Shalom Life | May 11, 2014

Breakthrough Jew - Neil Blumenthal

Blumenthal is the co-founder of popular eyewear retailer, Warby Parker.

By: Sarah Bauder

Published: May 8th, 2014 in Culture » Society » News

Breakthrough Jew - Neil Blumenthal

Hot, hip, and heady, the next wave of Jewish artists and influencers has already arrived. This is Breakthrough Jew, your weekly showcase of those on the verge of discovery and ready to be a regular figure in pop culture; setting trends, redefining genres, and simply getting it done-whatever ‘it’ is. These days, it’s not enough to know what’s hot now; you need to catch someone when they’re just starting to simmer.

Featuring those in film, fashion, food, and beyond, we’ll find the story before substance is obscured by style, before hype meets backlash, and before talent and purpose gets lost in a maze of Internet chatter. See an artist in the cozy bar before they hit the amphitheater, dine at a chef’s new restaurant before the line begins, and catch a young writer’s work before the demands of ratings and longevity encroach.

Follow our lead and we’ll follow yours – send us tips or suggestions via email, comment below or tweet us @ShalomLife, as we explore the Jewish landscape for pop culture pioneers.

Name: Neil Blumental

Age: 33

Hometown: New York, NY

Breakthrough Cred: Co-founded eyewear retailer, Warby Parker.

From a very young age, Neil Blumental possessed an entrepreneurial spirit.

“I wanted to open up a stand to sell dried fruit and beef jerky where we lived in Greenwich Village. I was 8 years old. I had been flipping through TV channels and got mesmerized by this infomercial for a food dehydrator. I just thought this was the greatest thing ever. I remember running around the apartment begging my parents, ‘We have to get this, we have to get this.’ And my parents said, ‘No, you’re crazy.’ I somehow convinced them. I think that’s probably the most important thing I learned: the power of persuasion. When the box arrived, I was so excited. I lifted it up and it felt really light and that was the first indication that this wasn’t going to go the way I had anticipated. It was just these plastic trays, with a dinky heating coil and a small fan. It took three days to make raisins and it was more expensive than buying raisins. My brief career in retail food distribution came to an end,” Blumental explained to The New York Times in 2013.

After graduating from Tufts University in 2002, Blumental began working for the NGO, VisionSpring, which provides glasses to individuals around the globe making less than $4 a day. He was employed for Vision Spring for over five years. In 2008, Blumental decided to head to Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, to acquire an M.B.A. Whilst at Wharton, he made fast friends with Andrew Hunt, David Gilboa, and Jeffrey Raider.

“I met three amazing guys, Jeff, Andy and Dave. I found that we were complaining about glasses being ridiculously expensive. And we had each had that experience: Walking to an optical shop, getting super excited about a pair of glasses, and walking out feeling like we got punched in the stomach. We thought, there's got to be a better way here,” Blumental explained to The Wall Street Journal in 2012.

In 2010, Blumental, Hunt, Gilboa, and Raider founded Warby Parker, an eyewear retailer that sells glasses starting at roughly $95US ($120CD). Their company name derives from two characters (Zagg Parker and Warby Pepper) found in the personal journals of Jack Kerouac – A writer who heavily influenced all four men.

From the beginning Warby Parker proved successful, selling out of 15 styles a month, and reaching its year’s sales target in just as long. Fast-forward two years later, and the company had raised nearly $40 million, not to mention having over 113 employees. However, it’s not merely about profit for the company.

For every pair of glasses sold, Warby Parker has “partnered with non-profits like VisionSpring to ensure that for every pair of glasses sold, a pair is distributed to someone in need”. To date, the company has given away over 250,000 pairs of glasses to individuals in need.

For more information on Warby Parker, check out our Startup Club profile or their official website.

Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilBlumenthal.

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