In our “What I Learned at…” series, MBAs discuss the tools and skills their business schools provided as they launched their careers.
mbaMission connected with Dave Gilboa, co-founder of online glasses retailer Warby Parker, who reflects on Wharton’s role in the firm’s success in changing the prescription eyewear industry. In Part 3 of this four-part series, Dave discusses how Josh Kopelman, a Wharton alumnus and distinguished guest speaker on campus, influenced the very foundation of and philosophy behind Warby Parker.
Although I had entered Wharton with an interest in entrepreneurship, I had never tried to start a company before. When Neil, Jeff, Andy and I first began discussing the idea of launching Warby Parker, we tried to amass as much advice as possible. Wharton hosts a constant stream of distinguished guest speakers on campus, and we took advantage of the opportunity to see a number of them who were current or former entrepreneurs. One in particular who had a profound impact on the way we envisioned founding Warby Parker was Josh Kopelman [managing director of First Round Capital]. Josh is a Wharton alumnus who created Infonautics Corporation during his sophomore year of college and took it public four years later. He then founded Half.com, which he later sold to eBay for $350 million. He then became an early-stage investor and went on to found the venture fund First Round Capital. He is without a doubt one of the smartest entrepreneurs and investors out there.
When Josh spoke on campus, he focused on a theme that really resonated with us. Most people think the best companies expand markets, but Josh’s favorite companies are those that shrink markets—companies that cut out stodgy, incumbent middlemen and can thereby take costs out of the system for consumers, much like Half.com did. Neil, Jeff, Andy and I realized that there is no good reason for eyeglasses to be as expensive as they are today and that through disintermediation—eliminating the massive conglomerates that control the industry and artificially keep prices high—we could create our own vertically integrated brand. We could then sell our own brand of boutique-quality glasses direct to consumers via our Web site (www.warbyparker.com) for less than $100 a pair, a fraction of the price of comparable-quality glasses bought elsewhere. This model is directly in line with Josh’s—and now our—philosophy, and after we founded Warby Parker, Josh and his team at First Round Capital invested in our seed equity round. We continue to get great advice from him and consider him one of our most valuable mentors.