Welcome!

Eclipse Authors: Carmen Gonzalez, Kevin Jackson, Lori MacVittie, Mark R. Hinkle, Natalie Lerner

Blog Feed Post

Cloud Player – Lon Binder, Vice President Technology, Warby Parker Part 2

warby-parker-logo

Warby Parker: Different than other e-commerce experiences.

Recently we had the pleasure of sitting down for an extended conversation with Lon Binder, VP of Technology at Warby Parker. We discussed a range of issues central to how Warby Parker approaches IT, including going beyond the standard customer experience, utilizing outsourced expertise, the challenges of finding talented hires, and much more.

This is the second of 2 parts. Check out Part 1 here.

Thoughts? Feedback? Let us know on Twitter @CloudGathering.

GC: How are you looking to go beyond like the standard e-commerce experience, and how are you using cloud to actually enable that. Already people are tracking the development of Warby Parker for a number of reasons, but the standout stories so far has been the business model itself and the industry that it’s in.  Being the leader of the IT organization, what are you looking to build here that’s going to be looked at in the same way?

LB: There are a number of things that we’re doing in cloud that enable customers to have a better experience and that differentiate us from a typical e-commerce company.

Most e-commerce companies – at least traditionally – think about getting a lot of customers on the site and then converting as many of them as possible.  It’s a numbers game.  And the longer they’re on the site, the more risk there is for them to not convert, and so actually most e-commerce companies are trying to get you to buy as quickly as possible on the site, which is not the way we think about ourselves.

We actually operate more as a lifestyle brand than as a direct response retailer or as a typical e-commerce site.  We love customers to come on the site and luxuriate in the brand, as it were. They should come on and enjoy browsing the gallery pages and reading about us – it’s super-important for our mission to come through, which is to help those who need help.  And so we love our customers to go and browse around the videos and hear about what’s happening with our non-profit partners in the developing world.

That’s very different from the typical e-commerce site, and I’ll give you an example of how cloud comes into that: we’ve got a lot of press over the last year and it’s been exciting for me as a technologist to try and support that and make sure that I’m making it possible for us to get as much press as we can.

And then the site went down as a result of people learning about Warby. So we partnered with Akamai, which is a great cloud provider; they provide a number of different services, all on their own infrastructure that we can take advantage of.

One of the big questions we had was whether to enable full page caching. If you enable full page caching, there are some downsides in terms of how thoughtful you have to be from an engineering standpoint when you roll out your features. The upside for the customer is that the page loads much faster. On the Warby side, we can scale faster when you have traffic coming onto the site from press. Working with Akamai was also great because they also have mobile offerings that we could think about as well for more rapid acceleration.

The conversations we have often come down to whether a choice adds complexity to the engineering process. But at the same time, it makes the customer experience better, so that’s what wins.  It’s just one example that differentiates us.

We want customers on the site longer, and we went to a cloud provider to help us make it happen.  We want to hire really smart engineers, but we don’t necessarily need to have all the world class infrastructure engineers in the world in our office.

GC: So you’re really embracing then the sort of outsource technical bench model?

LB: Our approach is the differentiator; we want to build that up.  We don’t need to be the best infrastructure company in the universe when we have a provider right there at a great price point.

GC: What is your approach to mobile and how does that make what you’re doing more complex or less complex, or do you see it as sort of a necessary evolution?

Lon Head Shot

Lon Binder, VP Technology, Warby Parker

LB: Everybody’s going mobile, and if you look at the trends in the US, the typical e-commerce site is experiencing 25% of its traffic from mobile, and we’re no different than that.  In other countries it’s substantially higher; in some countries it’s as high as 75 to 80% mobile.

To answer your question, I’m actually going to focus on social media, which sounds a little unrelated, but I’ll explain.

The way we approach interaction with customers is to put ourselves where the customers want us to be, and again, it’s always customers first. So if customers want us to be on Twitter, we’re on Twitter, answering their questions. If they want us to be on Facebook, asking us for typical case support, like if they have a question about their frames, we’re on Facebook. They want to post to our wall, and we’ll be there to respond.

Now if they want to do live chat, we do that. We’ll be anywhere customers want us to be, to make it a great customer experience. That’s how our social media became so large and why we innovated running video Tweets as a customer service – we’re one of the first companies to ever do that.

