Let’s Talk

Thank you, you're submission has been received.

There was a problem submitting your request.

What are your primary business content and marketing goals?

Tell us more

Let’s Collaborate

Seeing Clearly: How KITS Co-founder Roger Hardy has found repeated success in the DTC Eyewear Space through a customer-first approach

Play episode
Subscribe to get Up Next in Commerce episodes and our weekly newsletter straight to your inbox.

 

Imagine this… it’s 1999, and you and your sibling decide to start an ecommerce company with just a phone line, a 14k modem, a ping pong table, and a credit card. You build a website, find a product that has unnecessary margins, and decide to just.. do it better yourself. Feeling bullish on this ending? Well we are. Because that’s exactly what Roger Hardy did when building his first company called Coastal Contacts, which grew to be the world’s largest omni channel eyewear retailer. The success couldn’t be ignored, and soon after, Coastal was acquired. But one part of that sibling duo, Roger Hardy, couldn’t stay away from the eyewear game forever. He re-entered the space in 2019 with his new company, Kits.com, and by the end of 2021 the business will have already eclipsed $100 million in revenue.

On this episode of Up Next in Commerce, Roger and I got to chat about some of his secrets to success in the D2C world of eyewear. We dove into the importance of vertical integration, what the link is between a company’s NPS and its valuation, and how to think about hiring if you want to go from 1 to 25 to 100 to 300 and beyond. Enjoy this episode!   

Main Takeaways:

  • Who’s In Control?: Vertical integration has been a hallmark of many successful DTC eCommerce companies. When you control all the levers of production, you not only can cut costs and offer customers prices they will love, you also no longer have to worry about delays or logistics problems that otherwise would be out of your control and set you back for untold periods of time.
  • Blend It Together: While you might have an idea of what you want to sell, if you focus only on offering your own premium products, you leave out an entire customer base that might be looking for something a bit different. By offering all kinds of products, you open the door to other customers who might not have found you otherwise. Then, once they are in the funnel, you can blow them away with a quality experience so they keep coming back for more, which is when you can present them with your product options.
  • Beyond Basic: As you begin to scale, there comes a point when you have to think bigger than just hiring to fill roles. Even if the person is smart and a cultural fit, the aim needs to shift to attracting and hiring people who are the best in the world in every department. 

For an in-depth look at this episode, check out the full transcript below. Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

Key Quotes:

 

“We always say we built the website for less than $5,000 and then bought some contact lenses and started selling it. And the first day we were off and running and I think we had 18, something like 16 or 18 sales on the first day. The first month, 70,000. The first year, we did two and a half million. In year two it was 10 million.”

“One of the lessons was to vertically integrate and I think that’s been one of the most creative lessons of business over the last 20 years. Whatever you’re doing, make sure you control the back end, you control the rails and production.”

“The company with the best NPS in the category usually has the highest valuation of the category. Coastal was an example of that. We had the highest NPS at the time I sold, higher than any of the traditional retailers.”

“We just super focused on customer experience. And that really drove our business. Market costs came down every week and sales went up because it was customers telling the story. And that’s really, if you’re a merchant, if you’re a retailer, I mean, that’s that Nirvana moment where customers are telling a story for you. You’re not beholden to Facebook or Google anymore.”

“If some people want to wear a Tom Ford, some people want to wear a Gucci or Fendi, Calvin Klein or Dior, we’ve got that in our collection and we also have KITS super high quality, the best titaniums, the best acetates from the planet. Sustainable products coming out of Patagonia made from recycled fishing nets. And so we’re trying to be thoughtful about the collection, trying to serve customers really what they want, not just what we would want to offer.”

“We do want to give customers what they want. And so if they come in for a branded frame and we tend to think that’s the gateway into KITS anyway. They might be looking for a Tom Ford. They might not know KITS. So they come in, they come and see a Tom Ford frame. And they see some of that collection. And then we might also offer them a KITS frame somewhere in that experience.” 

“We’re happy for people to try because what we’ve seen is if they try, they’re going to be super excited about the experience. And if somebody decides they don’t like them, they want to return them, fantastic. Let us find you a pair that gets you excited, that fits, that looks great.”

“The CEO’s job is really to get everyone aligned and engaged in the mission and to make clear what is the mission. What are we trying to do? We’re trying to change this category. We’re trying to make it better for customers and make it really clear that that’s what we’re trying to do. And then get them engaged in that. Why is that important? Well, we want to do good in the world. We want to change the world. We want to have some meaning and purpose to the things we’re doing. And so to an extent, we can get everybody aligned and engaged and have a core set of values.I think that’s what helps build culture, and culture really just determines the level of success you’re going to have.” 

“It’s all about systems and process. It’s all about going from generalist to people who are the best in the world in every position. That’s really what it takes to grow a business. And unfortunately as a scale, not every generalist becomes the best in the world at one of the things we’re working on. So that’s probably one of the tricky parts to manage as you grow.”

