The eyes have it: Purpose and passion deepen culture

Too many people told Neil Blumenthal and his co-founders that no one would buy glasses online. Yep, too many people to listen to. So they didn’t. They passionately believed in disrupting an industry and built a business – Warby Parker – on a buy-one-give-one model whose knock-on effects have been widespread.

What else did they learn? Having a purpose greater than yourself adds a deeper meaning to your culture.

Not everyone sees eye-to-eye (pardon the pun). But it seems the four owners (and former Wharton Business School classmates) of Warby Parker overcame that issue. The launch, back in 2010, of their disruptive online eyewear business, was based on a mutually agreed premise: glasses are too expensive. Together, they solved that problem. For everyone. And in the process, they’ve re-invented the eyewear business.

With glasses (including lenses) for US$95, they exploded traditional eyewear business models. Launching merely with editorials in Vogue and GQ, where they were dubbed “the Netflix of eyewear”. The Warby Parker website subsequently crashed. Within two weeks, they’d sold out of 15 styles, with a waitlist of 20,000 customers.

How’d they do it? In their own words:

We started Warby Parker to create an alternative. By circumventing traditional channels, designing glasses in-house, and engaging with customers directly, we’re able to provide higher-quality, better-looking prescription eyewear at a fraction of the going price.

There was also a deeper purpose:

We also believe that everyone has the right to see. Almost one billion people worldwide lack access to glasses, which means that 15% of the world’s population cannot effectively learn or work. To help address this problem... for every pair of glasses sold, a pair is distributed to someone in need. There’s nothing complicated about it. Good eyewear, good outcome.

In a few short years, the company has built a reputation for making big things happen, but also for balancing lots of hard work, with good strong doses of fun, recognition and reward for their people:

1.    Fit-in over face-value

Their culture is highly inclusive, with a purposeful ‘culture team’ in charge of planning outings, themed lunches and screening new people (20/20 vision and otherwise) to ensure their cultural fit.

2.   Smile over scowl

Customer delight is a non-negotiable. It’s fundamental to the recruitment cycle, training and business model, ensuring that everyone (from top to bottom) is committed to delivering ‘delightion’.

3.   Forward over backward

A great workplace builds excitement into ‘what’s coming’. Every quarter their ‘fun committee’ plans a surprise outing for the entire office (now 70 people). The rules are: it must be fun, it must be a surprise and it must to be better than the last.

4.   Open over closed

Most mission statements and company values are closed away somewhere or written on a post-it note in a long-lost notebook. Not here. They’re framed and displayed in the kitchen to remind everyone what they’re working toward.

5.   Good over great

In June 2014, they announced they’d distributed one million pairs of eyeglasses to people in need. 

 

Want to build a culture like Warby Parker? It starts with your people. Create a great place to be, and they’ll put their best into what they do. RedBalloon offers more than 3500 curated experiences, gifts and incentives – many of which fit perfectly into a Warby Parker-style model of incentives, rewards and recognition. A fun day spent cooking, sailing or solving a puzzle together is a great way to inject fun, teamwork and belief into your business.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Di Mace is a freelance story-making brand writer, strategist and purpose-digger. She turns boring brand messages into content and stories that matter. Find her at www.wordswords.com.au.