Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
An Open Letter to Warby Parker (classicspecs.tumblr.com)
177 points by jamiest on March 8, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 73 comments

Why do startups do this? I've seen this a few times over the past few years, and every time I find it loathsome. Dirty laundry isn't something you just go around airing because someone sent you a C&D letter. It could have been a mistake, it could have been a rogue legal team member, it could have been anything. Does it matter to the general public? No. Should it? No. This is between two businesses, and should have stayed that way. It makes both parties look very unprofessional -- and that's about all it achieves as far as I can tell.

I've recently made a purchase from WP. During my buying process, I did not know that this other company even existed. Now I do.


I got the impression this open letter wasn't in response to the C&D (that was a while ago), but due to the fact that WP is apparently trying to sabotage Classic Specs's business prospects, e.g. by talking to CS's potential investors and saying unsavory things about CS. CS could run around trying to reassure their potential investors, or they could try and turn this into a marketing opportunity. Looks like they've gone with the latter.

They're "fighting up" as a marketing tactic. And it seems to be working pretty well so far. Countless of other startups have done the same thing like Paypal (fighting Ebay), Handspring (fighting Palm), Runkeeper (fighting Nike), etc.

I agree with you to a point (especially in this instance). On the other hand, I think there are certain circumstances where the laundry should be aired.

While it could be said that nothing is fair in love, war and business, I, personally, find unethical business practices to be quite loathsome. Sometimes a company that tries to win through intimidation and questionable legal threats deserves to have the world know what they're up to.

My grandmother once gave me a piece of advice that's stuck with me- "Integrity is doing the right thing, even if nobody is watching." Years later, I think about that and I wonder, how many people are running their businesses with a smile on their face and a knife behind their back.

So yeah, there are plenty of times where airing dirty laundry is a shallow thing to do, but there are also times where you can finally see the true colors of a company and what they really stand for.

If it's a mistake, or a rogue team member, the onus is on WP to correct the letter. Aside from verifying that the letter did indeed come from someone authorized to speak on behalf of WP, it's fair for the recipient to assume that the letter is "as authorized" by the sender.

If someone like WP or another company is going to send a letter like this, they should operate on the assumption that it will be made public (especially if it might later end up in litigation.) That would seem to just be good practice with any document you're issuing outside of your company, especially when you're basically initiating a disagreement.

Note that the C&D is from 16 months ago.

Yes, while this kind of stuff doesn't help either party much in the long run, you do have to admit to chuckling a little at the end when Andrew confessed to sending WP's co-founder's wife an empty box instead of her order.

edit: Yep, sorry, I was not clear, the kind of chuckling one does when a business freely publicizes an act of stupidity that could cost them customers.

If by chuckling you mean, "Ensuring I never do business with this company in the future." The open letter makes them come across as jerks. The P.S. makes them look like assholes.

I was with them until the P.S. -- that's just creepy.

Assholes and a vendor which doesn't care about the privacy of customers.

Until Classic Specs gets a prominently-featured set of advertisements with a faux-intellectual, salt-and-pepper haired douchebag, Warby Parker can't cry foul.

I know this is going to get down-voted, but seriously, it is 2012. Who buys a monocle? I want to buy one and wear it around as a joke.

"faux-intellectual, salt-and-pepper haired douchebag"

The name of course is also a little to invented.

Nothing wrong with that but it reminds me of the way people used to name investment firms trying to sound all distinguished and "we've been around for 100 years". There are actually examples of companies that have scammed people using a particular type of made up name.

Here is how they made up the name:


If you want to see this taken to ridiculous heights, check this out: http://www.bestmadeco.com/collections/frontpage/products/our...

When do you think this company was founded? Surely it was founded by an enterprising young frontiersman in the 1800's. 1850? 1900? Actually it was founded in 2009.

Wow. Thanks for pointing that out. They definitely get the "shovel the shit" award this week. They have axes that cost $250. I bought a fine axe at Lowes I think it was $30 maybe?

Watch this piece of work:


Marketing like this is a few steps removed from the "pet rock" of the 70's. Wrapping an everyday product in some kind of crafty acceptability. At least with the pet rock everyone knew it was a gimmick.

Edit: Think our links show the same video?

Yeah, I think this is a case where the founder is desperately trying to exploit demand for products whether it exists or not. I don't know how many axes he's sold, I hope he's sold a lot, but there is something about the copy and his messaging that suggests that he is falsely earnest about quality.

If nothing else, it is a blatant ripoff of Coudal's Field Notes.

I agree, I went to their main page, immediately had a hipster overload that made me close the page.

As for the open letter, thanks for sharing the dirty laundry, that's awesome! Just kidding, I don't really see the point of sharing that publicly except for gathering some pity buys.

> Who buys a monocle?

Someone with only one eye?

EDIT TO ADD: [. . .] and with facial disfigurement / prosthesis that makes wearing glasses uncomfortable or difficult.

But you have to admit that is not who they are targeting because they are using a fully-figured person to show the glass.

Yes, as the other poster pointed out, go look at the guy modeling the monocle and try not to punch your fist through a window. Go ahead, try.

