Novelist Jack Kerouac once said, “Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.” For entrepreneurs especially, this holds steadily true. Like most entrepreneurs or inventors, Kerouac himself was a rebel, known for pioneering the beat generation and altering literature forever. In fact, it is his rebellious spirit that helped turn Warby Parker into the successful ecommerce company it is today.
Why is it called Warby Parker?
“They called the company Warby Parker, combining the names of two characters created by the novelist Jack Kerouac, who inspired them to break free from the shackles of social pressure and embark on their adventure,” writes Adam Grant in Originals. “They admired his rebellious spirit, infusing it into their culture.”
According to the Optical Owl, Neil Blumenthal admitted to being inspired by Kerouac and two of his characters, named Warby Pepper and Zagg Parker. “When we looked at folks that inspired us, we often looked at literary figures because of the tie between vision and reading.” But despite all the inspiration, Blumenthal confessed that naming the company “was actually the hardest thing that we did.”
That could be because, rumor has it, Warby Parker was among 2,000 other names the founders, Neil Blumenthal, Andrew Hunt, David Gilboa, and Jeffrey Raider, tried on for size. They even surveyed students from their business school to test the durability of their options. Warby Parker survived once again because of its individuality; no one taking the survey associated the name with anything else, meaning it would be free to create its own reputation.
Image Credit: Warton
According to Adam Grant, a professor and organizational psychologist, all this effort to decide the name took the team six months. That’s why, when Blumenthal pitched Grant for an investment, Grant declined. He recalled, “with their time scarce and their attention divided, they still hadn’t built a website, and it had taken them six months just to agree on a name for the company.” Grant felt validated in his decision when the day before launch, Warby Parker still didn’t have a fully functioning website.
How could an ecommerce company flourish without a website? Well, what Grant knows now is that “when they were dragging their heels for six months… they were spending all that time trying to figure out how to get people to be comfortable ordering glasses online.” As it would turn out, their patience paid off. Following their launch in 2009, GQ dubbed them “the Netflix of eyewear” and they met their first-year goal in less than a month. Shortly after, Warby topped the 2015 Fast Company list of the world’s most innovative companies.
The brilliance behind Warby Parker is something Kerouac would have agreed with, because the idea was born to folks who were simply unwilling to accept the widespread notion that glasses had to be expensive. In their own words, “Every idea starts with a problem. Ours was simple: glasses are too expensive. We were students when one of us lost his glasses on a backpacking trip. The cost of replacing them was so high that he spent the first semester of grad school without them, squinting and complaining.”
Instead of conforming to trends or popular opinions, the Warby Parker founders set out on an adventure of their own. They started an online store and designed their own glasses to circumvent eyewear licensing fees. They cut out middlemen and markups by selling glasses directly from the suppliers to the consumers, even delivering them to customers to try on. Better yet, for every pair purchased, they donate a pair to someone in need.
Though reluctant at first, none of them pursued Warby Parker without a backup plan , their success is clear as day. Grant wrote, “In a span of five years, the four friends built one of the most fashionable brands on the planet and donated over a million pairs of glasses to people in need.” Like Kerouac, the founders of Warby Parker have transformed an entire industry simply by refusing to conform. Or, at the very least, they’ve changed the way we see things (like online shopping).
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Annelise Schoups is a contributor at Rewind & Capture. With a degree in journalism, experience in public relations, and an education in travel, she is passionate about cultivating knowledge and storytelling.