“All the way along, you’re getting more and more specialized. You’ve got to get higher skill people. And you have to have great skill people in each position if you want to make the jump from 25 million to 100 million and go from 100 to 300. You have to break through those barriers by having great people and that allows you to do your job. Play your position is the way we say it — you don’t want to have to play someone else’s position. As soon as you’re helping someone in marketing email or somebody in procurement or someone in logistics, then you’re not… Then suddenly the CEO or CFO aren’t doing their job either.” 

“Our philosophy is to try to hire people that we think will scale, try to hire the smartest people, the brightest people that we hope will scale.” 

Mentions:

A Road Taken 


Up Next in Commerce is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Respond quickly to changing customer needs with flexible Ecommerce connected to marketing, sales, and service. Deliver intelligent commerce experiences your customers can trust, across every channel. Together, we’re ready for what’s next in commerce. Learn more at salesforce.com/commerce

 

Transcript:

Stephanie:

Hello, and welcome back to Up Next in Commerce. I’m your host, Stephanie Postles, CEO at mission.org. Today on the show we have Roger Hardy who currently serves as a co-founder and CEO of KITS eyewear. Roger, welcome to the show.

Roger:

Hi Stephanie. Great to be here. How are you?

Stephanie:

Very good. It’s a good day to be talking all things commerce with the perfect person who has the perfect background. It’s going to be a good episode. I can just feel it.

Roger:

Okay, cool. Yeah.

Stephanie:

So I want to start way back. I was listening to another podcast episode you did and you mentioned that you used to sell used newspapers door to door as a six year old. And I was like we need to start there. I want to kind of hear where did that entrepreneurial spirit come from? Tell me more about that.

Roger:

That’s so funny you say that. Yeah, I was just back east visiting with my parents and of course my mom brings up that story every chance you get. So she had to share it again at the family barbecue on the weekend, but for some reason, some Saturday morning, I got in my mind that I would go door to door with the, I think it was the Time Magazines actually. And it was at the time going door to door with our family Time Magazines at 6:30 in the morning, some Saturday morning. And somebody from down the street fortunately called my parents, the phone rings they’re in bed and they’re like your son is on the doorstep here trying to sell us the Time Magazine. So I don’t know if people say it’s learned or it’s in you when you start. I guess for me, it was definitely early on, I had a sense that I was a merchant or a retailer of some kind. So yeah. Funny you heard that story. Yeah.

Stephanie:

Oh, I love that. I mean, I still think there’s a market for that. So, I mean, I’m just thinking how many people go through newspapers and magazines and like, okay, someone else could use that. I would not mind if it was used before. So the idea was there. We just need to bring it back, I think.

Roger:

Yeah, no kidding. These days it would be super popular. Yeah. Yeah. Because magazines are probably worth a lot more today if I got in the thrift store today, right?

Stephanie:

Yeah. You should have held on to them just a little bit longer. Maybe your mom’s got them. So then to fast forward a bit farther, I want to go into you co-founding Coastal with your sister in 2000, Before ecommerce was even a thing, I want to hear about what was Coastal and how you went about creating that.

Roger:

Yeah, sure. So like you said my sister and I started Coastal back in 2000. It really came from I had a background working in medical products for the contact lenses company in the marketing department and just kind of the disconnect between what it costs us to make a box of contact lenses and then what we sold them to eye care practitioners and the markup was I think like 700% at the time. So there really was no, yeah, $12 box of contacts would sell for 70, 80, $90. So I mean, that was probably the real insight was, gosh, there’s really a lot of margin on this product and maybe somebody could take this direct. And at the time, obviously everybody was taking everything online from barbecues to pet food and everything in between.

Roger:

And some of those things, it’s sustainable. And so we built a website at the time, very cost-effectively. My sister’s now husband, then boyfriend was a computer engineer. So we would always say we built the website for less than $5,000. And then bought some contact lenses started selling it. And the first day we were off and running and I think we had 18, something like 16 or 18 sales first day. The first month, 70,000. The first year we did two and a half million. So in year two it was 10 million. So it was an exciting kind of time and yeah, it turned out to be a good story. So we grew into a first to TSX listed company, then we listed on the NASDAQ. And then finally kind of completing the journey, we got an unsolicited bid from Essilor Luxottica who’s really kind of the big person in the category and sold the company in 2014. So that’s kind of the history. Yeah. So it was kind of a good run. And then somehow found myself back in optical a couple of times over the last five years. And it’s been, again, it’s just great category, lots of spots still to do here.

Stephanie:

Yeah. So tell me a bit, what was it like being traded on NASDAQ and having a company that’s accumulating over a billion in cumulative sales? What were some of the lessons there that you’re taking into your current company KITS?

Roger:

Yeah. Well, great question. I guess the biggest lesson of that company was just the culture. there was a culture of growth in that business and we were always looking for how can we best serve customers and thinking about, well, that will learn to our growth. So that’s something we’ve taken into KITS that we kind of three primary pillars at KITS. One is to be vertically integrated so that we can control the whole experience. So we built a state-of-the-art lab here in Vancouver where it’s hot, super automated, super high tech. We call it the Gigafactory, obviously modeled after someone we all know and learn from the best, right? So we’re building up this Gigafactory that can make eyeglasses for really as low as somewhere around a dollar of labor per a pair of eye glasses to really be super efficient and super high quality.

