She picks up the receiver. On the other end is a guy whose dog ate his glasses. “Destroyed them,” he says.
“Well, that’s not your fault,” Markrich says and offers him a discount on a new pair. After filling the order, she sends a follow-up e-mail to let him know they’ve shipped. “I hope they make you jump for joy,” she types.
“So what happens when Luxottica comes and offers you a billion dollars?” asks a guy in the audience at the Brooklyn Brewery, where Gilboa is sitting on a panel titled “The Blurring of Retail and What to Expect Next,” at this year’s NeXt conference. Gilboa blushes.
It’s a good question. At the moment, the venture-capital firms invested in Warby Parker are content to allow the company to grow. But they are eventually going to want something back, through an IPO or, more likely, a sale. “They’re not just looking to make operating income,” says Jonathan Sherry, whose company, CB Insights, tracks the growth of private start-ups. “They want the big payday.”
So, perhaps, do the founders of Warby Parker, who, three years after business school, now find themselves mingling in rarefied circles. Earlier this year, Gilboa Instagrammed a picture from Richard Branson’s Necker Island, and Blumenthal tweeted about “hanging” with Jessica Alba. The night before the company meeting, they had had dinner with Silas Chou, the billionaire investor who took Michael Kors public. Blumenthal recently bought a $3.5 million apartment, and his wife recently posted on Instagram a picture of a pile of Chanel bags. And Warby Parker itself has participated in some one-percenter-ish stuff, like a promotion aboard the Standard Hotel’s seaplane to the Hamptons. “But it was a plane inspired by Rin Tin Tin!” Blumenthal protests. “Not only did you get a pair of glasses, but you got CliffsNotes of great American novels!”
At the conference, Gilboa sidesteps the question by answering it directly. “Right now, I think all of us, everyone involved, and all of the customers, would be really disappointed if we sold to Luxottica,” he says. “That’s certainly not in the cards.”
If they were to make a deal, Blumenthal says, they’d want to do it “thoughtfully,” like their friends at green-cleaning company Method, who sold to environmentally friendly Belgian manufacturer Ecover, making it the world’s largest green-cleaning company. “At the moment, the eyes on the prize is: How do we build scalable infrastructure, and how do we build a profitable business and lifestyle brand that, you know, really resonates with people?”
Which Warby Parker does. For now. But their chosen demographic is as fickle as it is desirable. “Two years ago, when someone asked if my glasses were Warby Parker, it was typically a stylish British woman or an actor/ironic bike messenger/model,” says a young entrepreneur who was tipped off to Warby Parker glasses by a friend at Harvard Business School. “Now it tends to be bros in Bears jerseys on the subway.”
The killer, he says, was when the cashier at Costco struck up a conversation about the frames he was wearing. “He said he had the same ones at home, and did I like the ones he was wearing currently?” he says, sighing. “I haven’t worn them since.”