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Why did Warby Parker move to New York City?

Cofounder Neil Blumenthal grew up in New York, his family and wife were there and so, in truth, Philadelphia would have been the poacher, not the “poach-ee,” he said, but the opportunity to grow a big consumer startup in a non-traditional market is getting even easier.

Neil Blumenthal. (Courtesy photo)

It wasn’t entirely a question of what Philadelphia lacked, but it’s still worth exploring why the growing eyeglass industry disruption startup Warby Parker started at Wharton but is now based in New York City.

Cofounder Neil Blumenthal grew up in New York, his family and wife were there and so, in truth, Philadelphia would have been the poacher, not the “poach-ee,” explained Blumenthal at a Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce Philly Tech Week event Friday when posed the question by this reporter.

After all, in addition to being founded by four Wharton students and grown with monthly meetings at Rittenhouse bar Roosevelt Pub, Warby Parker is seen as among the ultimate ones-who-got-away. They are regularly cited along with AdMob and InviteMedia of big Wharton ventures that left before they got big.

Could the leadership of another consumer-facing startup of today rationally choose to grow her company in a any market other than the usual suspects of tech-crazy Bay Area and finance/media heavy New York?

“It’s clearly getting easier and easier to launch a company elsewhere but there are barriers you need — some capital, talent,” said Blumenthal, who joked about not wearing eyeglasses to the event because he was running late to get to his early train. “Places like Philly and Austin are able to cross that barrier, and even more so today, and other cities might be more behind.”

More simply: yes, and it’s getting even easier to make that choice, but, to steal the words of another high-profile Tech Week speaker: you need the subculture to create the stars.

Blumenthal’s keynote was followed by a panel discussion on how technology can be better leveraged to attract customers — mobile applications, data analytics, web tools, social media and the like. Despite the tech focus, Blumenthal seemed keen to highlight that, like the changing fate of where one must most sensibly grow a young company, the status of ecommerce and socially-minded Warby Parker in the technology space could continue to fade.

In addition to opening its first landmark storefront in Manhattan this year, the very idea of distinguishing between selling online and off may fade, he said.

“The future of retail is the convergence of ecommerce and bricks and mortar,” Blumenthal said. “In even five years, ecommerce will just be retail.”

NewsWorks reported on the event here.

Companies: Warby Parker

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