Over the past five years, scads of e-commerce startups have shown early promise and then promptly crashed back to earth. Groupon added new markets around the world and even bought Super Bowl ads without, apparently, bothering to pay attention to whether customers were actually happy with the service. Fab’s Jason Goldberg seemed to think he could build a high-design Amazon in a matter of months rather than years, even if it meant dumbing down his product line. But Warby Parker has avoided this fate—not thanks to its clever vertically integrated, buy-one-give-one business model, but because of its founders’ fanatical focus on brand and execution. “We’re often asked why Warby has been successful,” co-CEO Neil Blumenthal says. “If we sum it up in one word, it’s deliberate.”
You wouldn’t know it, except by looking at the results. Annual revenues at the five-year-old company are “well over” $100 million, according to a person familiar with its finances. Meanwhile, its two CEOs, who founded the company with two other Wharton classmates, have transformed what was a niche web shop into the hottest thing in offline retail, with 10 stores so far and sales-per-square foot figures that rival those of Tiffany & Co. “When we launched, a lot of people bucketed us as an e-commerce company, but we never thought of ourselves as an e-commerce company,” Gilboa says. “The only products we sell now are glasses, but we think our brand can stand for much more than that over a long time period.” That’s an ambition that many e-commerce companies have talked about. Warby Parker is the only one so far that seems likely to pull it off.
A Warby Parker customer named Kevin tweeted that he “has a crush on the girl from Warby Parker.” Not long after, Warby Parker tweeted out this video—featuring Liz, the employee Kevin spoke to on the phone, now speaking directly to him on camera.
[Photos: Paul Jung; styling: Stephanie Stricola; set design: Anthony Asaro; grooming: Stephanie Peterson]