When I tell people I co-founded a contact lens startup, most people ask “Why?” Some people automatically ask for free lenses (I’ll talk about this more another time)!
When I tell people what we’re trying to do, their reaction is often muted.
I can see their mind churning. Why contact lenses? Why eye care? Why the hell you? I don’t blame them. On the surface of it, it’s me & my friend Kristian trying to change an industry which has been controlled by a monopoly for the best part of 40 years. Not only that, we’re not doctors or optical experts. In fact we both trained lawyers.
Try telling 22 year old Charlie, “Hey C, you’re not going to be lawyer when you’re 30, you’re going to be selling your own contact lenses.” Yea, good one!
Anyway, back to people’s reactions. I don’t blame people who doubt us. Most people dismiss disruption because they’re so accustomed to the norm. What they don’t know is there is a problem with the contact lens industry. Let me tell you our story and maybe you will understand why Kristian and I have decided to battle against the big boys!
YOU’VE GOT A PROBLEM
I started wearing glasses intermittently from the age of 16. At 21, I was wearing glasses from the moment I got up, to the moment I went to bed. They became part of my identity and I suspect everyone who knew me, had never seen me without them on. I didn’t choose bad eye sight, it chose me.
Therein lies the first problem with the eye care industry. The stigma is savage. The simple narrative in the industry is that you wear lenses/glasses because you have bad eyesight. Look at the lexicon used across the board, “Corrective”, “prescription” etc. At no stage in the process does anyone talk about the positive benefits. “Hey Charlie, wear these lenses and you can play football with your friends”, “Try our lenses, they’ll allow you to see your kids in their school play.”
I hate that people think because you wear glasses or lenses that you’re blind or there is something wrong with you. The old “four eyes” comment from the bully at school should just be obliterated from culture — no kid should get abused because they want to actually SEE! We now get messages from people who are embarrassed about having a high prescription. That should never be the case.
IT’S LIKE A MAFIA
Look the stigma isn’t great BUT the whole lens industry is in the dark ages. The lens industry is controlled by 4 big pharma companies. It’s basically like the mafia. They have the monopoly on the lens market. That’s why contact lenses are so bloody expensive!
Let me break it down for you. Take the lenses you’ve got in your eyes now for example. They were manufactured by one of these big companies. Before they sold it on, they put at least an 80% markup on the lenses. They then sell it to a distributor. The distributor has a family to feed too, so they put their own markup on the lenses. They then sell the lenses to a retailer! Yep, you guessed it, the retailer needs a chunk of the pie too, so they whack a markup on the lenses too. They’re then sold to you. Can you now see why lenses are so expensive? Unfortunately, you need the lenses to see, so you have little choice but to buy them for what you think is a competitive price. Roughly, the whole industry is selling the same lenses for the same price (give or take retailers offering discounts which damage their profitability). Thus the mafia has you brain washed that contact lenses need to be as expensive as they are.
I started buying lenses before my wedding in 2018 and I was staggered at the price of them. That’s when we started digging deeper into the industry. Intrigue got the better of us and so we relentless started researching lens manufacturers to try and see what the actual score was.
Simply put, daily contact lenses do NOT need to be so expensive!
Concurrently, both Kristian and I became fascinated by the rise of direct to consumer (DTC) companies in the US and the UK. The whole notion of these digitally native, vertical companies was essentially to build a brand, own the customer and cut out the middleman. Brands like Away were making suitcases sexy. Ro was making male healthcare something to actually talk about. Casper was making mattresses that came in a bloody box.
There it was. Could we find a great product, cut out the middleman and sell our lenses directly to the customer from the factory. Avoiding the mark up sword fight and providing great eye care at an affordable price.
Granted, it’s not as simple as that. We’re doing our best to create a brand all the while but doing things differently. Contact lenses just don’t need to be as expensive.
YOU MAKE YOUR OWN LENSES
Not quite. We’ve actually partnered with an amazing manufacturer in Taiwan who produce 100’s of millions of lenses each month, Pegavision Corporation. I wouldn’t expect anyone to buy lenses if they were actually made by two lawyers. So we had to partner with an expert.
Pegavision blew us away, their state of the art facility passed through their FDA inspection with zero comments (unheard of). They sell their lenses pretty much everywhere apart from the Middle East. Every single lens goes through 8 quality control checks (all by computer — no human hand touches the lens) before you get the product in your hand.
Rest assured, we’re not making our lenses in our spare bedroom. We’re just distributing them differently. Some of the early negative comments about our lenses were from people who thought our price was too low, “RIP EYES”, “Good luck with your eye infection after you wear them.” I go back to my first point, the mafia have dictated that contact lenses should be expensive. People are used to paying an arm & a leg for them, thus they expect when lenses aren’t as expensive as the tried & tested brands, they’re probably bad for you.
Don’t get me wrong, there are 100% shit products on the market, name me an industry that doesn’t. Most likely they’ll be cheap and will damage your eyes. We will continually battle people’s perceptions and that’s what excites me most about building Hopi.
Our lenses have the exact same specs as a six letter brand with “Moist” in the name. Same material, same base curve & diameter. The same moisture content too. Our reviews from our amazing customers on our website & facebook is increasing on the daily. We wholeheartedly believe in our product & service. We wouldn’t settle for anything less than the best. We just want to bring you best at an affordable price, without the hassle.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE?
Hopi will strive to provide premium daily contact lenses, at an affordable price point. We’re trying to do away with the medicinal, ailment narrative and actually celebrate what wearing contact lenses allows you to do! No more white boxes, we’re all about bright colours and setting you on the way to do amazing things. The world is a beautiful place, we want you to go and see it!
We don’t expect everyone in to want to try our lenses. Just like Dollar Shave Club didn’t expect to take away all of Gillette’s customers. We want to provide a choice to consumers. We don things differently but we do not compromise on quality. We’d love you to give our lenses a try, and please, please (good or bad) let us know what you think.
If you want to stick to what you know, that’s absolutely fine, I don’t blame you. Society has created a culture that restricts people to doing only what they know. If you’re fed up off overpaying for lenses or you’re always running out of them, then give us a try. When we say what’s the worse thing that can happen, I’m positive some people will say, “you’ll get an eye infection” etc. What I’d say is this, try our lenses, if you don’t like them, then go straight back to your old lenses.
We don’t expect to transform the industry overnight, but believe me, we’re both committed to this crusade.
WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT HOPI
Ok — if you’ve read this far, you’re either my mum or she’s paid you to read it all. If you’re genuinely interested in learning more about Hopi check us out