Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, I’m Charlotte Dickinson, founder of Minus - eyewear for high, negative prescriptions or powerful eyes as I like to call them. The more short-sighted you are, the thicker your lenses have to be, and we’ve designed the first-ever collection of glasses that takes this into account. The launch range called ‘Power’ takes an inclusive, optimized approach and includes 8 classic frames.
The main problem for wearers with thick glasses is the lens that bulges out of ordinary frames, which also adds weight. We’ve ensured the full lens is covered when combined with up to -10 prescriptions and high index lenses.
These spec wearers are usually told to buy a really narrow (petite), thick frame to minimize thickness and hide it (badly) but we don’t think that’s good enough. For men in particular this creates a really bad fit as they’re not wide enough. It’s like constantly wearing a size small t-shirt when you’re a medium.
Around 4% of the population in the UK have a prescription over -6, which is increasing at a scary rate. We think it’s about time they were catered for.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My relationship with glasses has always been a bit complicated. My dating app bio literally reads “looking for someone to help me find my glasses after I’ve taken my contact lenses out”. I’ve needed glasses from about age 13, and since then my prescription has deteriorated to -9.5 in my right, and -8 in my left.
People want to get behind a person and a story - not a big polished brand. This is a challenge for me as I have to put myself out there which is not my favorite thing to do, but something I need to feel more comfortable doing.
I came up with the idea because I was so fed up with the choice of frames that look ok with thicker lenses. In most stores that sell hundreds of frames, you’re left with a choice of 1 or 2 that you don’t even like much or would never pick. For people that rely on their glasses more, it can be quite upsetting and even affect their wellbeing and confidence.
I thought if I have this problem, others must feel the same so I got to work initially on testing if this was a viable market opportunity, which my background in marketing and web has set me up for. I was actually on a career break when I thought of it, doing some traveling. When the pandemic situation cut the trip short, I took my leftover savings and another 2 months off work to put in the foundations of the business plan and brand. I dug deep to check why nobody was doing this already.
First up, I did some keyword research to see how many people were looking for things like ‘glasses thick lenses’ on the web every month, and what their associated searches were. Other key data I pinned down included; how often do people replace their glasses, how often should you get your eyes tested, how many glasses are sold every year, and my key insight was what percentage of the population have high prescriptions and what does that data spread look like.
This last area proved to be difficult and I discovered in the UK it doesn’t actually exist - the government or NHS does not have this data which I think is astounding. I did get support on rough figures through my local business library and by reaching out to professional optometry bodies. Taking all of this info, allowed me to work on a potential sales model.
Along the way, I also learned so much about myopia (short-sightedness) which is a huge social and economic problem - globally our eyes are getting worse which puts those with high myopia at risk from sight-threatening diseases when they get older. This is an issue we can slow down and prevent with the right focus - something I quickly became passionate about and wanted to advocate through the brand. It’s something that I wasn’t even aware of even though it represented me.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I’ve always loved sunglasses and this was a big inspiration for me when developing the glasses designs - I wanted to turn buying glasses into something high prescription wearers dread into something they love. Before I started work on the design brief, I did tons of research into the market - trends, competitors, pricing, top styles: everything. I knew I wanted to make the most popular styles more accessible and work with thicker lenses. I didn’t want the glasses to be different or wacky - I wanted people to not even know they were for thicker lenses.
I went on to learn a lot about optics, glasses design, and lens thickness - identifying the key variables we needed to design around or optimize as part of the process. Things like pupillary distance were new to me and this was a big learning curve but I wanted to understand it all.
After I got clued up, I crafted my project brief (down to the frame styles) and approached several eyewear designers for quotes. I had a budget for the concepting and wanted to take an MVP approach. I found the perfect partner in Charlie Ingham, a freelance eyewear designer who has worked for some of the top brands. She was really interested in what I was trying to do in terms of challenging the industry and brought loads of value to the process including getting specialist input from a lens glazer and optician.
Alongside the glasses design, I was also developing the brand to make sure they both aligned and followed the same values and design principles. This joined-up approach made us make really focused decisions on the tiny details. It’s unbelievable how much detail went into the final frame designs, down to the last millimeter of sculpted acetate.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The launch strategy and model was a difficult decision to make. I wanted to drum up pre-sales, funding, and solid interest before investing in actually producing the frames, to lower the risk. On the flip side, I’m opening myself up to copycats at a very early stage. To try and combat this, I’ve registered the designs and my other key strategy is having the first-mover advantage and being a brand disruptor. Building up brand engagement and a strong community online who are also fed up with their glasses choice will hopefully play a key role in future success.
I’ve launched a website minus-eyes.com, utilizing Shopify which I put live a month before launch in an attempt to start building some organic authority although it will be a long-term game plan. Currently, it’s a great way to showcase the glasses, the brand, and what we’re all about. The website and launch videos are something I created myself which has helped keep investment low. My best friend’s husband (Rupert - which is one of the frame names) supported me with the logo development.
