My Start-Up Summer
Pupillary distance, eye exam room dimensions, street-level city permitting regulations & fees, and legal contracts — this is only a small sampling of the many new topics I learned about this summer during my internship at Warby Parker.
For quick context, I spent my 12 weeks at Warby focusing on two big marketing initiatives. The first was preparing to launch our first TV advertising campaign and the second was designing a national retail tour (The Warby Parker Class Trip) covering 8 markets over a 6-month period. We purchased a school bus, gutted the inside, and are in the process of converting it into a full-scale showroom on wheels.
Anyway, one of the biggest initial shocks to me this summer was learning the new meaning of “end to end project management.” During my consulting days, that term meant owning my specific small piece of the project- the model, the interviews, etc. During my time at WebMD, where I worked in a business development/sales role, that term still also applied only to my piece of the overall deal. At Warby Parker, I had to take care of ALL aspects of my projects, no matter how minute some were. For example, in one day, I might spend the morning building a detailed business case model for the WP Class Trip and then the afternoon trekking to the other side of NYC to visit an eye doctor’s office to measure and photograph the exam room (at one point we were considering having an eye exam room on board our bus.) On other days I did more “typical” businessy tasks such as write a brand brief and an RFP for our TV campaign and meet with a variety of creative and media agencies, but then I would also spend a bunch of time with our legal and finance teams to walk through contracts, try to get checks written, etc. At one point I even had to hand-deliver payment to a vendor – very different from the more cushy, resource-heavy corporate environments I was used to. Despite the initial shock, I ended up loving being 100% responsible for my entire projects. Although I still wish I had an analyst to build my models for me (I built a few too many during my McKinsey days), it was great to know that I was fully up to speed on all aspects of the initiatives.
Another big learning for me was just how much “culture” really matters. We hear that term thrown around loosely in all of our classes and recruiting presentations, and I technically experienced a myriad of corporate cultures through McKinsey, WebMD, and all of my clients from both firms. I never really observed any huge remarkable differences other than that consultants work too many hours! At Warby, however, where the company size doubled from around 50 people when I accepted my offer in the spring to around 100 at the end of the summer, I realized that a few “off” hires could completely change the feel of the organization. It was super interesting to observe management’s perpetual challenge of finding the right fun-loving smart people while still growing at rapid speed.
There are a few opportunities that only a small company can offer to an MBA intern, and for those I felt even luckier. For one, I reported to the co-founder/co-CEO. Not only did I have daily opportunities to problem solve and brainstorm with him, but also I had the chance to see from the inside how he thinks about the business. Second, there is absolutely no bureaucracy. The aforementioned lean staffing model worked upwards as well. Good ideas are executed on promptly rather than being delayed and diluted by hierarchy. Last, and most exciting to me, was that there was no “right” way of doing things. Warby Parker was founded with an eye toward rebellion- to disrupt the optical industry and consequently offer beautiful eyewear at a fraction of the cost. When critics told the founders that it wasn’t possible to sell glasses online, they found creative ways of doing so. That mentality permeates the entire company; as such, employees are encouraged to take risks, no idea is dismissed for being outlandish, and MBA interns like me get to design a showroom inside a school bus.
All in all, my summer was incredible… and shameless plug, the Warby Parker Class Trip is coming to Boston in October! Please come check out the branding experience and buy some glasses!