Why every new employee at a billion-dollar glasses brand gets Kerouac and pretzels as a welcome gift

Warby parker foundersMichael Buckner/Getty Images for Warby ParkerWarby Parker cofounders and co-CEOs Neil Blumenthal (L) and Dave Gilboa.

New employees at billion-dollar glasses brand Warby Parker get the same welcome gifts: a copy of Jack 
Kerouac’s “Dharma Bums,” and Martin’s handmade pretzels from the Union Square Greenmarket.

According to the founders, those gifts are key to building the company culture.

In “Success! How I Did It,” a Business Insider podcast that follows the career paths of some of today’s most accomplished people, Alyson Shontell, the editor in chief of Business Insider US, spoke with two of Warby Parker’s four founders: Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa, who also serve as co-CEOs.

When Shontell asked how they foster a strong company culture while ballooning to over 1,000 employees in only seven years, Blumenthal explained that the first step was viewing the brand as not just a logo, but as a point of view.

“When somebody joins Warby Parker they get a copy of Kerouac’s ‘Dharma Bums’ because the name Warby Parker comes from two early Jack Kerouac characters, Warby Pepper and Zagg Parker,” he said. “They get pretzels from Martin’s handmade-pretzel company, which sells pretzels out of the Union Square farmers’ market, because that was within a block of our very first office and we used to get pretzels from there all the time. I could go on and on, but we’ve established a bunch of rituals that we think reflect the values and the culture of the company we’re trying to build.”


Gilboa added that establishing those values and culture was a team effort. He explained:

“We realised when we were 20 or 25 people, that we’d been hiring a certain type of person that reminded us of ourselves on the founding team a bit, but we hadn’t really articulated the criteria or the values that were most important to us as an organisation.

“We went through an exercise with the entire company, asked people to write down what are individual values that are important to you, in people that you want to associate with in your life, completely outside of a work context. We got over 200 different values and lead a bunch of discussions about which values were the same, which ones were different, which ones were critically important, which ones were nice-to-haves.”

They went through those answers to create the company’s core values. And as Gilboa told Business Insider previously, they look for employees who believe in those values. They want people who are “passionate about the brand and want to be at the company for the right reasons,” he said. ‘That don’t look at it just as a job, but are really excited to build something much bigger as part of our team.”

Listen to the full episode:

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