Merchant Innovation

Warby Parker Is Silicon Valley’s Latest Unicorn

Silicon Valley’s unicorn herd has just welcomed its newest member. Warby Parker has just finished off a $100 million Series D round that leaves the five-year-old startup with a valuation of $1.2 billion, reported The Wall Street Journal. The funding round was led by T. Rowe Price and also included Wellington Management, alongside previous investors Tiger Global and General Catalyst.

So what does a company worth a little over a billion do with $100 million in funding?

According to reports, the firm intends to put the money toward expanding its fleet of retail stores from a total of 12 to 20 by the end of 2015. Warby Parker opened its first physical location as an expansion of their (up until then) online-only business in 2013. As of today, nearly half of the company’s 500 employees now work in a physical store.

"We think about Warby as a blend of offline and online” commerce, Henry Ellenbogen, who manages T. Rowe Price’s $16 billion New Horizons fund, told WSJ. “The more successful Warby is offline in a market, the more successful they are online."

According to David Gilboa, Warby’s co-founder and co-chief executive, Warby Parker’s annual sales are on the up and up, but the company claims it is not profitable. (Gilboa did not indicate what the firm’s revenues are.)  He also noted that, apart from the expansion of physical stores, the company is building new technology to make shopping for frames in stores and online easier – including working to develop technology to let customers conduct eye exams using just their mobile phones.

"We think that would increase access to eye exams,” Gilboa said. “It’s early in the process but we are excited about the potential. There is no rush to go public. We have a very healthy balance sheet at this point that gives us a lot of flexibility."

While being a unicorn in Silcon Valley may not be as special as it once was, being a retail startup to make it across the billion dollar finish line is a bit rare. In fact, with its currently valuation, Warby Parker only trails in value to the $3.1 billion sports merchandise site Fanatics.

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