In a startup world militantly focused on minimum viable products, Series A raises and pivots, it's almost gospel that superheated growth is a goal to be pursued above all else. But at Launch Tennessee's 36|86 entrepreneurship conference held in early June at Marathon Music Works, executives at two of the more celebrated names in business these days said they have found success by slowing things down a bit. Here are edited excerpts from our coverage of 36|86 panels featuring officials from Warby Parker and Uber. They first appeared on our Southern/alpha blog.
Warby Parker's patience
When Warby Parker Chief Technology Officer Lon Binder sat down onstage with Jon Shieber, senior editor at TechCrunch, to talk about the company's evolution, what emerged was a picture of steady, measured growth that has been regularly responsive to customer feedback.
Binder joined the Warby Parker team immediately after its Series A raise and said that the company's co-founders where thoughtful about finding the right investors out of the gate. That enabled them to receive slow and early feedback. Binder said CFO Steve Miller and the rest of the company's leadership were good at picking fair investors.
Shieber later asked why Warby doesn't make glasses for people with horrible vision. Binder said one of the big ideas the company's executives preach to their team is that you have to do it one bite at a time. To start out, the company sold a single version of glasses with a narrow range of prescription strengths.
"The outer edges are challenging and rare," Binder said. "We felt we could lead the market there. Over time, we've launched titanium frames, multifocal lenses and we've expanded our range based on customer feedback -- when people say, 'I just wish you'd have this prescription.'"
Warby Parker has taken a similar approach to moving into bricks-and-mortar retail. In preparing its first store in New York's SoHo neighborhood, consultants advised the company not to build its own point-of-sale system. But Binder said "the market couldn't serve the need" so the company tapped its own engineers to design an in-house system. But they didn't rush the job.
"So my advice is: If you are approaching a problem and you don't have the people, it won't happen overnight [â€¦] Having the people who know the business and know the product and who were able to build it [worked for us] -- and they crushed it."Uber seeds demand
Ridesharing service Uber is valued at $50 billion these days and does business in 300 cities and more than 50 countries. Its first city, San Francisco, remains home for the company, which picked Atlanta to be its Southeastern test market. Later, Uber launched in Charlotte, Nashville and then Miami. Most recently, the company has set up shop in a slew of beach towns.
"We look for opportunity where we are invited and welcomed," Meghan Joyce, the company's East Coast general manager, said sitting on the 36|86 stage with Cat Clifford from Entrepreneur magazine.
The ever-growing buzz around Uber would probably allow it to quickly establish itself in a given city -- at least those with friendly regulations. But the company has approached its Southern expansion by looking -- and sometimes waiting -- for organic demand from riders and drivers in an area. Nashville, for example, is a city of tourists and students. Riders would arrive at Nashville International Airport looking for Uber rides into the city and students often pinged the app looking for rides around the city before it was available.
"When we get enough of those pings, we know there is a seed of demand to start that business and create a rich, viable experience there," Joyce said.