Roger:

So that’s one of the lessons was to vertically integrate and I think that’s been one of the most creative lessons of business over the last 20 years is if you’re… Whatever you’re doing, make sure you control the back end, you control the rails and production. So we started with KITS building out that lab so we could do that. The next thing is, like I said, customer service. Focus on NPS, net promoter score. Every week our management team gets a review of how customers see what we’re doing. And net promoter score is a really good way of not necessarily just the good things you’re doing, but hearing the challenges or the issues and how you can get better. And so for us, we think about how to remove those friction points, choke points for customers and get better and better.

Roger:

And we think that the company with the best NPS and category usually has the highest valuation of category. So Coastal was an example of that. We had the highest MPS at the time I sold, higher than any of the traditional retailers, any of the other 800 numbers and so unheard of and even higher than some of the ones that got a lot of PR early on. And back in those days, we just super focused on customer experience. And that really drove our business. Market costs came down every week and sales went up because it was customers telling the story. And that’s really, if you’re a merchant, if you’re a retailer, I mean, that’s that Nirvana moment where customers are telling a story for you. You’re not beholding to Facebook or Google anymore. That’s kind of… So those are some of the lessons. Anyway, I guess I could go on. I didn’t think I had so much content. Good question Stephanie.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I love this. Yeah. That’s amazing. And what did it feel like when you saw your company listed? Because that’s something now that I feel like some people are still going that route, other people are kind of holding back for a long time to IPO. It seems like a very different market now, but back then, I mean, to be able to do that is huge. So what were the feelings behind that when you’re like, wow, look at that company?

Roger:

Yeah. We were really early on a lot of these trends, especially for Canada. Right? So being up in Canada, I think we had the biggest ecommerce business. I would go to the stock conventions in Canada and it would be all mining and minerals and energy. And there weren’t a lot of tech companies, so they kind of caught… They kind of make fun of me up here now, the grandfather in Vancouver of some of the tech, which is super exciting that the tech scene in Vancouver has really expanded there. So there’s a bunch of great companies, but yeah, so I think that it was just early and it was a meeting that friction of being early and people not really knowing where it was going to go.

Stephanie:

Yep. Love that. So tell me a bit more about KITS. What do you create there and how are you all different than other eyewear brands?

Roger:

Yeah, sure. So KITS, it’s contact lenses and eyeglasses and we, myself and my two partners, Sabrina Liak and Joe Thompson started KITS. We had been looking at a number of different categories and we kept hearing from all my past customers that the business we’d sold had changed and gotten a little less service oriented and then prices moved up. And Essilor Luxottica again is kind of big behemoths. So when they bought it, they kind of really try to move it towards a traditional retailer, things like LensCrafters that they own and some of these other brands. So KITS, we’re really trying to create great value for customers. And like I said, super, super focused on satisfaction. So customers can go to our website, find great collection of branded frames and KITS brands.

Roger:

So if some people want to wear a Tom Ford, some people want to wear a Gucci or Fendi, Calvin Klein of Dior, we’ve got that in our collection and we also have KITS super high quality, the best titaniums, the best acetates from the planet. Sustainable products coming out of Patagonia made from recycled fishing nets. And so we’re trying to be thoughtful about the collection, trying to serve customers really what they want, not just what we would want to offer. And yeah, so far it’s been it’s been super successful. We passed over 100,000 pairs of eyeglasses sold very quickly in under a year. Our business will be more than 100 million of revenue this year. And so we’re three years into it and, and lots of great traction. But founded on Kits Beach, literally walking on Kits Beach every morning, we’d go down to Kits and get a coffee and go what are we going to do?

Roger:

At the time, one of my partners worked at Amazon a long time and he was really excited, I think about kind of something’s happening, that cohort around cannabis. So it was a ton of cannabis. Sabrina came out of Goldman Sachs and I think that there was a lot of talk about Bitcoin and Ethereum. And so we all had kind of a unique, but somehow I think I was just most stubborn. And so maybe I was buying the coffee, I don’t know, but they decided that there was something really left to do in optical. And I was, again, just listening to friends, family customers saying hey, you guys used to make glasses for us and have them there and that day or the next day and now it’s taking 10 days. And the prices have gone up significantly. So I guess that’s what happens when kind of the incumbent monopolies come into a space, but my non-compete expired and we decided hey, we want to do something for our customers. So yeah, that’s kind of what we’ve been doing.

Stephanie:

I love that. I mean, what’s interesting about that too is so many entrepreneurs, they are done with their first business, they sell it, whatever may happen. And then they do have that urge to just go into like something completely random. Like I’m in media now I’m going to go into crypto or something. But whereas you guys actually leveraged experience you already had, I’m sure you’re able to kind of tap into those partnerships you had, manufacturers, get that vertical integration. Tell me a bit about how you kind of reset that up, but maybe some of the advantages you had by staying within that industry.

