New York-based eyewear startup Warby Parker is off to a good start in 2013, having recently been fingered as a possible partner for Google Glass, and now is reported to have gained an additional investment from American Express and J. Crew chief executive Millard S. Drexler. The new investors went in alongside General Catalyst, Spark Capital, Tiger Global Management, Thrive Capital and Menlo Ventures, in a round totaling $41.5 million in financing, which officially closed in January.
The SEC filing was first spotted this past September, which at the time showed that Warby Parker had sold $36.8 million of a potential $40 million round. That round had closed, but left room for the company to bring on select investors, NYT reports today. Drexler, who really wanted in on this round from what we hear, also previously served as CEO of Gap, Inc. Having him on board will help the brand as it becomes more of a household name and scales its operations. However, the move does not yet indicate any sort of partnership between Warby Parker and J. Crew, the report adds -the brand will remain one that sells direct to consumers via the web for now.
Warby Parker’s other new investor American Express, meanwhile, has previously been a collaborator, as the startup works with the company on its Sync program, in order to give Twitter users discounts on the eyewear.
The company, which started at a time when less than 1 percent of eyewear was sold online, is betting big that the combination of technology and the flattening of the supply chain, can help move this particular category of consumer products to the web, disrupting the traditional eyewear industry in the process. To make the transition easier on users, it introduced a way for consumers to virtually try on their frames online – something which solves the challenge of taking a thing consumers had typically needed to see in real life and making it possible to go the e-commerce route.
But the funding also goes to highlight the discrepancies in the still developing e-commerce space, where the differences between an e-commerce “haves” and “have nots,” can be vast. For instance, subscription-based ShoeDazzle has been undergoing massive changes in an attempt to carve out its own niche in this market, while Vegas-based Ecomom is shutting down due to mismanagement of funds and a purchasing decision from which it couldn’t recover – news that follows the tragic loss of the startup’s founder. In addition, although Warby Parker has created a whole market where each new idea can define itself as a Warby Parker for X, not all these startups will succeed in the same way. In some cases, they may be too early, or they’re not bringing down prices far enough to generate consumer demand, but prices alone aren’t all one of these companies needs to be successful. They also have to figure out how to establish their brand – something Warby Parker is now getting into via TV ads – and they have to offer great customer service, just as many of their offline counterparts do today.