99u Pop Up School :: Day 2 Notes

Day two of 99u Pop Up School didn’t disappoint. The day’s content was focused around entrepreneurship. Of all three days, this is the day I was looking most forward to. Needless to say, I was inspired and challenged by the content presented today.

The stage was filled with incredible talent, including Neil Blumenthal of Warby Parker, Kathryn Minshew of The Muse, Patrick Buckley and Craig Dalton of DODOcase, and Alexis Ohanian of Reddit and Hipmunk (which is my favorite tool for booking airfare).

Here are some key thoughts from each of the presenters that I took away:

Neil Blumenthal, Co-Founder & Co-CEO, Warby Parker

Neil shared some insights that have made Warby Parker such a huge success in less than three years from launch. They launched in 2010 and now have over 300 employees and distributed over 500,000 pairs of eyeglasses to people in need all over the country.

He started by talking about where the idea came from to start Warby Parker and where all ideas to launch a business should come from. Those essentials are passion, idea, and frustration that are necessary to create a company that can disrupt an industry such as the eyewear industry. They were frustrated with the price and more importantly the overall buying experience. For those that know anything about Warby Parker, they’ve been nothing short of amazing at doing that very thing.

Turning a passion, an idea, and a frustration into a business starts by solving a real problem. Here are the layers to how to do that according to Neil:

  • Doesn’t need to be novel.
  • Make life incrementally better for the consumer.
  • Shout it from the rooftop.

The next part of his presentation really struck me as he discussed what they decided to focus on messaging wise with their website. They had five or more messages they were really passionate about, but knew they had to decide on what to focus on. They created a hierarchy of messaging and really sold out to this as they developed their website and marketing communication.

 The three things they decided in order are:

  1. Fashion Brand
  2. Offering Value and Service (Free shipping & free returns)
  3. With a Social Mission (probably not driving an initial purchase, important, but not the first thing they needed to tell customers)

It’s vital to simplify your message and prioritize! Warby Parker has done this brilliantly.

Neil then shared how they have created a process to break down big decisions:

  • Simplify
    • Example: Steve Jobs for years telling everyone to simplify!!
  • Baby steps instead of leaps
  • Recognize major moments

Following that, he talked about a core value startups need to have in this day and age, which is to BE REMARKABLE! Seth Godin recently wrote a blog post about this and how it’s different than just differentiating yourself. You can read it here.

Neil shared the two things they’ve tried to keep in mind as they fight to BE REMARKABLE:

  • Creativity Wins
  • Customer experience as entertainment
    • You have to think of this for customers so they’re entertained during the process.
    • Retailers are confused about how technology is being used for the future.
    • Designers are always thinking about people’s reactions. This is hard for business people and technologists.

There were so many amazing insights that he shared that are just impossible to share via words. You just had to be here to get the full effect.

Neil did a live Q&A with the audience immediately following his presentation. I absolutely loved the way Neil interacted and was so transparent in what Warby Parker is doing to be successful. His presentation really challenged and inspired me. Hearing Neil alone was worth the price of admission for the full three day conference.


Q&A w/ Patrick Dudley & Craig Dalton, Co-Founders of DODOcase

This Q&A followed Neil’s phenomenal presentation. It was amazing to hear the behind the scenes stories of how Patrick and Craig have worked as partners in such a successful company.

One of the most fascinating topics they discussed was whether or not business plans are essential for starting a business today. The biggest takeaway from them here was that they think we’re entering an era where a business plan doesn’t serve entrepreneurs well. We’re living in a world where you can get an idea into the world  and get it validated with real life customers immediately.

The success of DODOcase has been nothing short of amazing. At launch, they were having 1,000 orders/day. The biggest challenge they had was keeping up with production since they didn’t anticipate this type of reaction immediately. They’ve built their brand around marrying technology with traditional craft techniques. Their production quality and customizability has been the driving force behind their success in their opinion. They recently looked at a sampling of 7,000 orders and only 39 of them were identical cases. This was astounding to me.

They finished by talking about the ongoing challenge of maintaining the company culture. They said it’s important to always reiterate internally and externally that they’re both a craft/manufacturing business and an e-commerce business. Craftsmen first, genuine connection is the guiding principle in everything they do. It goes all the way down to the sales guys needing to honor the craft process.


Alexis Ohanian, Founder of Reddit, Hipmunk, & Breadpig

Finishing off the day with the “Master Class” was Alexis Ohanian. He was absolutely hysterical and shared some great nuggets. I didn’t take as many notes during his presentation because he was so entertaining. That said, here are some quotes I wrote down from his presentation that I think you could benefit from:

“I have no idea what I’m doing and that’s AWESOME!”

“Sucking is the first step of being sort of good at something.”

“We all have access and ability to share with the world. No longer are there traditional gatekeepers for the makers.”

“Use the internet like you do real life.”


Day two is complete and I’m looking forward to day three, which is focused all on branding and digital strategy. If you missed my recap of day one, click here to read my notes from the day focused on career development.

Come back tomorrow for notes from the likes of Gary Vaynerchuk, Jonathan Perelman of BuzzFeed, and many others. The day is sure to be filled with some amazing insights.