Roger:

Yeah, I think you’re right. I mean, just knowing the category the way we did, we knew being vertical was such a key part and we were able to go back to some of the suppliers I knew from the past and some of the major manufacturers. I can remember we flew to Italy to meet one of the partners and his company’s done really well. And we were one of his first customers. So he hosted us as you do in Italy for the kind of an enormous lunch and then a tour of what’s become his business. And he was so gracious and thanking us for being good partners in the past and really moved us to the front of the line on some of these manufacturing machines. Some of the biggest retailers in the world were there when we were there, the biggest, we all know who they are, they were there and he moved us right to the front of the line and that took care of us. So yeah, there were a lot of those types of relationships, people who we had worked with in the past, who have been happy with the relationship and they all came sort of flooding back. It gives a huge advantage. And I think it let us get up to speed very quickly.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Yeah. That’s great. How do you think about balancing brands like Patagonia and Nike and whoever else might come and say hey, I have eyewear versus also wanting to sell KITS eyewear because it seems like when I talk to a lot of marketplace owners and people like that, they could all kind of do that. They can all maybe offer some of the big brands if they have that relationship there and they’re accepted and what not, they could all do that, but you having your own product to sell and wanting to also make sure people are coming for that as well, it seems very important. So how do you balance giving the customer where they want and the brands they want, but also being like hey, there’s an amazing brand, it’s called KITS also that you might want to consider as well.

Roger:

Yeah. You’re right. It’s a balance. I mean, for us, we do want to give customers what they want. And so if they come in for a branded frame and we kind of tend to think that’s the gateway into KITS anyway, it’s that they might be looking for a Tom Ford. They might not know KITS. So they come in, they come and see a Tom Ford frame. And they see some of that collection. And then we might also offer them a KITS frame somewhere in that experience or, yeah. So I think, how do we… I guess the other way to think about it as well as that in optical, it’s not just the frame but the lens as well. So the manufacturing the backend on that lens where we can give them a sun RX lens, a blue light lens, progressive lens.

Roger:

So there’s a lot of value in that chain that’s in the lens itself. At least 50% of the value you’re creating for someone is in the lens. So we’d like to think that they might leave with the Tom Ford frame, but if they’re leaving with our lens, that’s the visual acuity. That’s what they’ll get excited about is just the fact that hey, I got a transition lens and the acuity is impeccable. It was delivered the next morning. Nobody else can offer me this experience. So we’re trying to wow them on all those levels. And I think by giving customers what they want is the best chance to wow them, for sure.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I think that’s a really interesting mixed [inaudible] to mix the products. I didn’t realize that you could take a name brand and then mix it with a KITS lens or vice versa. I mean, that really does give it a different kind of custom field that maybe, I mean, they can’t get anywhere else, which is really cool.

Roger:

And that’s the thing about eyewear. It’s not that we’re just pulling up a pair of something, a widget office shelf, sticking in a box and sending it to someone. There really is a value add piece where when you give us that order, we’ve got to take the frame. Now we start custom. We’ve got to cut that lens to your customer specification, your pupillary distance. And we start doing that 90 seconds after your order. You give us the order in about eight minutes later, that frame is going in a box and it’s on its way to you either by FedEx the next day. So it’s like we’ve kind of got that real custom. It is really custom made and manufactured and then we’re trying to do it at high volumes. So we can get really, like you just said, the wow, perfect. That’s what we’re trying to do. [crosstalk]

Stephanie:

I like that. I just discovered it all on my own. Now I know. That’s great. I mean, so how do you think about innovating on a market that maybe some would look at and be like, oh, it hasn’t really changed too much because I do see these startups popping up that are kind of thinking about eyewear different. I know we just had a company called Lucyd send us their eyewear and it has speakers in the, what do they call it? The things that go over your ears. The part of the frame. And I’m like wow, that’s very new. Trying to decide whether I would use that or not, debating, but it seems like people are trying to innovate. How do you view kind of pulling that into your company culture, exploring these ideas and seeing what might stick?

Roger:

Yeah, I think, I mean, there’s lots of lessons from the last 20 years. A big part of our business is these glasses and that’s a very fast growing part. We also have a big contact lens business. So from an innovation standpoint, I think subscription-based business has been a huge innovation over the last number of years allowing people to get more value and put it over a number of months. There’s obviously different types of payment innovation. So I think we’re looking at all that. How do you net down the price to a customer, make it easier for them to have three, four or five pair of eyeglasses?

Roger:

So I think we’ve been thinking all about that. So subscription is a big part of our business. About 25% of the orders we do are on subscription. And so they just auto renew. They place an order and they get it each quarter, each half. People can set it, forget it. It just makes it easy. It makes it more convenient for them. So that’s one. I think big innovation is the move to subscription and move towards making payments a lot easier for customers. And so I think that’s something that we’re excited about.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s great. What are some lessons around building a subscription program that you have, or maybe a little, oh moments you have where you’re like oh, that didn’t really work. Because I feel like subscriptions have kind of gone through a bunch of different ways where you didn’t really hear about it and then all of a sudden, every company was offering subscriptions. It’s like everyone wanted it and then it kind of died down a bit where it’s like, oh, maybe not every product is set for this. So tell me a bit about some lessons throughout building the subscription business.

