An eye-opening web-based eyewear retailer

The online retailer Warby Parker is changing how consumers shop for eyewear.
Warby Parker

Even in these uncertain times, we have some success stories to tell you about. Strictly speaking, you don't need rose-colored glasses to find them. But as Serena Altschul is about to show us, a low-cost pair of good-looking specs sure wouldn't hurt:

Envision an eyewear company whose mission is to help you find glasses that are not only stylish but affordable ...

Look no further!

This is Warby Parker, a new web-based company that has opened the eyes of the bespectacled world. After just a year this start-up has already sold more than 60,000 pairs of glasses!

Co-founders Neil Blumenthal, David Gilboa, Andy Hunt, and Jeff Raider met at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. It was there they managed to turn a penchant for glasses into a visionary business.

"The basic premise was that glasses are fun, but they're un-fun when they cost $500," said Blumenthal. "So we thought there had to be a better way, and we found a way to provide the same quality glasses, with prescription lenses, for $95."

"It's a couple pieces of plastic," explained Gilboa. "We always joke that there's no reason that glasses should cost more than an iPhone. It's just absurd."

To keep prices low, Warby Parker creates its own eyewear designs, and sells directly to its customers primarily on its rather unique website, where shoppers can upload pictures of themselves and try glasses on virtually.

"When we launched, we were featured in GQ, and they called us the 'Netflix of eyewear,'" said Gilboa. "And so within 48 hours of launching our site, we were completely stocked out of all our inventory for home try-on. Nothing left."

The secret to the company's success is quite simple: Its web-based sales approach allows Warby Parker to cut out the middleman. According to Gilboa, that's not the case for the company's brick-and-mortar competitors: "What most consumers don't realize is that they see 30 different brands of glasses; they don't realize that all those 30 brands are owned by the same company, and were probably made in the same factory.

"These guys are literally marking glasses up between ten and 20 times what it costs to manufacture," said Gilboa.

It's an innovative business model that's raising eyebrows. But the company's founders have a vision that goes far beyond profit and a fashion statement.

"When we think about Warby Parker, we think of striving to be a force for good<" said Blumenthal.

They also want to make a difference, by donating one pair of glasses to a person in need for every pair sold.

So far, Warby Parker has given away more than 60,000 glasses - most recently in Guatemala.

"You ask these people if they have problems seeing, and none of them know that they have a problem, even," said Gilboa. "But then you ask them if they have a problem threading a needle, for example, and half the women raise their hand. We gave them glasses, and they started crying. Just because they were so happy, it was such a life-changing experience for them."

And for four friends as well, who built a company that's allowed them to see the world through a different lens.

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