Warby Parker: Dave Gilboa & Neil Blumenthal In 2008, it was nearly impossible to buy a fashionable, affordable pair of glasses online. That simple frustration inspired the idea behind Warby Parker – and disrupted the eyewear industry. PLUS for our postscript "How You Built That," an update on Bellyak, a kayak where you lie on your belly and paddle with your hands. (Original broadcast date: December 26, 2016)
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Warby Parker: Dave Gilboa & Neil Blumenthal

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Warby Parker: Dave Gilboa & Neil Blumenthal

Warby Parker: Dave Gilboa & Neil Blumenthal

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

Hey. It's Guy here. And I've got a random bit of trivia for you. So a year after Jack Kerouac wrote "On The Road," he came out with a second book. It was called "The Dharma Bums." And two of its characters actually inspired the name of a real-life company. One character was Warby, and the other was Parker. And the company is - well, I think you can guess. And we're going to hear all about that and a lot more on this episode, which originally ran back in 2016.

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DAVE GILBOA: We hadn't told anyone that the site was live.

NEIL BLUMENTHAL: We didn't want to drive any traffic to it because we weren't sure it would work (laughter).

GILBOA: So I get an order. And then 10 minutes later we get another order and then another order and then another order. And we kind of go from this feeling of elatement (ph) to, oh, crap, we don't have this much inventory.

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RAZ: From NPR, it's HOW I BUILT THIS, a show about innovators, entrepreneurs, idealists and the stories behind the movements they built.

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RAZ: I'm Guy Raz. And on today's show, two of the founders of Warby Parker tell the story of how they birthed an idea, an idea that disrupted the entire eyeglass industry in America and grew into a billion-dollar company.

So back in 2008, Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa both arrived on the campus of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. They were there to start business school. And they met each other and two other students, Andy Hunt and Jeff Raider. And the four of them would go on to co-found Warby Parker. But in 2008, at that time, they didn't know that yet.

What they did know - and something that they all had in common - was they were really frustrated with how eyeglasses worked. And it stemmed from this thing that, well, most people have probably experienced at some point - they kept losing their glasses. And Dave, in fact, right before he started business school, had accidentally left his glasses on an airplane.

GILBOA: And they'd cost me $700. And I just couldn't justify as a full-time student paying that much for a new pair of glasses.

RAZ: Yeah.

GILBOA: The new iPhone 3G had come out. I waited in line at the Apple store, paid $200 for, and it did all these magical things. And meanwhile, the technology behind a pair of glasses is 800 years old. And it just didn't make sense.

RAZ: And - what? - you're like, OK, I've got this amazing iPhone, this magical portal to all of human knowledge. And it cost me 200 bucks, and yet these eyeglasses made out of plastic are, like, super expensive.

GILBOA: Yeah. So, you know, I was complaining to anyone that would listen about why glasses were so expensive. And then Andy kept losing his glasses. And he was buying everything online but couldn't figure out why he couldn't buy new glasses online and why no one was effectively selling glasses online.

RAZ: Right, because, I mean, this is like 2008. And, I mean, by that point, it wasn't like, you know - like, selling things online was this brand-new idea.

GILBOA: Yeah. And so we kind of started this conversation where we were kind of frustrated by different pieces of the eyewear industry. And we knew that Neil had spent a number of years working for an eyewear nonprofit and probably knew a lot more about this than we did. And so we were all in the computer lab one day, and we started asking Neil a bunch of questions. And no pun intended, but I think all our eyes were open that there was this massive opportunity.

RAZ: What do you remember about that meeting in the computer lab, Neil? What - like, what were they asking you?