So Warby Parker might be jerks and Classic Specs definitely are jerks?

If you ever find yourself writing an open letter like this, please stop. No one cares that your competitor badmouthed you. It doesn't need an open letter, it needs a normal letter, preferably from your lawyer.

In this case, it does need an open letter.

This was CS's way of laying out their case. Apparently there are others who think Classic Specs pulled shenanigans, and CS need to make their position clear to those people. Note that sending a letter to them directly doesn't expose the story to the rest of the world.

I disagree. Open letters let customers know what is going on behind the scenes. No way am I going to buy from a company with this kind of attitude/culture.

Which one, WP or CS?

Not going to buy from WP. The content of the attached document clearly shows how ignorant they are. I hate ignorance. It's the lazy way out.

To me, one paragraph in this post stands out far above the others in importance. I find it interesting that it is getting so few comments here. It is the "P.S.".

If one business sends a C&D to another, then they can't expect it to be kept private. You can argue about the wisdom of posting it, or what this says about the poster's attitude; however, Classic Specs is certainly within both legal and ethical standards in doing so.

But posting a customer's personal information without permission is unacceptable.

If anyone from Classic Specs is reading this: You need to remove that P.S., and you need to remove it now.

Umm; so if I read that PS right (and they haven't changed it since your note) they are saying that they caught the wife of one of the owners of WP ordering TryOn's... to get samples of the product. How is that personal information? :)

People try this all the time; my parents constantly receive fake booking emails from competitors in order to wheedle their pricing structure out of them.

If they mentioned her name, or address, or something actually personal I'd agree with you...

(of course; the whole post makes them look like dicks, but that's another matter)

I could not agree more. If this story was meant to engender sympathetic feelings that last paragraph ruined any chances. However I doubt most people got that far...

Agreed. First, very uncool to mention the wife of your competition ordered a pair. Second, dick-maneuver to not send glasses that a customer ordered and to include a snarky card instead.

Much classier would be to have sent the glasses with a note saying "I hope you enjoy these glasses blah blah blah," and never have mentioned it in a blog post that's knocking your customer's husband's company.

"But posting a customer's personal information without permission is unacceptable."

Let's be honest, now... in the age of social media, Google, Facebook, etc., that cat is long since out of the bag.

That may have been messed up, but I admit I got a laugh out of it.

I guess that when you raise capital, the best use for it is to spend it on lawyers. Shame on Warby Parker.

PS: I'm now going to give classicspecs.com a try

Bahaha... opinions aside on the legality bit, that "ps" (true or not) is pretty damn funny.

Why blur out the charity donation? It was $2100.

Because it lets you estimate revenue? $35,000/month

Or sales volume? 389/month

The most interesting part is in the NY Times link (reproduced below): so many companies are copying Warby Parker. Warby was first and at least FOUR other companies copy them, down to the marketing message, branding and products. There are several more copy-cats not mentioned in the article.

Lesson? Haul-ass once you find product-market fit.

the NY Times link within the post: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/19/fashion/eyeglasses-on-spec...

I read it, and it seems purposely vague enough so that you don't really know who was in the wrong. Is that the whole point of this, just to muddle an issue and then hope it disappears?

Hipster fight!

I have to wonder if there's much of a mid-to-long term market for these "NHS-style"* specs. Sure they're fashionable now but in a couple of years it'll be all brushed aluminium. Or green.

I've been buying that style of glasses for years from goggles4u for £20 a pop. Nice and cheap, look terrible but can take some punishment.

[*] NHS = National Health Service; it's a British expression based on the fact that the only glasses covered by the NHS are the cheap, thick and most of the time unfashionable frames/lenses.

An open letter to warby parker & classicspecs:

there are a lot of us out there who don't wear "hipster"ish eyeglasses that pretty much all look the same. please offer more variety.


lol! instant vote up.

but yeah, we need more than just bk-style :)

Before today: I've never heard of either of these sites.

After today: I'll never remember either of these sites.

and yes... the final dig was pretty funny.

I'm not sure Warby Parker is justified in picking on them, but even without knowing that they're having a tiff I would have said that Classic Specs seems like a Warby Parker knockoff.

This whole thing makes me so glad I got LASIK a few years ago.


Ray Tsai (蔡瑞芳), one of Taiwan's pioneers in laser eye surgery, said yesterday that he will no longer perform the procedure because it violates his medical ethics. ... He has observed situations in which visual acuity worsens suddenly and rapidly long after the LASIK procedure itself.

>He has observed situations

There are situations in which medical procedures fail, sometimes immediately, sometimes many years after the fact. That does not indicate a problem with the procedure.

Lasik's not all sunshine. I for example suffer from a fairly common and known complication, which is loss of contrast. That means that apart from being severely night-blind my vision becomes unpredictably blurry whenever lightning conditions change. I'm still counted as a success story but in retrospect I would trade my old impaired but stable vision for my improved but unstable vision.

Wearing contacts would have been impossible for me over the past decade, and I always had problems with glasses (specifically, waking up without good vision was a pain, and then there were various situations where I would want to see but not be wearing glasses...).

