2020-2021 has been a crazy time. What’s the biggest personal and business test that you have faced?
I think the largest challenge in business has been uncertainty around the future. Uncertainty around how the world will change, how our customer behaviors might change, and how our supply chains might be impacted by the pandemic. It’s forced us to be highly agile so we can quickly react to the changes we’re seeing. Personally, it’s been incredibly hard for me not to be around people. I am an extrovert and get so much energy and inspiration from others. I love being in the office and feeling the energy of the team — I miss that. I am excited for in-real-life collaboration again!
Wharton has been such a transformational experience for so many alumni. How was your experience? And what did you take away from it? Do you have advice for current Wharton students?
My Wharton experience changed my life. I co-founded Warby Parker while I was in business school at Wharton. It was an all-consuming and incredibly rewarding experience and helped me to realize that I wanted to devote my professional life to building brands that improved people’s daily lives, while also doing good in the world.
My advice for current Wharton students is to think about what really motivates you and what you love to do, and then use Wharton as an opportunity to try that out and ultimately find a pursuit that meets those criteria. Also, take the time to enjoy school. Wharton is a unique environment with incredible people — enjoy learning, and try to immerse yourself in the Wharton experience.
What’s important to you? I’m sure your business is at the top of the list. What about on the personal side?
My family. We have three kids, and one silver lining of the pandemic has been spending more time at home with my family. I am learning to embrace this slower pace and enjoy just being together, whether it be on a family bike ride or playing board games around the fire. These are moments I try to really appreciate and cherish.
Investors say consultants and especially MBAs make bad entrepreneurs. What advice do you have for future entrepreneurs who come from professional services or who are interested in getting an MBA but are worried that it will look bad to investors?
I worked in consulting and private equity and then went on to start companies. Having had the experience of supporting companies and watching others build and grow their organizations was helpful in starting my own. It taught me to break down big, amorphous problems into smaller, more manageable pieces and to drive to decisions.
You are one of the pioneers of the direct-to-consumer (D2C) business model. First, you did it with Warby Parker and now with Harry’s. How has the landscape changed, and where do you think it’s going?
There are many more companies that are launching D2C today than when we started Warby Parker and Harry’s, and I think that’s a good thing. People now have more options to find and buy interesting products and connect to brands in a convenient and meaningful way. In every era, great entrepreneurs have launched generation-defining brands, and this era will be no different.
You’re in the small club of entrepreneurs who have founded over two or more, billion-dollar companies. How have you been able to keep striking oil and keep building great companies? What opportunity did you see with Warby Parker and Harry’s that other people missed?
Our mission at Harry’s is to “create things people like more.” At Warby Parker and Harry’s, we saw the opportunity to do that. I’ve worn glasses and shaved for most of my life and felt the experience around the products and brands that I used could be improved. If I believed there were better solutions for me, then potentially there was a real market to create better experiences for others — this was the motivation for us to start and build Warby Parker and Harry’s.
You have been an entrepreneur for a decade. Would you do this entrepreneurial journey again and build another company in the future?
Never say never! I really love creating. Since founding Harry’s, we’ve also launched Flamingo, a women’s hair removal and body care brand, and Cat Person, a brand of high-quality, cat food and cat products for discerning cats and their cat parents.
This week, we’re launching Headquarters, a brand that improves women’s hair health, starting with caring for the scalp and roots. I really love launching new brands and products that aspire to improve people’s lives.
How has the Wharton community been helpful for you in your journey over the past decade?
I met so many amazing people at Wharton who have remained great friends, advisors, investors and supporters. I am often inspired by our conversations where we share ideas and learnings. They’ve been our first customers and loudest advocates. Above all, they’ve been great friends, which for me is most important.