Roger:

Yeah, well, you’re right. I mean, I think lots of lessons in building that subscription business, I think not everybody wants a pair of glasses every month, a new pair every month. I say that’s true. Although we think it’s exciting and that’s something we’d love to do. But maybe it’s quarterly. I mean, I think that the biggest lesson is the move from transactional revenue to subscription revenue. There is some cost to be paid in there and when you… And so I think a lot of people make the mistake of discounting too heavily in those first few, figuring out what is the right amount of discount, how do I attract and retain a customer? Is it all about price or what else can I do? So the mistake is I think it’s all about price. And for us, we’re trying to think about what’s the actual value? What’s interesting and unique about what we could do? And I think that’s what sets us apart.

Roger:

So the fact that you’re in contact lenses, every contact lens owner has a pair of eyeglasses somewhere in their life, whether that’s just to find their contacts in the morning or to rest their eyes in the weekend, or do some other activities. So I think that for us is that key insight that we can deliver more value than the average 800 number that sell your contact lenses. We can bring you… We can do something more unique and really take care of that additional need.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Great. So when thinking about, for me, if I’m buying sunglasses or eyewear or something, I still always want to try it on because my face is the way it is. It needs a certain kind of glasses. How do you all think about giving someone that experience online or are you more focused also on retail and having people come in and try it on there and then maybe transacting online after that? How do you think about that omni-channel experience?

Roger:

Yeah. Great question. Stephanie, I think the way we think about it having done both retail stores and online is that any customer, anyone can order frames from us, order three, four pair, we’ll actually cut the lens for you and put it in. And so now you’re trying on a frame that is with your meds, and if four of those frames don’t fit, which never happens for us, you can return those, no charge. But what really tends to happen is people, the more people try on frames that say, wow, I got these in a day. These are half the price of anyone else in the planet. And they are a great fit. They tend to keep them and have… We think as price comes down, your collection kind of goes up.

Roger:

So we actually started the trial pack at Coastal back in about 2009, sending out a four pack, then a five pack of frames with no lenses. And what we found was it was hard for people to try the frame on and they couldn’t see how the lenses looked. So we started putting the actual prescription RX in those frames and that’s how [inaudible] what you buy today. You can try them on, we’ll ship them to you. We don’t think necessarily that everybody wants to be standing in a retail optical store right now. I think that with COVID and the way things have moved in the last year, we’re not thinking of necessarily opening a bunch of stores.

Roger:

We liked the idea of, instead of investing in that store, yes, like you said, this coolest description has been building a nice store, has been as interesting and so on. We’d rather invest that in the quality of product. We’d rather invest that in that experience of the delivery being tier one so that when you get… And if you order three pairs of frames with the lenses in, you can try them on, you can actually see how they look. So that’s kind of what we’re, I think, advocating for.

Stephanie:

Cool. And are there any maybe lessons when it comes to kind of return policies or how to think about that or even handle it from your side? If a company’s like ooh, that’s a good idea to kind of give a bunch of trials, what kind of things should they maybe avoid if they’re setting that up for their company?

Roger:

I think we’re happy for people to try because what we’ve seen is if they try, they’re going to be super excited about the experience. And if somebody decides they don’t like them, they want to return them, fantastic. Let us find you a pair that gets excited, that fits, that looks great. If those don’t, by all means, let us try. But the one thing people tend not to know about glasses is that your sizing is right inside your eyeglasses. There’s three little numbers which I mean, it’s much easier than footwear, right? Footwear, there’s a lot more variability. You’re all eyeglasses, have to have your measurement spot in millimeters right there.

Stephanie:

And is it off your head? Tell me [crosstalk]

Roger:

No, it’s off the frame. So you’ve got a measurement of the arm, you’ve got a measurement of the lens width and then the bridge width. Those are the three measurements to find on every pair of glasses sold in America. When you enter those into our site, we can give you these are the glasses that will fit you based on presumably you’re happy with fit you have now. And so-

Stephanie:

I didn’t even know that existed or was a fit.

Roger:

Exactly. I know. See? That’s why people come to your podcast. They learn something new about… And so it is really kind of strange that somehow this whole category has forgot to… It’s like, imagine if the footwear category didn’t tell you the size of shoe you wore, you had to come back in. Well it just wouldn’t. So that’s the key is we’ve got the size on your glasses, you put those into the site. We’ll find you the pair that fit for you. And yeah, that’s why it’s working so well. I mean, the NPS numbers, we see the satisfaction numbers are higher than if you go into a traditional retail store. I guess that’s the last piece of why we feel confident that we don’t need to open a bunch of stores and waste a million or $2 million opening each store. This is the CapEx light model [inaudible] invest in serving customers. And the NPS numbers back that story up. People are happier buying online through kits.com than they are going through multiple other channels. And we’ve had that measured by outside third parties and we think that’s pretty compelling.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s awesome. My mind is blown. Now I know what those numbers mean. How do you think about exploring new technology so that I can go on your site and then maybe you have something that just looks at my face and measures it because I’m even thinking about, okay, how do I measure my head or my nose bridge or any of that? Is there an easy way to think about how technology can kind of just quickly do it for me?

