Need Supply Co. will become the newest retailer to carry Warby Parker this week, offering an in-store showroom with roughly 60 styles on display. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of both brands, and when two big names in the e-retail world get together in this fashion, it’s a safe assumption that amazing things will happen. It’s also safe to assume their launch party will be off the hook.
I had the chance to interview Neil Blumenthal, co-founder of Warby Parker and Gabriel Ricioppo, co-founder of Need Supply Co., to talk about their booming brands. They were kind enough to entertain us with some answers to the infamous Proust Questionnaire, too. Thanks to Neil and Gabriel for taking the time to talk with me. I’m excited to help celebrate this new partnership tomorrow night at the the Need Supply Co. flagship store. Details on the event are available at the bottom of this post.
W&D: Thanks for sitting down with me today! Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you started your respective companies?
WP: If you told me when I was a kid that my life would be dedicated to eyewear, I would’ve said that you were crazy. Or something to that effect, but with more colorful language. It’s been an unpredictable journey, but an intensely gratifying one—a year after graduating from college, I moved to El Salvador with VisionSpring, a non-profit organization that trains entrepreneurs in the developing world to sell affordable eyeglasses to members of their own communities. After five great years with VisionSpring, I enrolled at Wharton, which is where the Warby Parker story officially begins.
Back in 2008, I met up with my friends (and classmates) Dave Gilboa, Andy Hunt and Jeff Raider for pints of Yuengling at a pub near campus. Both Dave and Jeff had recently lost eyeglasses, which sparked a conversation about the egregious price of eyewear. The next question was whether we could find a way to address it.
NSC: Need Supply Co. had been in business for a few years before I got involved. I was responsible for creating the website and managing the brand. I had always been a fan of the store and saw something special in it. We got that in front of more people with the site, so it allowed us to do a few things we couldn’t have in the past.
W&D: Need Supply Co. seems like the perfect fit for Warby Parker. What attributes do you look for when partnering with retailers?
WP: We look for retail partners that can offer customers an intimate shopping experience. That’s key for us. We want the process of buying glasses to feel fun and unintimidating. But it’s also important that the stores we work with have a focused and coherent vision—of what they sell and how they sell it. Ideally, there’s also a social, community-minded component to the mission of the businesses we partner with.
NSC: They have to be something we use, respect or genuinely want to be a part of.
W&D: I’d love to ask you a few general questions from the infamous Proust Questionnaire. Feel free to have fun with these! To start: What is your greatest extravagance?
WP: Ring Dings. Their chocolatey shell and signature hockey puck shape make them, as Robert Palmer once crooned, “simply irresistible”.
NSC: Wine with dinner.
W&D: What is your favorite part about your job?
WP: Working with our incredible team and seeing people emerge as leaders. I love seeing that people who were in college a year ago are now managing teams and helping others reach their potential.
NSC: Being able to create something. It’s always a great feeling to put your energy into something that grows and attracts others to join in and contribute.
W&D: If you could have any other occupation, what would it be?
WP: Maverick from Top Gun, but before Goose dies. Before Goose dies but in a parallel universe where I still get to shoot down the enemy MiG and protect the fleet.
NSC: I used to say architecture, but I think it would be industrial design now.
W&D: What is your favorite virtue?
WP: Having a sense of humor.
To kick off the new Warby Parker show room, join us at the Need Supply Co. launch event on Thursday, May 2 from 6 -9pm. They’ll have hand-crafted cocktails by Saison, food by Goatacado, cones from Mister Softee on hand, with music by DJ Robot E. Lee.