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- Paint company Backdrop, travel company Away, and cookware company Potluck are connected by another successful direct-to-consumer online startup.
- The founders of these three startups all once worked at early online retail innovator Warby Parker.
- Like fellow D2C wunderkinds Bonobos and Glossier, Warby Parker serves almost as a school or incubator for eager entrepreneurs who want to disrupt a retail industry.
The world of digitally native, direct-to-consumer startups is one large web of connections.
Whereas tracing startup founders back to their educational roots (Wharton is a common one) is one way to draw similarities, another way is to examine their first exposure to the business of direct-to-consumer. These days, it’s not surprising to find resumes stacked with experiences at a variety of online startups.
Early startups like Bonobos, Glossier, and Warby Parker have been described as DNVB (digitally native vertical brand) "colleges" for their influence on inspiring employees to start their own brands or lead efforts at newer direct-to-consumer brands.
What these startups did for men’s fashion, beauty and skincare, and vision care in turn spurred similar revolutions in industries like health, home and kitchen, and fitness.
Warby Parker, founded in 2010, has spawned a few alums who have applied their experience to the difficult and admirable task of starting their own companies. These startups have nothing to do with glasses, instead tapping into the home, kitchen, and travel spaces.
You can spot the similarities, though. Like Warby Parker, they’re making traditionally unexciting and expensive products worthy of internet buzz, even though the products themselves are quite simple. They all have distinctive brand personalities and connect to larger stories of how we want to live and travel. They also pride themselves on providing exceptional customer service.
As direct-to-consumer retail matures and continues to innovate, we can only expect the web of connections and links to early startup successes to grow.
For now, here are three cool retail startups you should know about that were founded by Warby Parker alumni.
Cofounded by: Caleb Ebel, former head of financial planning and analysis at Warby Parker
About Backdrop: Usually found in hardware stores, home paint has never enjoyed a favorable reputation. It’s overwhelming to shop for, mundane to use, and does little to inspire you, despite the importance of color in interior design to provoke moods and set the tone of your space.
Backdrop wants to make shopping for home paint fun and easy, offering 50 curated colors, $2 swatches, and an assortment of other supplies, all designed with style and efficiency in mind. The low-odor, low-VOC paint comes in semi-gloss and semi-matte varieties in one-gallon, easy-pour cans ($49).
Cofounded by: Jen Rubio, former head of social media at Warby Parker, and Steph Korey, former head of supply chain at Warby Parker
About Away: In just four years, Rubio and Korey brought their startup Away to unicorn status, and they did it all on the idea of thoughtful, modern travel. Just as Warby Parker is synonymous with "online glasses," Away quickly rose through the ranks as the premier online suitcase, impossible not to spot rolling through the world’s busiest airports.
The lightweight, organized suitcases cost $225 to $295 and can be complemented by backpacks and duffels or personalized in a variety of ways. Following in Warby Parker’s footsteps, it has also expanded past a purely online presence and currently operates seven retail stores.
Cofounded by: Minsuk Kim, former customer experience associate at Warby Parker
About Potluck: Offering 22 pieces for $270, Potluck is the kitchen startup that thought to package together an all-encompassing bundle of quality essentials, including saucepans, knives, and utensils. They’re basics done right and with no distracting bells and whistles, so you can create a kitchen setup that’s both efficient and effective.
You’ll use every single piece in its curated sets, which means no more drawers overflowing with uniquely specialized but ultimately unnecessary tools. This refreshing lack of clutter frees up the head space for more recipes and more menu planning for all the dinner parties you’ll host with the help of Potluck tools.
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