Jeff Raider is the cofounder behind two really big startup success stories. Between Warby Parker and Harry’s, this entrepreneur has raised close to three-quarters of a billion dollars in startup capital and fathered two unicorns in the process.
Although his mom was an entrepreneur, who started her own venture when Jeff was just 11 years old, his first impression of founder life wasn’t exactly a compelling one. He saw both the great times and the hard times. That initially made him think he didn’t want to do anything entrepreneurial, just because he saw what a challenging journey it can be.
Looking back now he sees how he also initially underestimated how rewarding it can be to build a company that has a positive impact, and how just engaging and enthralling it is to pursue an idea you are so passionate about, that all you want to do is spend time working on it.
In a recent appearance on the DealMakers podcast, he shared what changed his mind, what he has learned about effective board-management relationships and the secrets to creating wildly popular consumer products (listen to the full podcast episode here).
Your Calling Will Always Find You
Maybe you’ve put off a business idea in the past, only to find the same problem keep popping up in front of you. Or you’ve woken up to the fact that all the turns you’ve taken have just prepared you for and led you back to your purpose. As much as Jeff Raider had tucked away entrepreneurship and building a company of his own in the back of his mind, it still found him.
He went to Johns Hopkins University. He actually got a Masters in International Affairs. He imagined his career might take him to the public sector to work at the State Department or something. Though he was highly motivated to have an impact quickly.
He went to work a Bain. Where some of the best entrepreneurs that I’ve seen have done some consulting in the past. Either there or McKinsey. He didn’t know it at the time, but this is where he met his future co-founder for Harry’s.
One of his biggest takeaways was learning how to break down really complex problems into their subcomponent pieces, and then break those down again. Starting a company can seem so big and hard if you think about it as one problem. Though, when you break it down into 100 small problems, and then break those problems down further, it can become a lot more manageable.
He learned patterns between different businesses and different industries. Most obvious that successful companies had a real reason to exist. A real set of differentiating characteristics or beliefs in their business models that enabled them to serve people in a better way somehow. He says the best ones seemed to be really, really focused on who the customer was, what they wanted, and how the business could help to improve their experience in some way, shape, or form.
Still, from Bain, he went on to work on the investment side with Charlesbank. Then to business school at Wharton. I actually go and guest lecture there with Professor Tyler Wry, and I love the energy and how people are always brainstorming.
It was at Wharton where the idea for Warby Parker was hatched.
Ideas That Keep You Up at Night
One day after class at Wharton, a friend casually asked what Jeff and his future cofounder Neil Blumenthal thought about selling glasses online.
Jeff emailed Neil, and Dave Gilboa at 1 am the next morning. He just couldn’t sleep for thinking about the idea. At least one of those cofounders was still up too. That quickly morphed into becoming the startup rocket ship Warby Parker.
Pretty quickly the founding team, which also included Andrew Hunt, discovered they had achieved product/market fit. Though it was online articles that really helped the startup explode in popularity almost immediately. They turned on their website the day that GQ published a piece on eyewear and mentioned them specifically. Then Vogue and DailyCandy picked up the story.
That resulted in a deluge of orders. Jeff says “We hit our first-year sales plan in our first month. We sold out of most of our styles, and it very quickly flipped from is anyone going to want to buy it, to how do we deal with all these customers?”
Raider has stayed on the board of Warby Parker. A company which now has a few thousand employees, and almost 100 stores. They have reportedly raised close to $300 million and are close to a $2 billion valuation.
One day that friend from back at Bain, Andy Katz-Mayfield, called Jeff on the phone. He ranted about his terrible experience trying to buy overpriced razor blades at the local drugstore. Should it really take over 10 minutes and cost $25 for a few razor blades and some shaving cream?
They felt like they could build a brand that was warm and relatable and approachable to guys that gave them great products at a fair value, that delivered it to them in different and unique ways. Hopefully making that purchase experience more convenient. Harry’s was born.
Less than a year later Harry’s ended up buying a razor factory in Germany. In addition to razors, they now offer face wash, face lotion, body wash, and shaving gel, among other men’s care products. In 2016 they entered a partnership with Target. Now they are also on the shelves, in front of 150 million people a week at Walmart.
So far they’ve raised nearly $400 million in equity and debt capital from top tier investors like Thrive Capital, Tiger Global, BoxGroup, or Highland Capital Partners to name a few. Including a Series D in early 2018 led by Temasek Holdings. The company currently employs around 900 people globally. It is also valued at around $1 billion.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out about Jeff’s new project Harry’s Labs, as well as what he’d advise his younger self now, and how to balance giving customers what they want, with Steve Job’s and Henry Ford’s visionary approach to showing people what they should want (listen to the full podcast episode here).