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Neil Blumenthal

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Known for co-founding and co-leading fashionable online glasses retailer Warby Parker, native New Yorker Neil Blumenthal knew from an early age that entrepreneurship was his destiny. Neil's first business venture was with a food dehydrator as a kid. He convinced his parents to buy it for him and it ended up being a bad idea because it was more expensive to make raisins than to buy them. This experience taught Blumenthal not to jump into things right away. Blumenthal graduated from Tufts in 2002 with dual degrees in History and International Relations.

Out of college, Neil Blumenthal worked in a think tank, but craved the satisfaction of a direct impact on the world. As a student, Blumenthal travelled often, paving the way for his five-year stint as Director of VisionSpring, a non-profit social enterprise that trains impoverished women in South Asia, Africa and Latin America on how to perform eye exams and sell affordable eyeglasses to other low-income individuals. Responsible for developing strategy and expanding VisionSpring’s global presence, Blumenthal was named a Fellow for Emerging Leaders in Public Service at NYU Robert F. Wagner School for Public Service.

In 2008, Blumenthal left VisionSpring to pursue his MBA at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he met Warby Parker co-founders David Gilboa, Andrew Hunt and Jeffrey Raider. After commiserating over a lost pair of glasses and the exorbitant expense of replacements, the foursome started working on a business plan for all class projects and took an entrepreneurship class as group.

The men went through over 2,000 possible names in their quest to style the fledgling company as a fashion brand, rather than another discount glasses outlet. The final choice, Warby Parker, borrows names from characters found in Jack Keroac’s diaries. Launched in February 2010 with funds from the Wharton School’s Venture Initiation Program, Warby Parker opened to features in GQ and Vogue, leading the team to hit year one sales targets in less than a month. The company is able to sell products at $95 by designing glasses in-house and selling directly to consumers as well functioning almost completely online.

Warby Parker is 100% carbon neutral, a certified B Corporation and donates to VisionSpring for every pair of glasses purchased.

By 2011, company had shipped over 100,000 pairs of glasses and raised $56 million in venture funding.

Companies and Investments

Warby Parker (Co-Founder, Co-CEO), VisionSpring (Director)

Lessons Learned

You should be thinking that everything you do, hopefully, opens more doors and if you have that frame of reference, hopefully you’ll create more and more opportunities for yourself.

Be direct with customers and treat them fairly!

Starting a business, trying to take on one of the world’s most pressing challenges… it can be very scary at first, you don’t even know where to begin, it feels like you almost have to take this giant leap, and you always feel like you’re jumping off a cliff. When that happens, just take a step back and see how you can break down that problem or decision into a bunch of smaller pieces and take baby steps forward, but always just keep moving forward.

Very small companies are transparent by nature. It’s necessary from the start for team members to regulate their emotions. When the pool is that tiny, a single bad attitude can render the whole atmosphere toxic. A leader must constantly be taking the emotional temperature of the office and asking him or herself whether it’s too hot, too cold or somewhere in between.

If you don’t plan to dive in and dedicate all of your time to your startup, you probably shouldn’t be looking for funding. It’s hard enough asking for money when you believe in an idea; asking for money to fund something you’re iffy about is ten times more strenuous.

Inspiring Quotes

Entrepreneurship is the shovel you use to get to a better future.

Jeff Hoffman

There is no such thing as risk-free. You want to be risk-intelligent.

Reid Hoffman

They always say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.

Andy Warhol

Neil Blumenthal's Quotes

In the age of the Internet, you cant hide. Customers will find out about you whether you tell the story or not.

Neil Blumenthal

In a competitive environment, the most thoughtful person wins.

Neil Blumenthal

Strategy is what you dont do. Focus on being great at doing what you do before adding more.

Neil Blumenthal

People can copy your model but they cant necessarily copy your brand. A brand is a point of view and a world you create.

Neil Blumenthal

A startup is a company working to solve a problem where the solution is not obvious and success is not guaranteed

Neil Blumenthal

Influential Books

Joseph Michelli - The New Gold Standard: 5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company

Adam Braun - The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change

Arianna Huffington - Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder

Juan Enriquez - As the Future Catches You: How Genomics & Other Forces Are Changing Your Life, Work, Health & Wealth

Adam M. Grant - Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success

Mentors

Dr. Jordan Kassalow, Florence Nightingale, Hunter Walk, Clara Shih, Dave Kerpen

References


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