BLUMENTHAL: It was sort of like, why are glasses so expensive? And when I was working at that nonprofit VisionSpring, I had actually designed eyewear, and I would go to the factories to produce these glasses. And so I knew a little bit about the optical industry. And it's dominated by a few very large companies, one of which is Luxottica. Luxottica has a market cap of about $30 billion. They own Oakley, Ray-Ban, Oliver Peoples, Persol and Arnette. They license almost every major fashion brand under the sun like Ralph Lauren and Chanel and Prada and Dolce & Gabbana. They also own a lot of the major retail chains like LensCrafters and Pearle Vision and Sunglass Hut.

RAZ: One company owns all those things?

BLUMENTHAL: It's crazy. Sears Optical, Target Optical.

RAZ: So when you go to, like, a glasses store and all those brands - Persol and Ray-Ban and all these - it's all owned by the same company?

BLUMENTHAL: All owned by the same company. And they own the second-largest vision insurance plan in the country, EyeMed. So you walk into a LensCrafters, you don't realize that most of their selection are frames that they've made. And the vision insurance that you're using is also the same company.

RAZ: So you knew this?

BLUMENTHAL: Right. Exactly. So we just thought like, oh, well, now it's a lot clearer why glasses (laughter) are so expensive. So we thought, oh, why not sell glasses? And the light bulbs went off in all of our minds. And then later that night - like, you know when you have a feeling or just an idea you're so excited about, you actually have trouble sleeping?

RAZ: It doesn't - you get - can't get it out of your head.

BLUMENTHAL: Exactly. It was that feeling. And I think it was, like, 2 in the morning - and shot off an email. And then at, like, 2:01, Dave responded. And at 2:02, Jeff responded. And then Andy responded. And then, like, we were all up, thinking about this.

RAZ: Wow.

BLUMENTHAL: So the next day, we decide, hey, after class, let's all get together. And we actually sat down at a bar right on 23rd and Walnut. And over a beer, we're discussing this more. And we said, hey, like, should we do this? Like, should we really go after this?

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BLUMENTHAL: And we all sort of said, yeah.

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RAZ: OK. So you guys are at business school. And you're thinking, OK, let's do this. So, I mean, at that point, what did you do? Like, did you, like, write a business plan? Did you start looking for money?

GILBOA: Yeah. So, you know, I think all of us - we talked about how excited we were about this idea. And we said, well, we're at business school to learn how to run a business. What better way than to actually build one ourselves? So we all decided to take the same class, an entrepreneurship class where the output of that class is a full business plan. And so we spent the next several weeks really researching every element of our idea, getting a bunch of great insights from professors, running a bunch of surveys, standing for hours in different optical shops. And then that culminated in, essentially, a 40-page business plan.

We entered the Wharton business plan competition. And we got eliminated in the semifinal round. I think it just kind of put a chip on our shoulder, where we said, OK, well, now we got something to prove. And at that point, we felt really passionate that this was going to work.

RAZ: And at that point, you're - I mean, you guys are still working off paper, right? I mean, you still did not have any money, I'm assuming. You didn't have a product. You didn't have a manufacturer. So why were you guys so confident? Like, how were you even able to test the idea?

GILBOA: You know, we talked to everyone that would give us five minutes just about the idea. Initially, we got a bunch of pushback that said, well, the idea of buying glasses online is kind of strange to me.

RAZ: Like, who was saying that to you?

GILBOA: Basically, all our friends and classmates.

RAZ: Yeah.

GILBOA: And a lot of people told us that creating a brand is hard enough. So is creating an e-commerce site. You should pick one of those. But for us, the magic was in creating a vertically-integrated brand. So we honed in on this issue - that we had to figure out a way people could try on glasses.

RAZ: Because people were saying, nobody's going to buy glasses online because you've got to touch them. You've got to feel them.

GILBOA: Exactly.

BLUMENTHAL: And that was a real moment of self-doubt. These journeys are always these moments where you feel like a complete idiot. And this was, like, one of those challenges that really made us question, should we continue to spend time on this versus the million other things that we could be doing at school?

RAZ: So how did you think you could get over this problem of people, you know, thinking they needed to touch them or try them on?

