Warby Parker and the spirit of invention


This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. Here is a collection of past columns.

In yesterday’s newsletter, I lamented that more and more companies are not asking, “Is this a good idea?” When they prepare new products.

Today I want to write about the admirable question behind many inventions: why does it have to be so?

This is the unifying question behind technologies that attempt to simplify the sale of a home, enable small businesses to avoid renting and operate their own office space, and give us the power to buy a car. from our sofas.

Sometimes the upstarts who bring these ideas to life are grossly exaggerated or create miserable jobs. Often, however, it is worth admiring the spirit of defying the old ways.

I’ll tell you the dirty secret of a lot of start-ups and “technological” inventions: there is often very little technological magic. The big idea behind many so-called tech companies is often a new but boring twist on what came before. (Remember, I love boring stuff. So that’s not an insult.)

The boring idea behind Warby Parker, the internet eyewear seller who sold his first shares to the masses this week, was that all the middlemen involved in buying glasses and contact lenses made the process much more boring and expensive. . Why do we buy glasses where we receive prescriptions? How much more are the glasses because of all the steps involved: designers, manufacturers, novelty brands, opticians and retail stores?

Warby Parker and other relatively young online sellers, such as Casper Mattresses, Glossier for Cosmetics, and Dollar Shave Club, have approached this issue with a similar approach. They bought products from the same factories that made glasses, mattresses or razors for established businesses. (In some cases, they bought the factories.)

Then these upstarts flooded Facebook or other online sites with relatively inexpensive marketing. They could offer these groups of potential customers a product at a lower price than their competition because they have taken out Walmart, LensCrafters, or many other players involved in moving a product from concept to store shelves.

And because a company like Glossier sells on their own website and in their own stores, and Revlon usually doesn’t, they can tell right away which eyeliner is popular, do more, and present it to their customers. most dedicated buyers.

It’s totally boring, isn’t it? But that’s the magic behind many businesses whose products you only see on Instagram or TikTok. It’s a new economy twist on old ideas like Costco making its own brand of coffee and dog food. Warby Parker and the store’s cereal brand have the same DNA.

It’s unclear how many internet product companies like Warby Parker will last. Warby Parker spends a lot, including marketing, and the business is not profitable. Also, maybe you’ve noticed that there are four million mattress companies online? What were new ways of making, advertising and selling products ten years ago have been copied to death. And many internet product companies have told investors they are the next Facebook when they look more like Costco. It’s a recipe for disappointment.

But I don’t want to dismiss what young companies are trying to do. Even if their models don’t work, we can applaud the optimism and arrogance of trying to break the status quo.

Tip of the week

here is Brian X Chen, the consumer tech columnist for the New York Times, with the bane of the week. Um, I mean tip of the week.

It disrupts your keyboard and your phone’s charging port. It overheats your video game console. It’s everywhere.

Yes, your gadget’s worst enemy is dust.

Every time I’ve had major issues with a piece of tech and have taken a close look at its interior, it has been filled with dust. I don’t blame myself. The innards of our gadgets are out of sight and out of mind. But it is a problem that is snowballing.

So what to do? You can develop better electronic hygiene habits.

Obtain cleaning supplies, including cans of compressed air, a microfiber cloth, and a set of screwdrivers to open your electronics. (Some Apple devices require specialized screwdrivers. I recommend that you search the web for your model to determine what tools you need.)

For your computer or video game console, open it about once a year to clean up dust. For smartphones, remove dust from the charging port or headphone jack, if your phone has one. If you can unscrew the back of the phone, carefully use compressed air or a sewing needle to remove any dirt from the insides.

Some modern electronics are difficult to take apart and clean, but you can ask for help. Contact a local independent technician and request routine cleaning. It will go a long way to extend the life of your device and make it look like new.

  • There is still time to shout about Facebook: Business executives are appearing in congressional hearings to answer questions about recently revealed internal Facebook documents about what the company knows about the damage caused by its apps. My colleagues Ryan Mac and Sheera Frenkel write about the Facebook rotation on some of this research.

  • Why is it difficult to use Siri to control a Nest thermostat: Tech giants tend to want exclusive control over the connected gadgets in our homes. This makes it nearly impossible for our home speakers, televisions or light bulbs to function properly, writes the Washington Post.

  • A billboard feud: Amazon wants to take over a gigantic billboard in the heart of Manhattan. It just happens to surround Macy’s and this is where the retailer is pitching messages for its flagship department store. Macy’s is not happy, reports my colleague Tiffany Hsu.

It’s big bear week! It’s an annual celebration of animals gaining weight before winter, and you can vote to pick your favorite brown bear in Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska. All of these bears are winners. (But I support Otis.)

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