And so when it came time to think about mobile, we took the exact same tack as we had for our social media – we put ourselves where customers want us to be.  And so we started thinking about mobile web, mobile app development, and about what features need to be available on mobile devices.  We took time determining which platforms would make the most sense. It has been of utmost importance to ensure that our other channels were running well, which they were, so we’ve recently launched a mobile website.  The mobile website immediately did very well, because we were trying to put ourselves where customers want us to be.

Now we’ve looked at that and we’ve learned some lessons and we’re getting ready to roll out another major step, which is coming soon.

We’ve already started working on a mobile app, which is actually ready to go out. We’ve held it back because when we think about how customers use it, we feel it could be better and we want it to be really excellent before that goes out the door as well.

GC: And do you anticipate customers being able to purchase essentially through the mobile app as much as they would through the website?

LB: When we talk to customers about how they want to interact with us, they want to shop on the website, and we’ve found a whole number of reasons why that is.  For the mobile app, it’s more about what drives the need to have an app.  We realized that there were some features that your phone offered, like the advantage of the camera and other things that were better in an app than they would be on a mobile website. So the app is for customers who want certain functionality that would only be available in an app versus the website, which would have all the typical shopping and browsing functionality.  So we differentiated it, again based on customers.

I’ll just give you an example of this data: When customers go on their phones and open our emails, they’re there to shop or learn about whatever it was that was advertised in the email.

Another example: customers may go to Google or another search engine on their phone to search for frame information, but they are on the web looking for web information.  This process is very different from people who have a very specific need that they’re trying to fill, where they go into their app store and they’re looking for a certain functionality.  That’s a different need that we’re trying to fill with our mobile.

GC: You have a number of compliance concerns now. How do you balance giving your customers the choice of where they want to have access with making sure that everything is functioning safely so that they’re not going to have a bad experience?

LB: It’s a huge challenge. We have to be PCI compliant, because we process credit cards and of course Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is something that everybody should be thinking about.

We try to bring in engineers who are very security conscious, very focused on customer information and how to secure it.  Most of our technology is already extremely secure.  There’s always more you can do – you’re always a target when you’re online. And the more visible your brand is, the more people want to mess with you.

We try to do everything we can to secure customers’ information. The mobile point of sale, of course, increases the potential risks associated with somebody trying to get at customer data.  We layered in five different layers of security there, ranging all the way from physical security up through software security. We are balancing that with the fact that customers also want to check out in a store very quickly. There were some systems where the sales associate would have to put a password – or two passwords or three passwords – on every checkout, which would slow down that experience in the store.

venn-diagram

How Warby finds talent - the Venn diagram.

There are things that you can do, for example, on a mobile point of sale device. We can remotely wipe it out, or we can do all sorts of time-based triggers. When a customer is downloading an app, there’s things that we can do in controlling the app, versus on the website, where we can only do what the browser can do.  So we can use layers of SSL – which of course we do – password protection, and then not storing certain information to ensure that it can never be accessed.  We also tokenize credit card information so that we don’t hold the credit card data, but we can still make sure the customer information we do access is safe. The high level answer is, we try to secure as much as we can without hurting the customer.

GC: So when we talk about engineering quality, there are many different qualities being discussed and analyzed, from cloud engineers to the DevOps role.  Does your perspective focus on the individual, or is there a profile that you’re trying to attract or trying to develop within your organization?

LB: It’s funny that you ask that – nobody’s ever asked me that before and I think it’s a really good question.  We are very individual-focused, which makes our technical recruiter’s job a nightmare.

Some of the recruiters who I’ve worked with for a long time know me: that I’m always about the individual and I’m hiring people who think that same way. There’s no template resume that describes the engineer that we want; we’re looking for someone who fits our behaviors, which means they’re considerate of other people, they’re really passionate about some of the initiatives that we’re focused on, like helping others and creating a great experience.  So if an engineer doesn’t either have that already or want to have that, they’re not going to be a great fit.

And then we’re looking for people who bring that objective view that I mentioned before, who are open to questioning everything. So for example, I interviewed a candidate who said, “I love Ruby; I’ll only write Ruby.” And I said, “This is not the job for you.”