Roger:

Yeah. I mean, there’s a couple of things coming. We do offer also an eye exam online. So you can go online, take an eye test in about four minutes, as opposed to… Which means you can do it 24/7, day or night, whenever it works for you and we include that free with a pair of eyeglasses. So I think built from a technology standpoint and innovation standpoint, that’s really one of the most exciting parts of the category is that right now you can go and do an eye exam in four minutes on your iPhone. It’s been proven that the technology works better than human and then human diagnostic, right, at scale. So the AI that does it will never be tired. It will never have a bad day. It will never… It can tell the gender of the person by cornea, which isn’t true for human eye doctors. Right?

Roger:

So it’s at a place that it’d be tricky to [inaudible] catch up to. So yeah, we… And I think eventually I’m going to go like this, there’s my head. It’s got a 3D map of my head. It’s all to scale. Is that 18 months away? Probably, it’s summer, 12 and 18 months that there’ll be no reason I think, especially with the way retail is changing, how fast it’s changing. I think, yeah. Yeah. I think those technology pieces are going to all be in place so that yeah, if you want to walk into a store, great, go walk in. But we think it’s going to be easier, more cost-effective and more time efficient to just do it from wherever you are right now and get it done quickly.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s great. I mean, that also is a really good lead generator too. I mean, imagine all your, I mean, you already know this, which is why you built it, but just a customer going on and trying to find a place to get an eye exam or even thinking about can I do it on Zocdoc or whatever it may be and finding a site that’s like, yeah, we can just do it right here for you. So come on in. I mean, that seems like… It’s like the quizzes and all the other things that these new D2C companies are doing that’s way more unique and I have not heard of that before. It’s really cool.

Roger:

Yeah. Yeah. No, it’s been working quite well too. Yeah, of course. That kind of completes the cycle too, which didn’t exist back in my past company. We didn’t have that ability. And that was one of the key catalysts for coming back the category is knowing that hey, if we’re going to do it, we’re going to innovate with technology. We’ve got an online PD tool which tells you how far apart your eyes are to your point about the bridge distance. So you can also do that online and doing the eye test of course is really key.

Stephanie:

Yeah. How do you encourage people to take the test and then kind of see the product that’s best for them and then go through the entire customer journey?

Roger:

Yeah, I think… I mean, we tend to… I guess, it’s built into different journeys as they answer the questions. So if you come in looking for contacts, we probably don’t take you down that journey. If you come in looking for glasses, we may or may not based on what’s interesting for you. Finally, we’ll give you the option. We can show you that information, but it tends to be around reorders when people, they’ve already been, maybe it’s a year that we know we’ve got a copy of your prescription on file in many cases, so. But we that’s coming up. We try to make it easy for you. We’ll send you a little notice. It says hey, take four minutes and get this done right now. If you need an update, we’ve got somebody standing by. And so it actually gets done through tech and then we get a live optometrist to approve it and finalize it. So I think it’s just more convenient for people to do it that way.

Stephanie:

I love it. So I want to talk about scaling your company up. I’m sure a lot of people listening are like, well, how did this company go to 100 million and what are some lessons I can take away or maybe favorite failures? I want to hear just stories around building the company up and maybe things that you would do differently or advise people to do.

Roger:

I mean, I guess, yeah, companies are built by the people. So getting the culture right is key. We define it, the three of us, what we wanted the culture to be like. And then as we’ve added groups of people, right around 25, we redid the culture. Right around 100, we’ve kind of re-evaluated what we think is important and getting everybody on the same page as far as what are the rules we’re going to live by internally. And then I think the CEO’s job is really to get everyone aligned and engaged in the mission. So to kind of make clear what is the mission? What are we trying to do? We’re trying to change this category. We’re trying to make it better for customers and make it really clear that that’s what we’re trying to do. And then get them engaged in that. Why is that important? Well, we want to do good in the world. We want to change the world. We want to have some that have some meaning and purpose to the things we’re doing. And so to an extent, we can get everybody aligned and engaged and have a core set of values.

Roger:

I think that’s what helps build culture and culture really just determines the level of success you’re going to have. We can take people from all kinds of different backgrounds, which I guess we all do. We all come in from all these different experiences and backgrounds. And then we got to kind of give everybody a common set of principles and to act under and to the extent we do that well, those things, I think that’s what really is the foundational piece. And then it comes back to goal setting and then a weekly cadence of measuring how are we doing to those goals? Here’s our weekly. Here’s our monthly. Here’s our quarterly goals. Here’s our annual goals. And kind of I think all of us came from a fairly metrics driven environment. So Joe from Amazon, Sabrina, Goldman, myself from Coastal. So I think just being surrounded by metrics and always try to optimize to get a better understanding of the data metrics is probably the last piece to add onto that

Roger:

Those would be wins. You said losses.

Stephanie:

Oh yeah. All the above. Yeah. I want to hear it all.

Roger:

Losses. That’s a trickier one.