My assumption was that if there were long-term negative side effects, corneal replacement (or complete eye replacement) would become feasible within a decade or two. Corneal transplants are already done (using cadavers), and I don't think synthetic corneas are more than a few billion in research funding away with current tech.

Does anyone know where the sizing charts are that are mentioned in the letter? Did classic specs change images?

And...this is why I refused to complete purchase of my WP at home try on and went straight to CS.

jameiest are you a CS employee? I am curious if you guys made any changes to your website after receiving the letter...

This is raw gold & diamond.

What's fascinating to me is comparing the impression you get from the lawyers letter (wow, they really ripped off the warby parker website!) with the response (we're using off the shelf privacy policy, and industry terms.)

It shows just how deceptive selective phrasing can be. "Substantially identical" implies that the text was a copy of copyrighted material, but the selectivity is the bias- they never show that the text was copyrighted or copyrightable, for instance.

You see this a lot when people want to spin something and they are very careful about what they say to give a false impression. I can think of lots of examples, but probably the best is every evenings nightly news. Whatever the story they are covering, political or not, they are putting spin on it. Even if the spin is just to heighten ratings or make the station itself look prestigious, its always there. Yet people live in a perception of reality where they think this is objective information, many times.

Imagine if that lawyers letter had been a blog post about how some YC startups website was ripped off? (much like the complaint 37 signals had about being ripped off...) that article would be the top post, and the rebuttals would be spread out thru the comments, and missed by most people.

From what I can see it says "substantially similar" not "substantially identical."[1] I am not a lawyer but it is my understanding that the relevant issue is "substantially similar."[2]

What do you mean "they never show that the text was copyrighted"? Do you know what is required to copyright content? There is no office where you file a copyright application. Using a (c) and/or other types of copyright notices is optional in a post-Berne American court.

[1] Is there a way to download the pdf of an embedded scribd asset? Reading the document is painful...

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Substantial_similarity

>There is no office where you file a copyright application. Using a (c) and/or other types of copyright notices is optional in a post-Berne American court.

Copyright is given de facto, but there is in fact an office where you file for a registered copyright.

  In general, copyright registration is a legal formality intended to make a public record of the basic facts of a particular copy­right. However, registration is not a condition of copyright protection. Even though registration is not a requirement for protection, the copyright law provides several inducements or advantages to encourage copyright owners to make regis­tration...[1]
The office in question is the US Copyright office. Registering gives you benefits such as damages and attorney's fees in the event of a court action.

[1] http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf

"registration is not a condition of copyright protection"

"Copyright is given de facto, but" ...

If you're going to imply someone isn't reading what they wrote, the least you can do is read what they wrote.

True. I apologize for coming off like a jerk. I should have provided more context, i was trying to highlight that contrary to what the OP wrote that is was irrelevant "they never show that the text was copyrighted."

I didn't disagree with the, "they never show that the text was copyrighted." But I did think it reasonable to point out that there is--in fact--a place to register your works for a registered copyright. You don't have to, but it does give you nice benefits.

I think it might just be bad wording. One of the requirements of notification for copyright infringement is to identify the specific instances of infringement.

Actually, it's not de facto, it's the opposite: de jure.

Agreed, poor choice of words on my part. I was using it colloquially as concerning legal matters, which was inaccurate.

It was more a reply to mokus, who chided you for being wrong even though you were technically (albeit unknowingly) correct. ;)

> Do you know what is required to copyright content

That content can't be a mere statement of fact, for one.

It also needs to be your creative work. I can't cut-n-paste a few paragraphs from Wikipedia (or some public domain text) onto my site, then claim you're infringing my copyright if your site has the same, or "substantially similar" words. (Though I _can_ get my lawyer to write you a carefully worded accusation of having something "substantially similar" without quite going over the line into fraudulently claiming copyright on the words in question).

I'm not really sure what this means? The lawyer's letter was a list of allegations. Maybe you are not used to the writing style of legal documents? This is how they are written...

Let me clarify then:

1) The original comment you replied to noted that the lawyers making the allegations did not show that the text was copyrightable. This is a reference to the article pointing out that some of the text in question consists of mere statements of fact.

2) You replied with a sarcastic rhetorical question about whether the commentor knew what was required to be protected by copyright.

3) I replied to you that the content can't be mere statement of fact. This is the relevant characteristic in determining whether that content could be protected by copyright, not whether it was registered with the copyright office.

4) You got confused and started talking about the style of legal letters.

Well, since the Warby Parker peeps will probably get around to reading this, I'd just like to mention that I love my SALT Topher's and will probably spend another $400 on another pair of SALT's for my spring wardrobe this year as well.

How's the build quality? I love the SALT glasses I've seen online but the one place in NYC that stocks them don't have many styles in stock. I'm leaning toward the Dumonts

I really like mine; they're solid. You can order them and have them sent to a shop without any obligation to buy.

Me too, I got that as well, and just love it. This article makes me want to buy more WP glasses! So don't fret guys, we hackers aren't that easily confused.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact