Parent In Profile: Warby Parker CEO Neil Blumenthal

Warby Parker Kids

Neil Blumenthal is a planner. The native New Yorker and father-of-two has to be conscious of his time: He wants to spend plenty with Gemma, 2, and Griffin, 6, and he needs to devote a huge chunk to his ever-growing business. Blumenthal is one of the founders of the trendy glasses chain Warby Parker, known for its low costs and customer-friendly, convenient premise: Order five frames online, try them all on at home, and send back the ones you don’t want. Since 2010, he and co-founders Andrew Hunt, David Gilboa, and Jeffrey Raider have championed their consumer-friendly business model and expanded their offerings with great attention to quality and feedback. Frames aside, they recently launched two apps: One that suggests the best frames based on your face (using iPhone X face-scanning technology) and another that allows you to conduct a non-comprehensive vision test.

Clearly, Blumenthal has a lot on his plate, so it’s surprising to hear that he doesn’t focus on work-life balance; he and his wife Rachel—also a CEO for a venture-backed startup, kids’ clothing box service Rockets of Awesome (and previously CEO of Rachel Leigh Jewelry)—strive to achieve “work-life integration.” The boundaries between home and work are blurred in their family, but in a comfortable way. Driving up to Vermont for a family getaway (once the kids are asleep in the backseat), Rachel and Neil will likely be chatting about revenue and capital, as well as their various business concerns and ideas. They’ll call that four-hour brainstorm “date night.”

Blumenthal says becoming a dad made him more time-conscious and more decisive in his business and in life. “You know every second that you’re spending working, or with friends, or working out is not with your kid,” Blumenthal says. Hence combining work and play; on work trips, his kids will help scope out new storefronts or tag along on visits to Warby Parker locations. In fact, a pair of sunglasses is even named the Griffin after Blumenthal’s son.

Neil Blumenthal

For their latest expansion, Warby Parker released their first-ever kids’ line on January 30. (To Griffin’s disappointment, his namesake sunglasses aren’t yet included.) The line, created as a 12-week pilot program that’s housed in Warby’s NYC stores, is a miniaturized selection of the company’s most-loved adult frames, built with consideration toward smaller hands and a little more wear and tear. All frames retail at $95.

“I think what’s made Warby Parker successful to date is being very focused and being very deliberate in everything that we do,” Blumenthal says. Almost eight years old, the company’s received requests for a kids’ line for years, but they wanted to make sure they executed it perfectly rather than rushing for revenue. Blumenthal laments what he imagines the more typical situation: An executive who green-lights a kids’ line to increase profits without considering its intricacies.

All New York City locations offer the pilot program, with displays designed to engage its young customers. NYC is also the location of Warby Parker’s headquarters. “As a native New Yorker I’d say, ‘Isn’t New York the center of the universe?’” Blumenthal jokes. But there’s another reason for basing their operations out of New York: their charity initiative.

Warby Parker Kids

Warby Parker has long been paired with VisionSpring to ensure that for every pair of glasses purchased, a pair is donated to someone in need. Recently, the Pupils Project has also been developed; this coincides with profits from the kids’ line. For each pair of child’s frames that are purchased, a pair will be donated through the Pupils Project, which aims to give glasses to children who are in need. Warby Parker currently works on this initiative in New York City and Baltimore. “There are tons of kids who end up disengaging at school because they can’t see the blackboard, and even more, some of those kids get misdiagnosed as special needs,” Blumenthal says. “Here in New York City, we, to date, distributed over 20,000 pairs to kids in New York public schools, and that’s just over the last two years. This academic school year we’re going to distribute another 20,000, so we’re scaling this program pretty rapidly.”

Blumenthal estimates that of the approximately 1.1 million children in the New York City public school system, over 200,000 of them need glasses. Why not start somewhere smaller? “[NYC has] the largest school system, one could argue that it’s the most complex, the most diverse,” Blumenthal says. “If we get it right here, we can get it right anywhere.”

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