BLUMENTHAL: So we just thought a lot about, how do we remove every obstacle to purchasing? And the thought was, well, if we offer free shipping, that will encourage people to buy. If we offer free returns, that will also make it less risky for our customers. And that sort of led us to this other idea to do a home try-on program.

RAZ: So you guys decide, let's send these frames to people, let them try them on at home. And if they like them, they just send them back. And we'll put the lenses in, and that's it. Did you guys have - I mean, were there any other problems that you had anticipated as you were thinking through this idea?

GILBOA: Yeah. I think the other element was that we were trying to sell a product that normally cost several hundred dollars, and we were selling it for less than $100. And so there was inherent skepticism about the quality.

RAZ: Right.

GILBOA: And so we said, well, how do we just get as many of our glasses on people's faces as possible?

RAZ: Yeah.

GILBOA: And that's one kind of this light bulb went off for the home try-on program, which, really, no company was offering until that time. And we said, we just want to get our product on people's faces, and we think people will buy afterwards.

RAZ: So you guys wanted your glasses to - obviously to be much cheaper than the competition's, like, even less than a hundred bucks. How did you decide on the exact price?

BLUMENTHAL: Our initial thought was to sell glasses for $45. And we remember going into the head of the marketing department's office at Wharton. And we sit next to him, slide the deck on his desk and say, hey, we're going to transform the optical industry. We're going to charge $45 for a $500 pair of glasses. And he kind of just laughed at us and said, no way. Won't work. And we're like, wait. You didn't even, like, read our deck. Like, every graph goes up and to the right. And he said, I'm sorry, guys. First of all, price is the biggest indicator of quality, and it's just outside of the realm of believability that you can sell a product for a tenth of the price.

So we walked out of this meeting pretty deflated, but it led us to investigate pricing a little further. And it showed us that, yes, price is indicator of quality. There's a psychological barrier around a hundred dollars. So one thought was, should we charge $99? And we felt that was too discounty (ph) and cheap. And we were building an aspirational brand. So we actually settled on $95 using just our instinct, thinking that this doesn't sound cheap and that it looks deliberate and visually looks decent.

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RAZ: How did you guys come up with a name? Because it sounds like an aristocrat from, like, you know, Northumberland in England or something - like, Warby Parker.

GILBOA: You know, we often joke that the hardest thing that we did in those early days was settle on a name that all four of us liked. I think we still have our spreadsheet of over 2,000 names that we tested on our very patient friends.

BLUMENTHAL: Yeah. Two early Jack Kerouac characters that Dave actually discovered when he went to the New York Public Library exhibit on Kerouac. And two of the characters who were Warby Pepper and Zagg Parker.

RAZ: And that's how you got the name?

BLUMENTHAL: And now everybody that joins Warby Parker - on their first day on their desk, they get a copy of "Dharma Bums" along with a few other goodies.

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RAZ: That's Neil Blumenthal of Warby Parker. After the break, Neil and co-founder Dave Gilboa will talk about moving that well-thought-out business plan off of paper and into the real world. I'm Guy Raz, and you're listening to HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR.

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RAZ: Hey. Welcome back to HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. And today on the show, we've got Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa, two of the founders of Warby Parker. So when we left off, they had come up with this idea, and they had thought it through. And now the only thing left was to execute.

How much money did you guys raise initially to launch this company, and how did you do it?

GILBOA: So the nice thing about business school was that most people work for a few years before going back to school. And so, collectively, the four of us took our life savings from when we were working before school and invested into the business. We invested $120,000 between the four of us to get the business off the ground. And, you know, we worked for a year and a half without paying ourselves a salary. We didn't have an office. We did win a couple grants from Wharton. So that helped, as well, but we were very scrappy and very much bootstrapped for quite a while. And we ended up launching the business and then went another 15 months before we raised our first round of funding.

RAZ: And so then how did you guys actually find the manufacturer to make the glasses for you? I mean, did you - Neil, did you have contacts from when you worked at that nonprofit?