Stephanie:

Or funny things that happen where you’re like that was just kind of comical too.

Roger:

I mean, I think our growth did happen fairly quickly. We were growing fast and then I think COVID accelerated it. And we probably realized that the company was going through a real step change in the last year and then adding to that going public. So, I mean, I think there was a point a year and a half ago where we had 15 or 20 people and now we’re sort of 135 or so, a number like that that’s continuing to grow. So I think that’s kind of the fact that we still don’t have anyone in HR. We kind of do that ourselves. I think that we have probably passed the point an HR person would be helpful. So if I said what’s next step is probably to get somebody in HR to make sure we’re institutionalizing the systems and process around the pieces I’m saying.

Roger:

It just can’t feel like random that we’re going to do a quarterly values meeting. It should be institutionalized to do these things. And so that’s probably one where… Yeah, that’s probably a learning as it scales. It’s all about systems and process. It’s all about going from generalist to people who are the best in the world in every position. That’s really what it takes to grow a business. And unfortunately as a scale, not every generalist becomes the best in the world at one of the things we’re working on. So that’s probably one of the tricky parts to manage as you grow.

Stephanie:

So we always hear, like you were mentioning earlier when you’re at 25 employees, you have to act this way, when you’re at 50 this way, 100. I mean, what are some of the things that a CEO should kind of prepare for as their company is growing the employee count quickly? What was it like at 25 and then 50 and now 100 to where you maybe have to operate differently than you even did a couple of months ago?

Roger:

Yeah. I mean, well, especially with COVID, right? So as you’re at 25, you look everyone in the eye basically every day and engagement and alignment is easier when that’s happening.

Roger:

As you get to 25, you need systems and processes. You get to 100, again, it’s going from generalist systems and process and really specialist. Somebody can’t be doing… When we started out, I think Joe was doing all the marketing and now you go from 1% marketing to 15 and all the way along, you’re getting more and more specialized. You’ve got to get higher, higher, skill people. And you have to have great skill people in each position if you want to make the jump from 25 million to 100 million and go from 100 to 300. You got to break through those barriers by having great people and that allows you to do your job. Play your position is kind of the way we say it is you don’t want to have to play someone else’s position. As soon as you’re helping someone in marketing email or somebody in procurement or someone in logistics, then you’re not… Then suddenly the CEO or CFO aren’t doing their job either. So I’d say that’s the other thing is make sure you’re planning your position and that you have people that can play their position at the highest levels.

Stephanie:

Yeah. There was an interesting quote I read around hiring people and that a lot of founders sometimes hire for a year or two in the future. And the person was just recommending hire for what you need right now and then either train them up or then reevaluate again in a year or two and then hire for what you need then. It seems like a lot of people always say I’m thinking so far ahead, especially when founders are ready to move quick and scale and get the best SVPs that they can get. And then they’re like, oh, wait, that person doesn’t actually know how to do all of this work in between.

Roger:

Yeah. So true. I mean, it’s a delicate balance. You’d love to have those senior people who are so skilled and they’ve already kind of risen up and hopefully they did all the jobs on the way there, that’s always a helpful, right? Is that they’ve actually started in the trenches and then moved up and then you’re getting the skillset and yeah, it’s a problem if the company’s not big enough to really give them stuff to challenge them either, right? If they’re used to a certain type of challenge that just doesn’t exist exist yet. Well, I would say our philosophy is to try to hire people that we think will scale, try to hire the smartest people, the brightest people that we hope will scale. And that’s the extent we can do that. That’s kind of how we think about it. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong. I hope you’ll tell me Stephanie at some point.

Stephanie:

It sounds amazing.

Roger:

That’s consensus or not.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I think that sounds great. So I want to predict the future a bit now because you’ve been in the world of commerce for a long time. I want to hear what kind of trends do you think are going to impact the market the most over maybe the next one to three years that you guys are kind of prepping for and you’re like ooh, we see this big evolving thing happening and we’re going to be at the forefront and not let it get away from us.

Roger:

I mean, for us I think we saw sort of telehealth and I think health care is at some convergence of… It’s got to get more efficient. We all know that the cost of healthcare has gone up at faster rates, the GDP and everything else. So we know that the select of the pricing isn’t optimal. So we think that health and tech are merging and we think we’re at the forefront of health tech piece of a larger puzzle. So I think there’s lots of interesting things that we can do for other healthcare companies that have large patient basis that don’t today have a vision care offering. So that’s really what we’re trying to do is say we’re going to be right in front of this health tech convergence and we’ve got a great business, et cetera. North of 100 million, it’s growing. It’s got a great install base of recurring patients. So we know that we’re kind of building thoughtfully a great business and that is serving, most important is serving customers in a way that they get excited about and they’re happy with. And I think if you do those things, the rest it takes care of itself.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s great. I mean, why are things so expensive in healthcare? I never can understand why things are so pricey and I mean, what are the margins behind the scenes? I mean, I see what… Our insurance company is like ooh, I’m paying $1,000 and you still owe 500. I’m like I was only there for 10 minutes. Why? I don’t understand. what’s going on behind the scenes?

