Join Dr. Darryl Glover as he sits down with Mr. Dave Gilboa, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Warby Parker, as they talk about Warby Parker’s role in the eyecare industry and the future demands and unmet needs of our patients.
Gilboa shares his background and interest in both eyewear and ocular health goes back to childhood. Both of Gilboa’s parents are doctors, and growing up he was 100% sure he was also going to medical school. After majoring in biomedical engineering at U.C. Berkeley, his plan was to take the MCAT and apply to medical school. But at the time (early 2000s), his parents and other doctors that were in his life were expressing larger frustrations with the changes in healthcare -from the rise of HMOs, to the increased time required outside of patient care to perform their important jobs. Their concerns over the future of medicine led him to reconsider his path, and after a stint in business and then returning to school for an MBA at Wharton, he teamed up with fellow MBA classmates for an idea that combined business innovation with the medical path he had always envisioned for his life; Warby Parker was born.
The story has been well covered, but Gilboa describes in this podcast that the price of glasses was the primary influence in his and his classmates’ decision to create Warby Parker. In 2008 he was in the market to purchase new glasses, and was concerned to find his glasses were more expensive than his recent iPhone purchase (roughly $200 at that time). A fellow classmate at Wharton was involved with a service project called VisionSpring that was providing eyewear to people in need with incomes of under $4 a day in other countries, and that relationship with the service project helped create a pathway for them to find less expensive eyewear manufacturing routes.
Gilboa explains that innovation in Warby Parker is focused on making the experience as consumer-friendly as possible. “We don’t try to focus on developing technology or new tools just for the sake of it; we start by getting customer feedback and looking at customer data and then thinking about the mechanism we could create or develop that would reduce friction and make things easier for our customers.” Key customer feedback they’ve received is the desire for an enhanced ability to “try on” glasses from home, and they’ve created a virtual try-on feature in their app to address this need. But many customers also wanted to try glasses on in person, and that was the feedback that inspired their need for brick-and-mortar opticals (they have 135 locations as of March, 2021 with plans to open 35 new locations in the next year). Other needs their customers have addressed is frustration over the need to renew their prescription with an in-person exam when they feel their prescription has not changed, and they are looking at technology solutions for this issue.
“We certainly don’t think of ourselves as a marketing company,” Gilboa explains when asked about the branding enterprise that has made Warby Parker a success. “First and foremost, we think about creating the best products and experiences for our customers. If we get those things right, the awareness will follow.” They closely follow consumer Net Promoter Scores; their NPS has been in the 80s for their entire company history. With over 11 years in business, the majority of their customers tell them that they heard about Warby Parker from a friend. Their strongest marketing channel is word of mouth referrals – not unlike traditional eyecare practices.
When asked what he would say to other eyecare providers or industry members who feel like Warby Parker is not a community member, but a competitor, Gilboa pushes back about this as a misconception.
“We certainly feel like we’re a part of the eyecare community. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for everyone to see well, and to give the gift of vision. We want to make it as easy as possible for consumers to get new prescriptions for glasses and contact lenses to help them see. Every one of our customers need a prescription, and the vast majority of them are going to non-Warby Parker doctors to get those prescriptions. We refer the majority of our customers to non-Warby Parker doctors to make sure they are taking care of their eyecare needs, and we will continue to do so as we scale. We would love to partner with anyone else in the eyecare space.”
Their mission to be a partner in the eyecare industry goes beyond words to direct financial support. In the fall of 2020 Warby Parker donated over $700,000 to fund a scholarship for Black students at New England College of Optometry. “One pretty shocking stat is that only 2.7% of optometrists in this country identify as black,” Gilboa explains. “We know optometry is a great profession and there is no reason for that disparity relative to the overall makeup of the country. We were talking with Dr. Howard Purcell and thinking through ways that we could help address that issue … and we agreed the best way [to expand diversity in the field] was to ensure full scholarships to students.” In addition to the scholarship, their recruiting team is actively participating in career fairs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and doing community outreach to help drive interest in optometry as a career.
Service projects and community donations have been a core fundamental at Warby Parker from the beginning. From the onset, they have provided a “buy a pair, give a pair” benefit where for every pair of glasses purchased, Warby donates a pair to a person in need. They have distributed over 8 million pairs of glasses to date, most through international nonprofit partners in countries like Guatemala and Bangladesh. There is a significant need for access to eyewear and eyecare in the United States as well, and that helped launch the Pupils Project in partnership with Prevent Blindness where children in public schools in cities around the nation are provided access to vision screenings and glasses. In Boston, they partner with NECO optometry students to provide the eye exams.
No matter how you feel about Warby Parker before you tune in, this podcast discussion will help bring you a better understanding of patient trends and behaviors in eyecare, and what the future holds for our industry.