BLUMENTHAL: Yeah. We leveraged a lot of the relationships that I had. And we went over to visit the factories. We actually prepared a PowerPoint because, even though this was going to be a vendor that we were buying from - right? - we had to sell them on our vision and that we were indeed serious and would be able to afford to pay them. Of course, they took most of the payment up front (laughter). So they didn't assume much risk.

RAZ: OK. So you pay for these frames. The manufacturer makes them. And then what did you even do with all those glasses?

BLUMENTHAL: I do remember getting boxes and boxes of these frames shipped to our apartment. And, like, it was a doorman building. The doorman had no idea what to do. It literally took us a couple hours to load, do all of these runs in the elevator into our apartment, then stack all these boxes and then unpack them. And we ourselves inspected every single frame.

RAZ: Yeah.

BLUMENTHAL: And this was all the while we were working to figure out, how are we going to launch this thing? And we basically, to start the business, only invested in three things - our initial inventory, our website and some PR, knowing that you only have one shot to sort of launch a brand.

RAZ: So even before you launched the company, you had a publicist going out, trying to drum up publicity for it?

GILBOA: Yeah. So we had meetings with almost 50 PR firms. And part of it was us evaluating them. But at the same time, we had to sell ourselves to those PR firms. And...

RAZ: Yeah.

GILBOA: ...Right, there's nothing less sexy in the fashion world than four MBAs from Wharton.

BLUMENTHAL: (Laughter).

GILBOA: We knew we were going to launch sometime in the spring of 2010. And we really wanted to be in these premier magazines as a stamp of approval. So what we were targeting was GQ and Vogue. And so we had some production samples. We didn't have a website up, but we were really pitching these magazines as exclusive launch partners. And we were thrilled to hear that GQ and Vogue were going to run stories. We had no idea what those stories were going to look like, what the content was going to look like.

RAZ: But you guys were totally hustling this. I mean, why would these huge magazines, like, trust a bunch of business school students who didn't even have a company? Like, if you went to the website at that point, there was nothing up there. Like, it's crazy to think that they would have done that, right?

BLUMENTHAL: Yeah. I - you know, I think there were a few things that worked in our favor, right? One was identifying the right PR person to help represent us. But we often say that PR is, I think, 30 percent the messenger, 70 percent the message. And for us, the message - this was pretty novel at the time, right? There was nobody selling glasses online, so the idea of selling glasses online was novel. The $95 price point for $500 glasses was pretty novel. The home try-on program was novel. So, in fact, GQ actually called us the Netflix of eyewear in the article they put. So I think there were, like, these hooks that writers and editors could get excited about.

RAZ: So how much of an impact did that have on the launch of the company?

GILBOA: You know, we were just blown away by the impact that it had in terms of traffic and sales. So we got a call from our publicist the day before GQ was going to hit newsstands. And we still had a landing page up. If you went to warbyparker.com, it said coming soon. Please enter your email address.

RAZ: Wow.

GILBOA: He said, guys, what's going on here? GQ's hitting tomorrow, and our website still had a bunch of bugs in it. We were working with one developer. And we were on the phone with him, kind of frantically working out some of the most critical bugs in the site. And we finally at 4 a.m. said, OK, guys, this is stable enough. And we all need a couple hours of sleep before we have class tomorrow. Let's make the site live.

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GILBOA: And we were sitting in class the next day. We hadn't told anyone that the site was live. Our parents didn't know the site was live. Our best friends didn't know the site was live, but...

BLUMENTHAL: We didn't want to drive any traffic to it because we weren't sure it would work (laughter).

GILBOA: And I'd had my phone set up to be notified any time we got an order through the site. And so it was around 10:00 a.m. And so I get an order. And then 10 minutes later, we get another order and then another order and then another order. And we kind of go from this feeling of elatement to, oh, crap, we don't have this much inventory. And we hadn't contemplated building in any sold-out functionality or waitlist functionality on the site.

