Spectacles on a tabletop

The fascinating story behind the name Warby Parker

By James Wan

What you need to know (in a nutshell)

  1. Warby Parker was named after two characters from novelist Jack Kerouac, whom the founders were inspired by for his rebellious spirit.
  2. The founders spent six months deciding on the name for the company, despite having limited time and resources.
  3. The Warby Parker founders started the company to make glasses more affordable by cutting out middlemen and markups, and for every pair purchased, they donate a pair to someone in need.

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How was Warby Parker chosen as a name?

Jack Kerouac, a renowned novelist and rebellious pioneer of the Beat Generation literary subculture movement, once said ”Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion”. This is especially applicable to entrepreneurs. Warby Parker’s success today can be attributed in part to their founders’ rebel spirit - just like that of Kerouac himself.

Why name the company Warby Parker?

Adam Grant in Originals states that Warby Parker was named after two Jack Kerouac creations, and their culture reflects the writer’s rebellious attitude. The founders admired this spirit enough to use it when beginning their venture.

Neil Blumenthal confessed to being influenced by authors such as Kerouac and two of his characters, Warby Pepper and Zagg Parker. He explained that the connection between vision and reading inspired them when creating their company’s name. Despite this inspiration, however, he admitted naming it was the most difficult task they faced according to Optical Owl.

The founders of Warby Parker: Neil Blumenthal, Andrew Hunt, David Gilboa and Jeffrey Raider had considered over 2,000 possible names for their business. To decide on an appropriate name they surveyed students at their school to find out if any other companies were using it. They chose “Warby Parker” as no one was familiar with this option allowing them to build a unique reputation from scratch.

It took the Warby Parker team 6 months to choose a name, as recalled by a potential, Adam Grant, a Wharton business professor. Since it took them so long to choose a name, Grant decided not to invest in them. He remembered that not only did they lack an active website due to their divided focus but even on the day before launch the website still wasn’t complete.

Grant later discovered that the success of the Warby Parker eCommerce business was due to taking their time in creating a website (rather than rushing it) and making customers feel comfortable ordering glasses online. This patience paid off as GQ affectionally called Warby Parker “the Netflix of eyewear” shortly after its 2009 launch, and meeting its first year goal almost immediately. In 2015, Fast Company even added them to their list of the world’s most innovative companies.

Kerouac would’ve admired the concept of Warby Parker, which was created by people who refused to accept that eyewear had to be costly. Put simply, they noticed a problem and were determined to solve it: “Glasses are too expensive.” One of them lost their glasses on an excursion and rather than pay for new ones during grad school, suffered through squinting instead.

The founders of Warby Parker followed an independent path instead of following trends or adhering to social norms. They design their own eyewear, and cut out middlemen and price markups by selling their eyewear directly from suppliers to customers with home try-on services included. Plus for each pair sold, they donate a pair of glasses to those in need.

In just five years, the four friends of Warby Parker had created a highly fashionable brand and donated over one million pairs of glasses. Not unlike Kerouac, these founders altered an entire sector in their approach to online shopping for eyewear.