And there’s nothing wrong with Ruby – we love it as a language – but if you’re that glued to one technology, you’re not an objective thinker and you’re not for us.  We look for that in candidates, that ability to be objective, rational, and considerate of other people. We also want to have fun, which is really at the core of our brand. It’s meant to be a really fun place to work.

Some people don’t like that – the environment can be kind of noisy in the office.  It’s not a party every day, but it’s a pretty fun place to work. Collaboration is important to us as well.  We run agile teams, so if you’re an engineer in our organization, whether you’re on production or you’re on development, you’re going to be on an agile team with six to eight people, which is a very tight-knit group; you’ve got to enjoy that.

And so we don’t really care whether you’ve written .NET for the last five years, or if you’ve written Python; we’re looking for smart engineers who fit those qualities and those behaviors that we’re looking for.  And that’s why it’s kind of a headache for our technical recruiter, yet we’ve found some great people.

We had somebody – Adam – who came into our retail store, trying on some glasses. He said he had seen the office, thought the place was really cool, liked the product, and liked the mission. He said he’d like to apply for a job here, and we hired him about three days later – he now works for us as a Senior Software Engineer, and he’s amazing.

After working for us for about a month, he realized Warby Parker really is as good as he thought it was going to be; he recommended his ex-boss come in and interview. So his boss Dan came in for an interview and about two weeks later he became our Chief Architect.  He’s absolutely unbelievable. That’s kind of what’s been happening in technology, is that some people would just find us and then we’ve got them.

GC: And why did you choose to set up here in New York? 

LB: We’re New Yorkers. Neil, one of our founders, was born and raised here in the city.  There are five senior managers in the company and I’m the only one who actually doesn’t live within a few blocks of the office.  I live in Long Island City; I’m a native New Yorker – I grew up in this neighborhood – my whole life.  So we’re very much New Yorkers.

We’re a Made in New York company, as well, and we fully support that program. We think what the Bloomberg administration has done is fantastic for New York.  New York City is one of the most impressive places to work or run a company in the world.  We have access to some of the brightest and smartest people here, we have great services available and it’s clear that New York City wants to do even more, but still has a long way to go. But there are a lot of great schools that are creating great programs here.

New York is an amazing place to run a business: you can find great talent and you can attract people here.  It’s also, from a brand standpoint, a great place to build a company. It’s certainly where fashion lives, and given our focus that’s always a good thing.

warby-parker founders

The founders: David Gilboa, Jeffrey Raider, Neil Blumenthal, and Andrew Hunt

We’ve also opened up our showrooms around the country and we have stores that are opening, like the one that just opened in Boston, so we’re spreading beyond just here. But New York is a wonderful place to call home.

GC: What about cloud has enabled you to hedge costs more closely in line with revenue?  A lot of what’s talked about with cloud is its benefit in terms of being able to save money, but is that the limit, or has it fulfilled a greater purpose for you guys?

LB: I think it’s unfair to judge cloud as one unit, to say it works only when you’re smaller, bigger, growing, stable, etc.  There are different providers who offer different types of services and an array of different ways of dividing the space.  And so cloud serves a range of needs for different purposes.

For example, when we were just launching, we launched on a hosted e-commerce platform, integrated with ERP, which enabled us to launch really quickly.  And actually, Brett, the consultant who built the very first piece of technology that Warby Parker used was found on oDesk. We used the website to find him, hosted the whole thing on somebody else’s platform… it was just incredible.

That was perfect for then, but I wouldn’t say that just because we’ve grown bigger now we need to host the website ourselves.  Actually the hosting still happens in a managed service environment. There are many other cloud services that we use, such as our hosted voice-over-IP phone system. As we grow there are many other systems available for us to take advantage of, that help us get through growth phases quickly and then can also provide areas of value where we don’t need to have core competency.

So I’d say at every level there’s always a partner for you.

GC: And then, I guess to wrap up, looking ahead for how you see your company developing over the next two to five years? What developments in the industry are you looking forward to the most in terms what can be leveraged to obtain maximum value for your company?

LB: That’s a great question.  I would say in technology there are a number of changes that would have great value to us.  We’re hiring a ton of people in engineering specifically, and across the company as well.