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RAZ: So you were literally selling out of glasses, but people were still ordering them because the website didn't know when you would run out of frames?

GILBOA: Yeah. We had no inventory tracking at all.

RAZ: Oh, my God (laughter).

GILBOA: Because we - you know, we were assuming one to two orders a day and kind of joked that, you know, if nothing else, my mom would buy a hundred pairs of glasses from us. But we - you know, we really had tempered expectations because we also recognized that what we were trying to do was build a brand. And that takes a really long time. So we called an emergency meeting after that first hour-and-a-half class. And we were debating, OK, what do we do here? Do we just keep taking orders and then figure out what to tell people later? Do we take down the website?

And while we're having this two-minute discussion, I'm looking at my phone, and we have 10 more orders. And I'm like, guys, we got to do something here. And so we place an emergency call to our developer. And miraculously, it was able to build in this waitlist functionality on the fly. And within a four-week period, we'd sold out of our best-selling styles. We had a waitlist of 20,000 customers.

RAZ: How many frames did you guys sell?

BLUMENTHAL: We had tens of thousands. It was - yeah.

RAZ: And you just did not - you had not ordered enough glasses from the manufacturer. Like, you literally - you couldn't - and they couldn't make them fast enough for you?

BLUMENTHAL: You know, I think we were ambitious in terms of the number of frames that we purchased but also not overly risk-tolerant And I think we've approached this business in a way that, yeah, let's not bankrupt ourselves on inventory.

GILBOA: But we were also constrained. I mean, we hadn't raised any money from investors. You know, it was our life savings that we'd poured in. So there was really a limited number of frames that we had the ability to purchase.

RAZ: So, I mean, it sounds like a good problem to have - that you have a waitlist of 20,000 people. You're, like - out of the, gate you're just killing it. Is that - am I right, or was it actually a bad problem?

GILBOA: Yeah. I think we learned a lot of important lessons in those early days, where we were terrified that - right? - we had all these early adopters that were excited to place an order from us, and we didn't have anything to sell them. And for a lot of those customers, it took us upwards of nine months to get through the waitlist. So we were terrified. You know, are these people going to leave with a bad taste in their mouth? You really only have one opportunity to launch a brand.

RAZ: Yeah. I mean, they were waiting. I mean, a lot of companies would not survive that.

GILBOA: Yeah. You know, I think it did have some positive effects that it created this aura, that, wow, this is in really high demand and...

BLUMENTHAL: And nothing creates cool like scarcity.

(LAUGHTER)

GILBOA: But I think we - you know, we also learned a lot of important lessons in terms of, you know, being empathetic to customers. All four of us founders, we'd reached out to everyone on that waitlist for people that were - had bad experiences or were really disappointed. We would give them free glasses. We gave people discounts.

BLUMENTHAL: You know, I think from the get-go, we wanted to create a business to have a positive impact on the world. And part of that is treating customers fairly. It's treating them fairly when it comes to price. It's treating them fairly when they call up and complain and to apologize and explain when we make mistakes. And that's something that we did from the very beginning.

GILBOA: You know, we were primarily - you know, we're still trying to figure out how to run this business. We were working out of our apartments as full-time students. Our customer service line was a Google Voice number that we set up. When someone would call, it would simultaneously ring all four founders' cell phones and whoever answered first...

RAZ: Whoever answered, that was - you're the customer service rep.

GILBOA: Right. And so we looked at our class schedules. And there were 12 hours per week when all four of us were in class at the same time. And we said, well, we should hire someone who can answer the phone when none of us are available. And so we hired this woman named Mara and said, you're going to be working 12 hours a week and trained her on what we're doing. And I think that first week, she ended up working a hundred hours. And now she's running our customer experience team, which is about 150 people. And so it was kind of off to the races from day one.

