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20/30 Vision

Warby Parker has trained its sights on the stylish, “post-wealth” millennial set—as customers and employees.

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Early one morning this summer, a gaggle of fresh-faced twentysomethings streams into an elevator at the Puck Building on Houston Street. “I like your shoes,” one girl tells another, smiling with a first-day-of-school shyness. They could be mistaken for NYU students—the university has space on the building’s second and third floors—but they all exit on floor five, at the bright white offices of Warby Parker, where two of the company’s founders, Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa, are preparing to kick off their weekly companywide meeting. Dressed near-identically in the uniform of the New York start-up entrepreneur—tailored button-downs, dark jeans—the pair look as streamlined as a couple of smartphones and operate just as efficiently, waiting for fashionable backpacks to be dropped into chairs and Fage yogurts to be procured until precisely 8:30 a.m., when Blumenthal, tall and dark-haired with a voice that recalls Ira Glass, calls the meeting to order.

First on the agenda is the online retailer’s new stores in New York, Boston, and Los Angeles, the opening of which came as a surprise to the industry, since Warby Parker has fashioned itself as a pioneer in the new wave of e-commerce. The founders take a kind of fatherly pride in maintaining transparency with their employees, and so Blumenthal walks them through the reasoning. “One of the things we’ve learned is that if you really want to be a dominant player, you need to have a presence in both online and brick-and-mortar,” Blumenthal tells the group. “Especially in categories like fashion. Other categories, like toilet paper or diapers or paper towels, those are going to shift online more dramatically.” He goes on to cite an example: “My wife and I have actually never bought diapers in a store, which is kind of amazing,” he says. “There are probably a few other people here that have also never done that.”

There’s a pause, then a wave of laughter as Blumenthal realizes his mistake: No one in this audience is buying diapers. Blumenthal, 33, and Gilboa, 32, are pretty much the oldest people at the company.

After that, various departments offer presentations to the class: The social-media coordinator introduces a new strategy; representatives from marketing show off the company’s recent video collaboration with the designer Chrissie Miller, a soft-focus seventies-­style short of a Coney Island dance-off inspired by The Warriors and West Side Story. There is a lot of up-talking? That manner of speech in which you phrase a fact as a question? It seems contagious? Especially among the newer employees? Many of whom still have, stuck to their chairs, balloons with an image of a cow saying nice to meat you. “This is actually our biggest number of hires in one week,” Blumenthal tells his employees, whose numbers have swelled to 250. “Come on up,” he says, Ira Glass morphing into Bob Barker, “and give us your fun fact!”

Fun facts are a Warby Parker tradition, a getting-to-know-you exercise that upholds one of Warby Parker’s eight core values, written on the wall of the kitchen: “Inject fun and quirkiness into everything we do.” While no one has managed to top one early hire’s mind-blowing revelation that she once held Michael Jackson’s infant son Blanket, the newest additions to the team are unlikely to disappoint—the company employs a “cultural swat team” that weeds out dullards in interviews with questions like “When was the last time you wore a costume?”

First up is Kate, from product strategy, who describes herself as a rodeo enthusiast. “Actually, a champion barrel racer?” Next is Priyata, who recently returned from a trip to war-torn Syria, “where we heard missiles but survived?” Natalie, from customer experience, was a “fan dancer” for Beyoncé in the Super Bowl halftime show? Julie lost her sense of smell crowd-surfing at 16? Ryan was the vocalist in a metal band? Emily recently rode an elephant named Pancake?

Blumenthal closes the meeting by talking about upcoming opportunities to volunteer with nonprofits like Venture for America and the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship. (“Do good” being another one of Warby Parker’s core values, not to be confused, Blumenthal will tell you, with “Don’t be evil”: “Doing good is proactive—‘How can we make this world a better place?,’ not ‘How can we prevent doing something bad?’ ”) He announces a new employee happy hour, “for those of you that can drink.” Then Gilboa proffers one final thought. “We’re very happy to announce that this is the first time a sun SKU—the Downing in walnut tortoise—has made it into the top five best-selling glasses for the month,” he says.

Oh, right! The glasses.


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