Warby Parker Founders Made Affordable Glasses Possible Despite the Odds

The founders of Warby Parker were told by a mentor that their business idea was "absurd" – and now, the company is worth an estimated $1.75 billion.

The four founders of eyewear brand Warby Parker—Dave Gilboa, Neil Blumenthal, Jeff Raider, and Andrew Hunt—met at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Blumenthal originally had the idea after working on a pilot project in 2003 for a non-profit in which he helped low-income women sell glasses to their communities in developing countries. His future Co-Chief Executive Officer, Dave Gilboa, was working for Bain & Company at the time. In 2008, the two men enrolled at Wharton, where they became friends with Raider and Hunt through an ice hockey league.

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After discussing the gap in eyewear solutions, they decided to come together and form a business plan. But when they told professor Adam Grant about the idea, he called the business plan "absurd" and "insane." However, their professor’s doubts didn't deter them. After submitting a 40-page business plan to Wharton's Business Plan Competition, they made it to the semi-finals, but did not win.

The four men soon designed glasses, solidified a supply chain, found factories that would help produce their wares, and branded their company. They began by investing $120,000 in frames and a basic website, and after their company was featured on the cover of GQ in 2010, they hit their first year's sales target in only three weeks. After they graduated that same year, they decided that Gilboa and Blumenthal would run the now-successful business. Raider founded men's health subscription service Harry's, and Hunt went to work for VC Highland Capital Partners. Now, with 161 stores and 3,000 staff, Warby Parker had revenues of over $540 million in 2021 and has distributed more than 10 million pairs of eyeglasses in its “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” philanthropic program to aid underserved populations around the world.