Lensabl Wants To Make Your Prescription Lenses, Without The Hassles
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Do you need new prescription lenses, either for that fashionable new sunglass frame you just bought, or perhaps to update the glasses you already have? Los Angeles-based Lensabl (www.lensabl.com) recently launched a new service to help people with just the prescription lenses you need. Andy Bilinsky, Co-founder and CEO, tells us why the company is targeting prescription lenses–but not frames–with the startup, and why the company thinks prescription lenses are ripe for innovation.
Describe what Lensabl is all about?
Andy Bilinsky: Lensabl is the most convenient and affordable way to get new lenses for any frames you have. My co-founder and I come from the eyewear space. We had an online eyewear brand, kind of like Warby Parker, before this business. Once we introduced prescription lenses as a low cost add-on to the frames we were selling, we found that people really like that. They found it was a whole lot more affordable to get lenses from us than a traditional optometrist or something like a Lenscrafter Optical store. There are only so many places you can get prescription lenses, and it’s really an inconvenience to get to those places for people who work or go to school. Plus, those lenses are normally a whole lot more expensive than they have to be. What we’ve done is we’ve partnered with an optical lab, and we have all the capabilities you would expect from a prescription lens provider, including different colors, mirrored lenses, tints, polarization, coatings, and all of those other features, and we can even offer things you might not see at an optometrist or at Lenscrafters. We’ve put that all into a simple, easy to use tool online, which allows customers to come to our site, select the lenses they want, input a prescription, and get those directly sent to their door for 50-70 percent less than they are used to paying. There has not been a lot of industry innovation here, and prices area always super high. We’re looking to offer a much more convenient, online process, versus an offline process, in a much more affordable way.
Why just lenses, and not frames—don’t you need both?
Andy Bilinsky: That’s a great question. The first piece, is that the frames business and lens business are actually completely different businesses. For a frame seller like Warby, prescriptions are just an added feature on top of the frame purchase. We found that, in our own frame business, we could have the coolest frames in the world, at the best prices, but we ended up competing against Rayban or Oliver Peoples or Dior, which is very difficult. However, while there are lots and lots of competitors in the frames space, in the area of lenses, there are only a few places you can get them. There are traditionally two ways to get a lens, either through an optometrist, or something like a Lenscrafters store. And, before Warby Parker, there was not way to get online and find a product like that with a frame. It’s really a space we saw that there was more opportunities in, because, frankly, prescription lenses inside the total vision market is the largest category. It’s significantly larger than sunglasses. It’s a bigger opportunity, and it’s a way to get into the business without building an inventory business. We don’t own any lenses. Instead, the optical labs we have partnered with owns hundreds and thousands of lenses, and we do not have to stock inventory. We saw a need for a new brand, a new competitor to the traditional way of getting lenses. We didn’t want to compete to make a cooler looking frame than Rayban. That’s a much larger barrier to success. We love Rayban, Oliver Peoples, and Warby Parker, and we see our value proposition as being complimentary to them without competing directly.
How do you handle the complexity of matching lenses to frames?
Andy Bilinsky: We service a frame in two different parts of their lifecycle. One is obviously a brand new frame, where someone is need to get lenses when they buy a new frame. What Lensabl does, on top of that, is it allows you to revive old friends, which you had bought over the years, and where your prescription has changed. The buying behavior in the past has been to buy a new pair of frames because an optometrist tells you to. But, for me, personally, there’s actually only one style of frame that fits my face really well. In the past, when I have cracked a lenses or whatever, I’d buyed a new frame. But, Lensabl offers a much lower cost to revitalize those lenses. How we handle the complexity of lenses, is our partners ia one of the largest optical labs on the west coast. They actually service 5,000 optometrists and brands. They are probably one of the top optical labs in the United States, and the machinery they have is second to none. They are a good partner, as they have had tons of years of experience fitting new lenses and fitting them into frames. There are some frames, but very few and far between, which will come in and we will be unable to service, either because they are super fragile, old, vintage, or low quality. But there generally is always a way to make a lens for any size frame. To date, we haven’t seen a frame we can’t make a lens for. As far as complexity of a lens fit, we can handle any style or size or shape of frame.
What’s the biggest challenge you have had to overcome as a startup?
Andy Bilinsky: Primarily, it’s been finding a customer at the exact time they need a new, prescription lens. It’s a lot less about direct response. Frames can be fashion items, but when you’re talking about prescriptions, we need to find that customer when they are ready for a new pair of lenses. That’s usually just once a year, and maybe even just once every 15-18 months. While there are 200 million individuals in the U.S. Alone who need corrective lenses, a humongous market, hitting that customer at the exact time they need a new prescription has been a little challenging, to date. With that said, what we’ve found, anecdotally, is that our solution is what they have been looking for, and hoping for, for such a long time. They want to buy a new frame for fashion reasons, but they can’t put them into use until they’ve gone to the optometrists, and it takes two weeks and $300 dollars. That’s a reason they don’t buy new frames in the first place. The entire process of getting a new lens is archaic. Although it’s not been the easiest to find those customers at the exact second they need a new lens, when we do find them, they love our service. I think we will be positively challenged to form a relationship with potential customers over an extended period of time. There are some interesting way sto keep them in the Lensabl universe, through educational material, interaction, articles, and giving them an understanding of the lenses they might need, so that when it is time from them to get a new lens they’ll use us as a provider, versus and optometrist or an optical store.
Finally, how are you funding your startup?
Andy Bilinsky: Back in May, we raised a friends and family round, a very early seed round, and also from two local angels. We raised $300,000, pre-launch. Now that we’ve launched and seen some really early traction, we are looking for our next round of funding, and will be rolling out interesting products over the next six to eight weeks. Lensabl is creating a destination for individuals who need new lenses, and need a more convenient and affordable way to get them. On top of that, we are enabling prescription lenses with frame purchases in as many places as we can, whether that’s an online optical store, or retail stores who have been offering frames but not prescription lenses. We are giving online retailers who haven’t been able to fill prescriptions the ability to offer what Warby Parker does. Lensabl is working on partnerships to get our lenses anywhere you’d be able to get frames, aswell.