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The Serious Business Behind Warby Parker’s Jokey Annual Report

Hot startup year-in-review season is upon us, and the hip glasses retailer lets people create a personal infographic suitable for sharing.

The Serious Business Behind Warby Parker’s Jokey Annual Report
[Photo: Joel Arbaje for Fast Company]

Warby Parker, the fast-growing New York eyeglasses startup, will publish its annual report this morning, and the news, provided in an advance copy to Fast Company, was very good. The company, which introduced Silicon Valley to the trend of vertically-integrated online retail–witness the Warby Parker of mattresses, of underwear, and of startup pivots–has been making big moves in the offline world over the past 12 months, opening stores in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco, as it cements itself as a fashion brand rather than a pure e-commerce player. There are a few telling tidbits buried in the report, including the fact that Warby started selling progressive lenses, a small but significant step that will allow Warby to go after a broader swath of the eyewear market. The annual report also notes that this year the company’s charitable arm, which helps distribute a pair of glasses in the developing world for each one it sells, gave out its millionth pair of frames.

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What’s perhaps more interesting about the report than the information contained within it is the way that information is conveyed. The litany of Warby accomplishments is submerged within a Choose Your Own Adventure-style annual report that cheekily presents a personalized (but highly unscientific) view of one’s accomplishments for the year (for instance, the amount of time spent “napping,” “canoodling,” and “puttering”), and suggests a spirit animal and a 2015 reading list. In short, it’s not a report as much as it is an interactive viral advertisement, complete with a personalized URL for Warby customers to pass around on Facebook and Twitter.

This kind of sophisticated online branding has been Warby’s strong suit since its founding in 2010, and it has been the primary way that Warby has managed to chip away at the entrenched eyewear giant Luxottica. “We wanted to give our customers something fun and that they hopefully will share with friends,” says cofounder Dave Gilboa, whose spirit animal is the Iberian Lynx according to his personal annual report.

Though Gilboa readily admits the report is way fluffier than your average 10-K submitted to the SEC—as a private company, “there’s not much advantage to providing precise financial information,” Gilboa says–Warby’s annual report will likely turn out to be more important to company’s bottom line than one might expect. Warby’s first annual report, which was produced in 2011 as a thank you to loyal customers, was widely shared, resulting in record numbers of people visiting the company’s website. Each subsequent annual report has been shared thousands of times. “We expect it to drive traffic to our site,” he says.

As to , which is based, in part, on the fact that he sleeps between six and eight hours a night as well as his preference for the color blue, Gilboa is circumspect. “If you’d asked me in a different context what my spirit animal would be, Iberian Lynx wouldn’t have been it,” he says. “I do think the output captures me well.”

Warby Parker’s cofounder Dave Gilboa 2014 annual report

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