Roger:

I mean, it’s a good question. There are just so many people in the middle of healthcare. And I think that’s what’s happened over time and many of them have cut out of that equation. It’s super inefficient the way it is now. So I mean, that’s part of what we’re hoping is that we’ll replace some of the bigger incumbents with better value, take better care customers. But I think that’s really what’s coming for healthcare is that a lot of the pieces have to be cut out. There are just so many people managing. There’s three people getting paid on you walking into so-and-so’s office and it’s just not efficient anymore.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Yeah. I agree. So where do you all want to be in the next couple of years? What are you aiming for as a company?

Roger:

Yeah. We think there’s lots to do in vision care in North America for the next 24 months. So I think that’s where our focus lies is building out our offering, building out our install, our customer base and just keep growing in North America. We’ve looked at a bunch of M&A opportunities, nothing that we thought was the right fit. Historically, I think I’ve bought seven or eight different businesses in the last business I was in. So we were always looking for smaller interesting things. I would kind of tuck into the platform and be a creative for shareholders and be a creative for customers. And so if we see some of those, we’ll look to layer those in, but otherwise just heads down focused on moving that NPS needle up.

Stephanie:

All right. So the lightning round is brought to you by Salesforce commerce cloud. This is where I ask you a question and you have 30 seconds or less to answer and I already know you’re ready, Roger. So let’s just do it.

Roger:

Let’s do it.

Stephanie:

I’m going to take one out of your playbook. What’s one piece of advice you would give your younger self?

Roger:

Oh man. A piece of advice I’d give my younger self would be, yeah, don’t sweat the small stuff. I mean, and it’s all small stuff. It really is. That would be the thing. And probably people like me and you and everybody that’s listening to this is sweating all the small stuff because so it’s a balance, but yeah, don’t sweat the small stuff. You’re you’re going to be okay. It’s gonna all work out. Keep your head down and keep grinding. It’s going to all work out.

Stephanie:

Yep. That’s good advice. When you want to get creative, what do you do to get into that head space?

Roger:

For me, balance is so tough. I think you always got to choose two of three, but for me, good head space is every Thursday morning, I take my team, I ask them if they want to do the Grouse grind, this mountain behind me here. And I meet them at the top for a coffee. I say I’ll buy a coffee top. You just gotta be there at 8:00. And so that grind up the gross grind is a real tester physically. It takes anywhere between an hour, an hour and a half to do. And some folks need to do it faster, the younger folks, but it just really clears your head. It’s physically taxing and then you get to the top and you just feel bonded with the people you’re there with. Either out in the mountains, you’re in the fresh air. You’re probably got some endorphins going and we have a coffee and that coffee tastes good. And then we talk a bit about personal, a bit about business. So I’d say that’s the way.

Stephanie:

Wow. That’s awesome. And are you personally lugging all these coffees up the mountain?

Roger:

No. They have a coffee shop at the top.

Stephanie:

Oh, okay. [crosstalk]

Roger:

… at the top of Grouse Mountain in Vancouver. Yeah. So we go up the mountain and I buy them all a coffee and I should lug them up now. No, that’s a great idea.

Stephanie:

I know. I was like [crosstalk]

Roger:

… authentic, but I can barely make it. I can barely make it as it is, so.

Stephanie:

Well, I like my picture of thinking about Roger single handily bringing up like 50 coffees and balancing them while doing a strenuous hike. That sounds more-

Roger:

That sounds good. I might, yeah, I might have to try that one time.

Stephanie:

That’s great. What’s up next on your reading list?

Roger:

Oh man. I mean, I tend to read business books. I’ve got a couple of things in front of me right now. A road taken by a local guy here in Vancouver. So that’s the what’s right in front of me on the right here. Somebody gave me, which is just a story of his autobiography about his life and so on. So yeah, [inaudible] reading that.

Stephanie:

Cool. I love it. All right. And then the last one, what’s something you’re secretly curious about?

Roger:

Something I’m secretly curious about? I’m kind of curious about this whole space race. I can’t really wrap my head around why everybody is thinking… I guess I’m curious about how that’s gonna play out. Are we really going to Mars? I guess we are. And I kind of wonder about… I’ve been curious about how that’s become the priority of the planet over so many other things. And I’m probably curious about why? It just doesn’t seem like the right priority to me right now. I feel like there’s a lot we could do in North America and around the world outside of that. Not to say that others can’t choose their priorities, but I’m curious about how the heck Mars tends to be such a big priority?

Stephanie:

Yeah. Well let’s just tag Elon. He will for sure respond to me.

Roger:

He probably will. Yeah. I’m sure he will

Stephanie:

Roger, it’s been awesome having you on the show, loved hearing about your background and KITS Eyewear. Where can people find out more about you and KITS?

Roger:

KITS is pretty straight forward. It’s just kits.com and then like everybody else, I’m on LinkedIn. For sure, reach out and if you have any questions or thoughts for me on, let me know and I’ll appreciate it before responding.

Stephanie:

Amazing. Thank you. Thank you.

 

Episode 142