When Neil Blumenthal, Andrew Hunt, David Gilboa, and Jeffrey Raider founded Warby Parker back in 2010, they probably didn’t imagine that the company would be worth $1.75 billion in the future (according to data from 2018). With almost $300 million raised in total, WP now has 65 retail shops, along with its thriving online business, and expects to end 2018 with almost 100 retail locations.
However, before their huge success, Blumenthal & Co. definitely had their work cut out for them when it came to building their business from scratch. The competition was pretty tough—Luxottica, a company that owns almost every glasses or sunglasses brand under the sun, was at the top of its game—and Warby Parker needed to come up with a strategy that would put it ahead of the competition and in the hands of its customers.
So, how DID they achieve the $1.75 billion valuation?
In this case study, we’ll reveal some of the secret ingredients of Warby Parker’s success sauce that will not only provide you with the answer to the question above, but perhaps also inspire you to apply their tactics to your own startup.
Using Word of Mouth to Create a Buzz
What a lot of people tend to forget in the early days of running a business is that word of mouth marketing is completely free. Here’s the deal: if you get people to make a buzz about you, you won’t have to spend a whole lot of money on growing your business fast. Warby Parker took advantage of this fact and made sure to create that buzz.
While Warby did launch in 2010, its founders had been keeping it under wraps for a year prior to the big event, which had given them plenty of time to come up with strategies that would help their product go viral.
So, by the time WP went live, Blumenthal, Hunt, Gilboa, and Raider had done a couple of useful things that would ultimately ensure the success of their company:
1. They priced their glasses at $95—Let’s make one thing clear: the band behind Warby didn’t want to sell bargain glasses. They wanted to create a premium brand, which is why they decided to price their products at $95 rather than, say, $99. The former sounded like a premium price, the latter as if you were shopping for glasses at a discount. Yet despite the “premium” price, this was still a fraction of the price you’d find with traditional retailers.
2. They gave Warby Parker a social mission—Whenever the company sold a pair of glasses, they would give a pair to someone who really needed them. Not only was this the right thing to do in terms of helping people, but it was also a great business move for Warby. After all, who wouldn’t want to buy from a company with such a great cause?
Image Source: Warby Parker
3. They made sure the press followed the launch—At the time of its launch, an article about Warby Parker was published in the GQ magazine. The fact that the event was closely followed by the press right from the start gave the company credibility, and attracted a large number of interested people to WP’s business.
4. They ditched a beta launch completely—When it was time for Warby to see the light of day, the company decided to go “all in”. That meant no beta versions and test phases, and in combination with the GQ article, this brought them the traffic they needed. Remember: people like to be informed when it comes to great, new brands, and they are always willing to tell their friends all about them.
5. They promoted Warby as the “Netflix of glasses”—Warby’s value proposition was as simple as it could be. Blumenthal and the rest of the co-founders highlighted only one of the features—the Home Try-On program, which allowed you to order a pair of glasses and try them for free from the comfort of your home—making it easier for people to accept the brand and share the whole thing with the people they know.
Image Source: Warby Parker
6. They paid attention to brand consistency—When you think about McDonald’s, the first colours that come to mind are yellow and red. When you think about Coca-Cola, you remember the red logo. In the same manner, Warby opted for a blue shade for its brand, and used it not only on the company’s website, but also all social media channels. It achieved its desired purpose and got people to connect this colour to this particular brand.
The Power of Hiring a PR Firm
“When we launched Warby Parker, we only spent money on three things: purchasing our initial inventory, paying external developers to build our website, and hiring a PR firm.” – Dave Gilboa
As Dave Gilboa elaborated in his Quora answer, the Warby team didn’t spend any money or marketing or customer acquisition efforts in the first two years of the business. They did, however, recognize what a PR firm could do for them in the long run. In the words of Gilboa, “we were launching a fashion brand—and you can only do that once—so we wanted to make sure we did it with credibility.”
In fact, Gilboa credits their PR firm for the majority of their success—it helped Warby make connections with all the key editors in the world of press, and ensured they were featured in big-name magazines, such as Vogue and GQ. What’s important to remember is that the reach of PR is so enormous that by using relevant press placements consumer companies can acquire tons of traffic. Press is also one of the most cost-effective ways for startups (especially ecommerce ones) to boost their growth, which is exactly what pushed Warby so quickly to the market.
Thanks to the publications done by their PR firm, Warby achieved some pretty impressive results for a startup. The hit their first-year sales target in just three weeks, sold out their 20 best-selling styles in four, and ended up with a waitlist of 20,000 customers. As Gilboa says, they worked non-stop in order to meet the demand, and were terrified of disappointing their customers, which is why they did their best to show their shoppers that they really cared about them and their orders.
Can you take a guess at what this resulted in? That’s right, further amplification through word of mouth.
Buying Glasses Becomes Fun and Engaging
Aside from showing their customers that they care and offering the Home Try-On program, Warby also wanted to reinvent the entire shopping experience by making it more fun and engaging for all of the brand’s fans. By using the so-called “miracle moments”, Warby managed to do just that, and turn a huge number of first-time buyers into lifetime customers.
One example of these magic moments is their make-a-snowman kit, which they included in every purchase that was made around the holidays. It was cute, it was different, but most of all, it thrilled Warby’s customers, and inspired them to show their appreciation and share this memorable moment on their social media channels.
Image Source: Warby Parker
Needless to say, this made Warby Parker even more popular in no time at all.
Another example of the magic moments has to be the email sequence Warby used for its Home Try-On program. There were nine emails in total, all of which were written very carefully and meant to engage people at the other end of the emails. The design was beautiful, the messages short and to the point, and they carefully guided you through the entire process of your order.
The emails even encouraged the customers to take photos with their glasses on and share the photos online.
In the early days of running an ecommerce business, thrilling your customers is everything, not only because they are all you have, but also because they’re the ones who will eventually spread the good (or bad) word about you.
Growing your business is never an easy task, but if you play your cards right and figure out how to offer your consumers something different, something that might just prompt them to stay with your brand, you can become a success story—just like Warby Parker.
Plus, as you can see, not every business will need huge amounts of money to achieve their goals. Warby mostly focused on word of mouth and engaging their customers (both of which are pretty affordable), and they managed to get pretty far. Add to the mix hiring a PR agency (and recognizing the importance of doing so), and what you get are results that you might not even expect from a startup.
Most of all, however, the key to Warby’s success lies in offering something completely different to the masses. They sold glasses online (which was a brand new concept at the time), at the price of $95 (which was a lot less that what other retailers were charging then), offered a Home Try-On program (which was one-of-a-kind), and gave away a pair of glasses for every pair sold.
In short: they had an incredibly unique idea, which is what got both the press and Warby’s future customers excited, ensuring the success of this $1.75 billion company.