chance to build a unique brand identity by delivering a great product, at a great price, with a great customer service experience. The Warby Parker business model would disrupt the industry forever.
His cofounders felt the same. Neil describes the moment the business began: “You know when you have an idea and you just feel it in your gut? . . . We all had that same sort of feeling in our gut.”
Launching a minimally viable product
Warby Parker didn’t start out as an IPO darling. In fact, Neil had a reputation for pinching pennies, joking with Tony, “We were very, very careful with cash. Now that we’re seven years in, we finally buy pens.” One of their biggest challenges early on was defining and building their minimally viable product.
As a fashion brand, two things were incredibly important: having a high-quality product and rolling out a perfect launch strategy. So instead of buying pens, they hired a well-known fashion PR firm. As Neil says, “We knew that we could ask other people for help.” Knowing where you most need help – and where you can get by without it to save some cash – is one of the most essential parts of launching your business.
Building a culture of continuous improvement
Launch is important, but Warby Parker knew that a good product and a great launch wouldn’t be enough to differentiate them from the competition. What’s special about their strategy was how focused they were on making customers happy and the massive amounts of research and experimentation they did to find that sweet spot. Their motto quickly became “Embrace what you don’t know” – they admitted that they didn’t know everything.
Neil still may not know everything, but he learned a lot through his experiences with the Warby Parker business, and he’s sharing it with you. Listen for tips on determining your company core values, getting investors, falling in love with your customer and ultimately building a successful company.Thanks to its founders’ embrace of brand identity and providing more value than anyone else, today, Warby Parker is one of the most recognizable eyewear brands out there. Neil knows that “Our brand is not just our product, it’s the moment somebody hears about Warby Parker.” With revenue of over $540 million, there’s no question this philosophy works.
[1:05] Ana introduces the episode
[2:45] Tony welcomes Neil
[3:00] How Warby Parker was started
[4:00] “At some point someone will start selling glasses online”
[4:30] Glasses have the power to transform someone’s life
[5:00] The disconnect between the production cost and the retail cost of eyewear
[5:25] A gut feeling that this was the right decision
[6:30] The promises the co-founders made to each other
[6:55] 9 years since inception, 7 years since origination
[7:10] Following up the promise with action
[7:40] Resolving conflict before it even starts
[8:30] These early practices set the stage for the core values of Warby Parker
[8:55] Bootstrapping the business
[9:20] Mentally grasping that they have a billion dollar business
[10:00] Being very careful with cash
[10:30] How do you build a minimally viable product?
[11:05] Investing in a website, in pr and in the product
[11:30] One shot to launch the brand
[11:45] Finding what they could do themselves
[12:15] Conducting in-person user testing to help define your scope
[13:00] Finding their irresistible offer
[13:30] Solving a real pain point in people’s lives
[14:00] Disrupting the eyeglasses industry by cutting out the middle-man
[14:20] The David vs. Goliath dynamic of Warby Parker’s story
[15:20] Creating a better customer experience
[16:00] How they decided to send customers test frames to try on
[17:20] How the home try-on system reduced return rates
[18:00] “The Netflix of eyewear”
[18:30] Giving back to those in need
[19:00] Creating a company they were excited to work for everyday
[20:00] The surprising reason people really buy glasses – fashion and design
[21:00] People tend to buy a new pair of glasses every 2 years
[21:30] Building a stable business that is also adaptable
[22:00] Going through the first round of financing
[23:00] Establishing your “non-negotiables”
[23:20] Establishing your terms
[23:45] Finding early-stage investors first before bringing in the big fish
[24:30] Discovering and building upon the current consumer trend
[27:50] A brand architecture is your reason for being
[28:15] Why they named the company “Warby Parker”
[28:50] The brand is not just the product, it’s the moment someone hears the name “Warby Parker”
[29:10] Extending the customer experience to every single aspect of the company
[30:10] The importance of finding out what the customer really wants
[30:25] Consumer demand drove some key business decisions
[31:30] Utilizing their apartment as their first office space / retail
[32:30] Vulnerability is key to building relationships with your customers
[33:00] The first “office” in Union Square, NYC
[33:20] Continually experimenting to find the optimal customer experience
[34:00] A culture of learning and testing at the core of building Warby Parker
[35:00] The unintentional benefit of collecting sales data in each city