There's a lot about Warby Parker that stands out from the startup crowd. While most big-name startups lose billions, Warby Parker is profitable—an advantage as the eyeglass retailer continues to rapidly expand its online base, its physical stores (close to 100, with 30 more opening this year), and its tech prowess. (Check out Warby's Virtual Try-on and Prescription Rx app.)
Another thing that Warby Parker does differently—and extraordinarily well—is leadership by co-CEOs. Dave Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal, who co-founded Warby Parker nine years ago (with two other Wharton students, all still friends) make a structure that typically fails, co-leadership, thrive. On our latest episode of Making a Leader on SiriusXM, my co-host (and co-CEO of SellersEaston Media) Nina Easton and I asked Dave and Neil how they lead together. Here's what we learned is their winning co-CEO Rx:
1. They balance each other.
"Neil likes to make decisions really quickly and constantly move forward," says Dave, who claims to be the more cautious one in the partnership. "Sometimes, I want to ask questions and try to gather more information."
2. They divide and conquer—and sometimes sub for each other.
From the time they started Warby Parker in 2010," says Neil, "if one of us was traveling, the other could fill in very easily. If there was a speaking engagement, it didn't matter which one of us was going. We've been able to even transfer departments between the two of us very seamlessly."
3. They communicate constantly.
"We sit next to each other in an open office environment," Neil says. "Between meetings, we're quickly sharing insights back and forth. We're often talking on the phone late at night, recapping or sharing information. We try to ensure that we both have a lot of access to information. So when we're having a meeting to decide on something, we're both walking in informed. Even if one's more informed, the other knows enough to ask good questions to reach a good decision."
4. They critique one another in the moment.
"Something that is fundamentally critical in a cohesive structure or any close relationship is not letting things that bother you fester beneath the surface," Dave says. "So if there's any sort of friction, surface it as quickly as possible. That's true with feedback both positive and constructive. Deliver it in the moment." Click here to hear Dave and Neil discuss critique one another with positive intent.
5. They are equal but not too separate.
"We're equal partners and make sure that's not confusing to the team. So as we hire people, they only report into one of us," Dave explains. "So, we don't end up with a situation where if Mom says no, go ask Dad. Tech and finance report to me. Retail and marketing report to Neil. Functionally, we operate kind of like a Venn diagram. If there's a big tech decision or a finance decision, Neil is as involved as I am."
With a pragmatism that has marked Warby Parker from its auspicious start, Neil sums up their "co" success this way: "The whole thing about 'co' is about cooperation and collaboration. If you're not willing to constantly share and share in every aspect—share learning, share information, share spotlight, share wins and losses—then don't do it."
Listen to this full episode of Making a Leader on SiriusXM Insight Channel 121 Tuesday, April 30 at 6pm ET. The episode repeats on Insight Channel 121 on Tuesday, April 30 at 10 pm. ET, Wednesday, May 1 at 10 pm ET, Saturday, May 4 at 7 am and 6 pm ET, and Sunday, May 5 at 9 am and 4 pm ET. Pattie Sellers and Nina Easton, co-CEOs of SellersEaston Media and senior veterans of Fortune Magazine, host Making a Leader monthly on SiriusXM.