A Disruptive Vision Achieved: Celebrating Warby Parker’s Direct Listing
Today we congratulate Neil Blumenthal, Dave Gilboa, Andy Hunt, Jeff Raider, and the entire Warby Parker team on becoming a publicly-traded company. They’ve built an exemplary company and it’s been a privilege to be along for the ride on their journey to going public.
Defined by Customer Love
Warby Parker is a great example of how to build an incredible business on a strong foundation of customer love. In fact, when I first heard about the company nearly a decade ago, their net promoter score (also known as NPS, which measures customer willingness to recommend a brand) was second only to Apple, which had already released the fifth generation of the iPhone. Even today, 10 years after my first investment, customer love and loyalty defines the company. With an NPS of 83, they now rank higher than two consumer tech giants, Apple and Netflix.
The company’s ability to gain such strong customer loyalty so shortly after coming onto the scene caught my attention. I wanted to invest. Their concept of a direct-to-consumer eyeglass brand was obviously working, but I was more excited by their ability to disrupt a monopolized supply chain. Prior to Warby’s inception, a single supplier dominated the eyeglass market. Global manufacturer Luxottica held an estimated 60-80% market share for eyeglasses in the U.S. They faced little competition from new entrants. The Warby team understood that by producing their own lenses and frames, and selling directly to consumers (with consumer-friendly features like virtual try-on and unlimited returns), they could not only build a profitable and efficient business—they could disrupt a massive industry. More than 160 million adults wear glasses in the U.S. alone.
Playing Hard to Get
I was not the only one eager to invest. The company had so much interest that they decided not to take institutional money. Believe me, I tried. I had several meetings with Neil and Dave and implored them to take an early investment from Menlo, but they were committed in their decision to not take institutional investment at that point in time. I was still bullish on the company and made an Angel investment in 2011, hoping that it would give Menlo a toehold on the opportunity. My strategy worked. A year later, we invested $5M in the Series B. We are proud to have been early believers and long term supporters as the Warby Parker team kept growing its beloved brand which eventually turned into a household name. Looking back, I’m thrilled that we were given the chance to partner with the Warby team early on.
Vision Plus Mission
The founders were impressive, not only for their deep understanding of the market they were disrupting, but for their broader vision of addressing inequality in vision care. There are an estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide who need glasses but do not have access to them. From the outset, Warby wanted to address that disparity, creating the Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program that donates a pair of glasses to someone in need with every pair sold. For Neil, this was part of his life’s work. Before Warby Parker, Neil served as director of VisionSpring, a nonprofit social enterprise that trains low-income women to start their own businesses selling affordable eyeglasses to individuals living on less than $4 per day. In hearing them talk about this mission, it was clear that they had bigger plans than building a decent business. They wanted to create social good.
It’s been incredible to watch Warby Parker take what seems like a simple mission from the surface—make quality eyeglasses that people could easily afford and comfortably purchase online—and turn it into a globally recognized brand that revolutionized its industry. This combined with the team’s outstanding commitment to positively impacting the world makes their public debut even more worthy of celebration!
Warby’s direct listing marks Menlo’s third consumer exit in 2021 alone, joining social e-commerce marketplace Poshmark (NASDAQ: POSH) and pet care marketplace Rover (NASDAQ: ROVR). And, Warby’s exit supplements our growing list of consumer unicorns, including Uber (NYSE: UBER) and Roku (NASDAQ: ROKU).
Congratulations, Warby Parker team!