There are all sorts of different websites coming together and collaborative groups online for finding great talent and for people to find us, and where we can participate.  We love open sourcing technology and we give back to a lot of open source projects.

Exposing what we’re doing and seeing what other engineers are doing is a great way for us to get to know each other, kind of like a date, before somebody decides to work for us.  And so I would say that’s probably the most exciting, because that’s how we meet a lot of smart people who we hope would want to work for us.

I’m also really excited about the rate and clarity around new technologies. We’ve come out of the period of time where everybody was making their own framework, so you had 20 competitors for MVC models in every language, whether good or bad, and we’re finally starting to see them collapse downwards.

Part of that is because people are getting comfortable in learning new technologies faster, merging technologies together, borrowing from each other and sharing. For a company – just in the same way with cloud – we have great visibility into what these platforms and open source frameworks are doing, and how we can take advantage of them, whether we use pieces of them, or borrow from them with a license, or give back to them and help the community. I think that’s the charitable part of the technology community, and it’s also really empowering as a company because we don’t have to build everything ourselves.

Five years ago there were almost as many technologies being developed, but there wasn’t any visibility into them. People were hosting them on their own sites, you know, and the documentation wasn’t really that great, and the community wasn’t quite as active.

By Jake Gardner

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Gathering Clouds

Cloud computing news, information, and insights. Powered by Logicworks.

@ThingsExpo Stories
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems at Red Hat, will describe how to revoluti...
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, will discuss how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money! Speaker Bio: Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, has spent 16 years as a marketing, product management, and busin...
Samsung VP Jacopo Lenzi, who headed the company's recent SmartThings acquisition under the auspices of Samsung's Open Innovaction Center (OIC), answered a few questions we had about the deal. This interview was in conjunction with our interview with SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson. IoT Journal: SmartThings was developed in an open, standards-agnostic platform, and will now be part of Samsung's Open Innovation Center. Can you elaborate on your commitment to keep the platform open? Jacopo Lenzi: Samsung recognizes that true, accelerated innovation cannot be driven from one source, but requires a...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Red Hat, the world's leading provider of open source solutions, will exhibit at Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Red Hat is the world's leading provider of open source software solutions, using a community-powered approach to reliable and high-performing cloud, Linux, middleware, storage and virtualization technologies. Red Hat also offers award-winning support, training, and consulting services. As the connective hub in a global network of enterprises, partners, a...
P2P RTC will impact the landscape of communications, shifting from traditional telephony style communications models to OTT (Over-The-Top) cloud assisted & PaaS (Platform as a Service) communication services. The P2P shift will impact many areas of our lives, from mobile communication, human interactive web services, RTC and telephony infrastructure, user federation, security and privacy implications, business costs, and scalability. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Robin Raymond, Chief Architect at Hookflash Inc., will walk through the shifting landscape of traditional telephone a...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Matrix.org has been named “Silver Sponsor” of Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Matrix is an ambitious new open standard for open, distributed, real-time communication over IP. It defines a new approach for interoperable Instant Messaging and VoIP based on pragmatic HTTP APIs and WebRTC, and provides open source reference implementations to showcase and bootstrap the new standard. Our focus is on simplicity, security, and supporting the fullest feature set.
BSQUARE is a global leader of embedded software solutions. We enable smart connected systems at the device level and beyond that millions use every day and provide actionable data solutions for the growing Internet of Things (IoT) market. We empower our world-class customers with our products, services and solutions to achieve innovation and success. For more information, visit www.bsquare.com.
How do APIs and IoT relate? The answer is not as simple as merely adding an API on top of a dumb device, but rather about understanding the architectural patterns for implementing an IoT fabric. There are typically two or three trends: Exposing the device to a management framework Exposing that management framework to a business centric logic • Exposing that business layer and data to end users. This last trend is the IoT stack, which involves a new shift in the separation of what stuff happens, where data lives and where the interface lies. For instance, it’s a mix of architectural style...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SOA Software, an API management leader, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. SOA Software is a leading provider of API Management and SOA Governance products that equip business to deliver APIs and SOA together to drive their company to meet its business strategy quickly and effectively. SOA Software’s technology helps businesses to accelerate their digital channels with APIs, drive partner adoption, monetize their assets, and achieve a...
From a software development perspective IoT is about programming "things," about connecting them with each other or integrating them with existing applications. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Yakov Fain, co-founder of Farata Systems and SuranceBay, will show you how small IoT-enabled devices from multiple manufacturers can be integrated into the workflow of an enterprise application. This is a practical demo of building a framework and components in HTML/Java/Mobile technologies to serve as a platform that can integrate new devices as they become available on the market.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Utimaco will exhibit at SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Utimaco is a leading manufacturer of hardware based security solutions that provide the root of trust to keep cryptographic keys safe, secure critical digital infrastructures and protect high value data assets. Only Utimaco delivers a general-purpose hardware security module (HSM) as a customizable platform to easily integrate into existing software solutions, embed business logic and build s...
Connected devices are changing the way we go about our everyday life, from wearables to driverless cars, to smart grids and entire industries revolutionizing business opportunities through smart objects, capable of two-way communication. But what happens when objects are given an IP-address, and we rely on that connection, sometimes with our lives? How do we secure those vast data infrastructures and safe-keep the privacy of sensitive information? This session will outline how each and every connected device can uphold a core root of trust via a unique cryptographic signature – a “bir...
Internet of @ThingsExpo Silicon Valley announced on Thursday its first 12 all-star speakers and sessions for its upcoming event, which will take place November 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in California. @ThingsExpo, the first and largest IoT event in the world, debuted at the Javits Center in New York City in June 10-12, 2014 with over 6,000 delegates attending the conference. Among the first 12 announced world class speakers, IBM will present two highly popular IoT sessions, which will take place November 4-6, 2014 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, Calif...
Almost everyone sees the potential of Internet of Things but how can businesses truly unlock that potential. The key will be in the ability to discover business insight in the midst of an ocean of Big Data generated from billions of embedded devices via Systems of Discover. Businesses will also need to ensure that they can sustain that insight by leveraging the cloud for global reach, scale and elasticity.
WebRTC defines no default signaling protocol, causing fragmentation between WebRTC silos. SIP and XMPP provide possibilities, but come with considerable complexity and are not designed for use in a web environment. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Matthew Hodgson, technical co-founder of the Matrix.org, will discuss how Matrix is a new non-profit Open Source Project that defines both a new HTTP-based standard for VoIP & IM signaling and provides reference implementations.

