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Jeff Raider on Founding Warby Parker and Harry’s

Category: Business,Finance

How did the company get started?

When I first heard about the idea for Warby Parker, I was sitting around after class with one of my good friends, and another one of our friends came up and said, “What do you think about the idea of selling glasses online?” At the time, I had on a $500 pair of designer glasses that were being held together by a piece of duct tape. I was, like, “Oh man, there’s this huge pain point here. I would love a new pair of glasses.”

I went home that night and I couldn’t sleep. I emailed my friends at 1 a.m. and I was, like, “I can’t stop thinking about this. This is a good idea. We should do this.” And then they emailed right back and said, “Yeah, I can’t sleep either.”

Was the school supportive?

Yeah. They had a venture award in which they essentially just granted money to people starting businesses, which we got. They had this program called the Venture Initiation Program, where we had space where we could kind of congregate and work, which became the early Warby Parker addresses. And we’d take a marketing class with an amazing professor, and we’d say, “We’re going to make our class project about Warby Parker.”

Were you convinced it would be successful?

No. We did the Wharton business plan competition and we lost. And at that point, I was like, “Oh, man, is this going to work?” I went to my co-founders and was like, “Guys, I don’t know. I’m not sure this is a good idea.” And Neil, one of my co-founders, said, “I believe in this idea. I believe in us. We are going to make this happen and we are going to prove to these naysayers that they were wrong.” There’s going to be ups and downs in the journey, and the ability of your co-founders to pick you up when you’re a little bit down is super important.

What had changed from your childhood that you now wanted to be an entrepreneur?

I’ve thought a bunch about this over time. The thing that I misunderstood about my mom’s experience as an entrepreneur, because I was young and not really talking to her in a grown-up way about it, is that, while there were ups and downs, she loved it.

After school you left Warby Parker and went to private equity. How did Harry’s start?

I went back to Charles Bank, but it started to feel a little bit more like work, rather than fun. It was at that moment I realized that I wanted to do something entrepreneurial again. I had to take a step back. What do I want to do with my life, at least professionally? Right around that time, Andy called me with the idea for Harry’s, and it felt like the first conversations we had at Warby Parker. I remember being like, “This is what I’ve got to go do. Here we go again.”

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