Neil Blumenthal Is Behind Each Pair of Distributed Warby Parker Glasses

Company Co-Founder Created Novel Philanthropic Model

Glass Half Full: Neil Blumenthal is one of the four founders of Warby Parker.
Courtesy of Warby Parker
Glass Half Full: Neil Blumenthal is one of the four founders of Warby Parker.

By Margaret Eby

Published November 05, 2013.
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The focus on philanthropy, Blumenthal thinks, is a generational turn. Consumers now demand the kind of transparency that wasn’t available several decades ago, and often use their purchasing power to support companies in line with their values.

“For the first time in history, there’s at least an acknowledgement that mission and profitability are strongly tied,” Blumenthal said. “You can’t build a brand like you could in the past, through a single image of a fictitious world. You’re living on the internet, where consumers not only can learn about you but can engage with you.”

The buy-one-donate-one strategy is part of Warby Parker’s brand. Ordering up a pair of chic frames for oneself and an unknown recipient provides the consumer with a more tangible connection to the company’s charitable mission, than would, say the company donating a portion of profits at the end of every quarter.

“We debated committing a percent of revenue or profit, but in the beginning, that would have been a negligible amount,” Blumenthal said. “But more importantly, [the data] could be manipulated. And dollars do not necessarily equal impact, glasses on face equals impact. For us it’s a lot more impactful than some arbitrary cash amount, and it’s easier for our customer to understand. We’ve found, from a business standpoint, that it also helps us recruit and retain great talent.”

The company’s philanthropic focus is crucial to its reputation — both for consumers and for the freshly graduated college students who want to work for it. Blumenthal cites research showing that a good proportion of millennials “choose mission over compensation” when choosing where to work.

Co-founder Raider, the other Jewish member of the founding Warby Parker team, recently duplicated the Warby Parker philanthropy model when he made his own spin-off company, Harry’s, which sells high-end razors. Raider initially implemented a similar policy distributing a razor for every one sold.

But eyeglasses and razors are vastly different products. The urgency that Warby Parker tapped into by distributing glasses doesn’t necessarily translate to helping men, even men in need, stay groomed. People need to see. Arguing that trim facial hair is a human right is a harder sell.


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