SUNNYVALE, Calif., Oct. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Spansion Inc. (NYSE: CODE), a global leader in embedded systems, today added 96 new products to the Spansion® FM4 Family of flexible microcontrollers (MCUs). Based on the ARM® Cortex®-M4F core, the new MCUs boast a 200 MHz operating frequency and support a diverse set of on-chip peripherals for enhanced human machine interfaces (HMIs) and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. The rich set of periphera...

SYS-CON Events announced today that Aria Systems, the recurring revenue expert, has been named "Bronze Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Aria Systems helps leading businesses connect their customers with the products and services they love. Industry leaders like Pitney Bowes, Experian, AAA NCNU, VMware, HootSuite and many others choose Aria to power their recurring revenue business and deliver exceptional experiences to their customers.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is going to require a new way of thinking and of developing software for speed, security and innovation. This requires IT leaders to balance business as usual while anticipating for the next market and technology trends. Cloud provides the right IT asset portfolio to help today’s IT leaders manage the old and prepare for the new. Today the cloud conversation is evolving from private and public to hybrid. This session will provide use cases and insights to reinforce the value of the network in helping organizations to maximize their company’s cloud experience.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is making everything it touches smarter – smart devices, smart cars and smart cities. And lucky us, we’re just beginning to reap the benefits as we work toward a networked society. However, this technology-driven innovation is impacting more than just individuals. The IoT has an environmental impact as well, which brings us to the theme of this month’s #IoTuesday Twitter chat. The ability to remove inefficiencies through connected objects is driving change throughout every sector, including waste management. BigBelly Solar, located just outside of Boston, is trans...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Matrix.org has been named “Silver Sponsor” of Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Matrix is an ambitious new open standard for open, distributed, real-time communication over IP. It defines a new approach for interoperable Instant Messaging and VoIP based on pragmatic HTTP APIs and WebRTC, and provides open source reference implementations to showcase and bootstrap the new standard. Our focus is on simplicity, security, and supporting the fullest feature set.