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The New York Times “Corner Office” column yesterday had an interview with Jeff Raider, co-founder of both Warby Parker, the “direct-to-consumer eyeglasses company with a social mission” (now worth $1.75 billion) and Harry’s, the direct-to-consumer men’s shaving business.

Raider explains to the Times that Warby Parker essentially started as a rolling project at Wharton in which the founders were able to access professors for help as they developed their business plan, and even got seed money and office space where they could start the business; as it happened, though, they didn’t win the business plan competition. Not that it mattered in the end.

“You’ve got to be all in, and you’ve got to love it,” Raider tells the Times. “Those two things are two sides of the same coin. And then, be humble enough to learn along the way. When we started Warby Parker, we asked all of our friends, ‘What do you think, would you buy glasses online?’ They were like, ‘No, I don’t think I would. I’ve got to kind of touch them and feel them and experience them in person before I buy.’

“At that point, we could have just said, ‘That feedback doesn’t make sense.’ But instead we said, ‘That’s a really important thing that we just learned. How can we evolve our business model to account for that?’ And so we ended up with this home try-on program where we let people try on glasses at home for free and then send them back to us.”

Raider notes that “when we launched Warby Parker, we were still graduating from business school. It was just four of us, and we were working part time. When we turned the site on, we thought we’d get 20 or 30 orders, but we were getting hundreds and thousands of orders. We’d get as many glasses in as we could, sell them all, go out of stock, take the money and buy a bunch more, sell them, and go out of stock again. We didn’t presume a lot of success, and had to play catch-up. It was frenetic.

“At Harry’s we presumed more success. We raised a bunch of capital ahead of our launch. We built a team of 11 people before we launched. We made our own custom razor handles, custom blades with a factory in Germany, made our own shave cream. We had forecast more sales at Harry’s than we did at Warby Parker, and we still sold out. But we were better prepared to absorb the shock.”

Here’s the must-read punch line from Raider:

I think that the world’s going to change a lot faster than most people do, that disruption happens at a geometric pace as opposed to a linear pace, and that pace is only going to increase. If you think about our industry, a couple years ago it was 0 percent online. Now our market is 10 to 20 percent online and growing really fast. People incrementalize change when actually, change happens exponentially.
KC's View:
One of the interesting things about this last observation from Raider is that he says the pace of change keeps him up at night. Which makes me wonder if the business leaders who get long, restful nights’ sleep are in denial about how fast the world is changing, and how they’re going to be affected.