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RAZ: So did you guys - I mean, how quickly did you guys kind of get together and just say, holy hell, like, this is real? We're going to make it?

BLUMENTHAL: We were too busy staying up all night, responding to customer emails. And I remember one of the first couple of days, like, we actually decided to go to one of the classes that we were all in. And we were all typing feverishly on our computers 'cause we weren't really paying attention, and we were just responding to customer emails and helping to process orders. And everything in that classroom got really quiet. And then the four of us sort of looked up. And everybody was staring at us, including the professor. And here we were typing away, when, clearly, there were no notes to be had.

(LAUGHTER)

RAZ: It was obvious you were not listening.

BLUMENTHAL: Yeah. So we just stopped going to that class after that (laughter).

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GILBOA: I mean, I remember waking up every morning with a laptop on my chest because I had fallen asleep responding to customer emails. And there was just an overwhelming amount of work in those early days. And so we didn't have, you know, even a minute to breathe and take a step back and think about what was happening.

RAZ: So after this launch and after the company obviously, you know, started to gain traction, when did you guys decide, you know, like, we better start to raise some money?

BLUMENTHAL: We went and tried to get debt because we figured, like, why give up equity if we could just get some loans to help us fund this inventory that we needed? We went to 18 different banks. And only one would talk to us. And again, this was 2010, so soon after the financial crisis. And what all these loan officers said is, hey, we've never seen such a beautiful business plan. We've never seen a company that has such great early results, but we can't give you a loan because you don't have two years of tax returns.

RAZ: So what did you guys do?

GILBOA: We ended up getting a $200,000 SBA loan. We had to sign probably 400 documents, including one that said we weren't going to use the money to open a zoo.

(LAUGHTER)

GILBOA: And we really tried to think of other creative forms of financing the business. And so we were working with a third-party logistics company that managed some of our inventory. And the CEO loved our brand and our business and he was asking, what can he do to help drive growth in our business so that they can have more business?

RAZ: Yeah.

GILBOA: And we said, well, we're really constrained by our ability to purchase inventory at this point. He said, well, you guys seem like you're really good at PR. Our company needs some help with PR. What if you do some PR consulting for us, and we'll pay you a few hundred thousand dollars for that? And we said, yep, that sounds great (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: So OK. So you launch in 2010. Today, you have close to 800 employees. You've sold - I'm sure - millions of pairs of glasses. How much do you think your success was because of, you know, you guys are like super smart, and you're really hard workers? Or how much of it was luck?

BLUMENTHAL: We like to say that there's a lot of deliberate serendipity. For example, we were really lucky to be exposed to our marketing professor that helped us think through pricing. We had created goodwill by being friendly and doing well in his class - that he was willing to dedicate time to us. So I think there's a million examples of that or our friends calling in favors on our behalf. One of the things that we were just straight up lucky on is timing, right? Timing is everything. You know, coming off the financial crisis, the public was looking for ways to save money. And I think a brand like ours even resonated even more.

RAZ: So last year, I read that you guys raised, like, something like a hundred million dollars from investors. So what's the company valued at now?

BLUMENTHAL: Our last valuation was over a billion dollars.

RAZ: When you hear that, - a billion dollars - do you think that's crazy?

BLUMENTHAL: It's pretty crazy (laughter).

RAZ: Yeah.

BLUMENTHAL: You know, it's exciting but not nearly as exciting as, like, coming to work every day and being in an office that we've actually designed ourselves, seeing people in the subway wearing our glasses. Like, that will never get old.

RAZ: Can you recognize your glasses?

BLUMENTHAL: Oh, yeah. In fact, like, the first time that we saw the glasses in the wild, I remember seeing this person out of the corner of my eye. I was on the subway platform in Union Square. And I just started following the person. And, you know, being in New York, like, if someone's following you on the platform...

RAZ: Like, what are you doing? You freak.

BLUMENTHAL: So got a dirty look...

RAZ: Yeah.

