The founders of a billion-dollar brand describe the moment they knew their company was going to make it

Warby Parker, David Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal Sarah JacobsDavid Gilboa (R) and Neil Blumenthal started their company with their life savings, scrounging office supplies.

Glasses company Warby Parker hit its first-year sales target in three weeks.

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.

Warby Parker is now a billion-dollar brand, but as with any startup, at its inception seven years ago its founders didn’t know it would take off.

They had built the company with their life savings  — a collective $US120,000  — and were operating on a shoestring budget. “When I say do this on a shoestring, we used to go to TD Bank, steal pens, and steal office supplies from other people,” Blumenthal told Business Insider.

But they did hire a PR firm, and thanks to their Home Try-On service — something unusual at the time — and their “Buy One, Give One” model that donates glasses to people in need, they were able to land features in Vogue and GQ.

“It was literally that moment that the business took off,” Blumenthal told Shontell when she asked about the moment they realised the business would stick. He continued:

“Our website wasn’t ready to launch and the fashion director at GQ calls us up and is like, ‘Guys the magazine’s going to hit newsstands any day now, where is the website?’ Because we were going to be in the March issues of GQ and it was February.

“We thought, ‘Oh, we have a whole month.’ Just to show you our naivete, it was like, “No, the March issues comes out in February.”

“We literally scrambled, got the website up. We ended up hitting our first-year sales targets in three weeks — sold out of our top 15 styles. Had a wait list of over 20,000 people.

“It was mayhem and the question is, ‘How do we maintain that momentum?’ That was all about customer experience, so how do we make every single person have an exceptional experience, even when it’s a crappy one?”

Giving each customer an exceptional experience is a value that the company has maintained over the years. “To this day,” Blumenthal said, “you call Warby Parker and a human being answers the phone within six seconds.”

The reason why is simple, he said: “So when we make people happy, they’re more likely to tell other people about us. Word of mouth since inception has been the No. 1 driver of sales for us.”

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