BLUMENTHAL: ...But I had this big, like, ear-to-ear smile (laughter) on my face.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: That's Neil Blumenthal of Warby Parker. Neil and Dave Gilboa co-founded Warby Parker with two other friends from business school, Jeff Raider and Andy Hunt. The company actually partners with the nonprofit where Neil used to work, VisionSpring, to bring eyeglasses to people around the world who don't have access to them.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: And please do stick around because in just a moment, we're going to hear from you about the things you're building.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: Hey. Thanks so much for sticking around because it's time now for How You Built That. And we're going to update a story we ran about a year ago. This one started when Adam Masters was kayaking on a creek near Sunset, S.C.

ADAM MASTERS: And there was overhanging rhododendron that created a tunnel all the way down the center of the creek. I mean, it was maybe, like, two feet above the water. So you can only, like, lay down and go underneath these limbs.

RAZ: So that's what he did.

MASTERS: I laid on top of my kayak and went down the creek that way. And it was exhilarating. That's what gave me the very first idea.

RAZ: And his idea was to build something he eventually called a Bellyak. It's shaped like a kayak, but there's no hollow space in the hull, no place to sit. So instead, the surface is flat. You can lie on top and paddle with your hands.

MASTERS: What I liken it to is it's like flying. It's the feeling of flying on water. And, you know, having, you know, a high-performance, freestyle kayak hull, which is made to respond to every nuance of the current and feeling that through your entire body and having your hands right there in the current - that was such a thrilling feeling.

RAZ: For about a year and a half, Adam tinkered in an old warehouse with some urethane foam to get the Bellyak just right.

MASTERS: And I built 24 different models because I would build it, and I'd be like, wow, that was good, but I need to add a little more volume to the bow. Or what if it were a little narrower here and a little wider here? So it would have more questions, right? I'd start with one question - what would it be like if.

RAZ: And after playing around with it for a while, he finally perfected the Bellyak. Adam got a patent. And he was thrilled because he thought, kayakers - they are going to love this thing. But he was wrong.

MASTERS: People looked down their nose at it as something that they were too good for. And, really, it was because kayakers already know how to kayak. It's like trying to sell a different type of mountain bike to somebody who already mountain bikes. They already have their tool for that terrain.

RAZ: But over time, Adam realized there were other groups of people who did like the Bellyak - swimmers, triathletes, surfers and a group he was surprised to hear from a first - disabled veterans.

MASTERS: The Bellyak allowed somebody to get out of their wheelchair. And they could be mobile. They could have exercise. They could work on their balance and the coolest thing was is I've talked to some of the guys who've used it who have been, like, man, ever since my injury, I've never thought I would swim again. And this helps me get back in the water. And that's been the coolest thing to see.

RAZ: So since we first spoke with Adam last year, he was a guest on the TV show "Adventure Capitalists," which is kind of like "Shark Tank," except all the products are outdoorsy, like bikes and skis - you know, that kind of stuff. Anyway, one of the investors on the show offered to put up $100,000 for 20 percent of Adam's company. And he said no. He did not want to give away that much equity. So for now, he's growing his company slowly with no outside investment. And so far, he's sold about 1,500 Bellyaks.

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RAZ: And if you want to find out more about Adam's company, check out our Facebook page. Just search for HOW I BUILT THIS. And, of course, if you want to tell us your story, go to build.npr.org. We love hearing about the things you're building. And thanks for listening to the show this week. If you want to find out more or hear previous episodes, you can go to howibuiltthis.npr.org Please also do subscribe to our show at Apple Podcasts or however you get your podcasts. You can also write us at hibt@npr.org. You can tweet us at @HowIBuiltThis. Our show was produced this week by Casey Herman, with original music composed by Ramtin Arablouei. Thanks also to Neva Grant, Sanaz Meshkinpour and Jeff Rogers. Our intern is Nour Coudsi. I'm Guy Raz, and you've been listening to HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR.

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