Part of my launch has been to identify conversations and search behaviors about the problem, and then let people know about the project. For example, I’m part of a private Facebook group for high myopia and have had some really great feedback from members. People are glad someone is trying to represent them. I’ve also distributed press releases and I’m hoping they get traction.
Currently where I’m at is finding the funding to get the first batch of stock manufactured - the industry has minimum order quantities on models and colors. This has been a juggling act when deciding on how many models and colors to include in the first collection to get off the ground. I’ve launched a Crowdfunder but with quite a high target, which is due to end at the end of May.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
What I’ve learned so far is that people want to get behind a person and a story - not a big polished brand. This is a challenge for me as I have to put myself out there which is not my favorite thing to do, but something I need to feel more comfortable doing. I changed my main Crowdfunder video in the first week to put myself front and center after getting some advice from CrowdfunderUK coaches.
Asking for support and striking the right balance is also hard - you don’t want to seem desperate. I’m also putting myself out there to fail and be vulnerable, but I just keep telling myself that even if it’s not successful, I’ve learned so much along the way and loved every second.
Instagram is currently building momentum and also giving me confidence in the idea - opticians and eyewear stylists seem really excited about it. One tactic has been to follow the right influencers who have then followed me back. Following users that have used hashtags like #thickglasses is also working well. The brand is also resonating - the name ‘Minus’ aims to challenge what negativity means. I wanted a cool, empowering brand - nobody wants to buy glasses from a stuffy optician which is something else that came out of the market research.
I’m using really targeted PPC ads to try to gain interest and also making use of Google’s free start-up bonus.
Other free advertising offers on social channels are also up for grabs which I’m currently setting up.
For £110 I used the press release platform ‘Pressat’ - this has got me into the Crypto Press so far after a week.
Publishing on my Linkedin profile, and asking friends and family to get the word out is also helping. Plus I made friends with an eyewear influencer who is supporting me by writing in her blog.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
After hopefully getting the funds to get the initial stock in the next month or two, all the profits from the first sales will be going back into the business and buying more stock. Virtual try-on I think will play a big part in future sales as this is what consumers have come to expect, in addition to try-on at-home schemes - things that are going to need a strong cash flow to achieve. Profit margins in the industry are high but these aspects need to be baked in too.
It is so important to plan and validate your idea. Research absolutely everything you can about the product and industry. Check if there is a market, and talk to people to see if they would want it (Reddit is a great place to soundboard ideas).
We are aiming to only sell directly initially and we also hope to partner with a lens fulfillment company to be able to offer the frames and lenses as one service.
Given the nature of the product, initially, to keep advertising and marketing low we need to rely on word of mouth and brand engagement. We are hoping to get much more involved with myopia as a global problem, and advocating the issues which in turn will build brand awareness.
We know that China and other Asian countries are a huge market due to their prevalence of high myopia - so we’re aiming to adapt the designs to Asian fit as soon as we’re able to.
Ultimately we want to slow down the rates of eyesight deterioration, whilst creating glasses that take an inclusive design approach to thicker lenses. I wish there wasn’t a demand for this product but in reality, I believe there is, and it’s long overdue.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I’ve put my hand to some new skills along the way - thank god for Vimeo Pro! A lot of the work involved is an activity I talk to clients about through my job, so it’s been great to get the practical experience of doing a few of these bits myself from the other side like writing press releases and creating jifs!
The pandemic I think actually goes in favor of the project, but in a bitter-sweet way. Screen work is impacting sight as we do more things online, for example, kids on a laptop instead of looking at the whiteboard or doing more practical lessons. People have become more aware of their eye health also. Users have become more comfortable with buying things online they would usually go to a store for, and also medical care, in general, has had to adapt to be more digital. All these quick-changing shifts in attitude and approaches form a stronger basis for me to build the brand and its services.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
For SEO and keyword research, I turn to Moz.
I use Google docs to do day-to-day planning, collaboration, and presentations - Google sheets, Google slides, Google docs. They are great for embedding animation for ideation and branding purposes.
Leeds City Council library has been fantastic, giving me access to research databases like Mintel and Emis.
I’m using other Google tools like Adwords, analytics, search console, and data studio to track ads and stats.
Biobank has been a great source of research and stats.
I chose Shopify as my website platform, so it’s geared up for sales once I’m retailing.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I read tons of self-development and business books whilst on my sabbatical which I think subconsciously might have got me in the right headspace to launch something for myself. The book Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez was a massive eye-opener about how we discriminate against others through design.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
It is so important to plan and validate your idea. Research absolutely everything you can about the product and industry. Check if there is a market, and talk to people to see if they would want it (Reddit is a great place to soundboard ideas). Try and work out what the potential sales and profit margins would be. One of my motos is to ‘fail early’ - you don’t want to find out it won’t work after putting thousands of pounds into it.
If you’re not sure if it will take off, then test it. Spin up a quick website, and test some ads to it. If people are interested, then they will click. It’s easier than you think to ‘look big’ with the right branding and activity. But we careful to not look like you’ve already made it as you might get less support.
Utilize your local library services - as well as research access, they spent time digging for information for me too including grants. They also set up free sessions for me with an intellectual property lawyer, and accountant.
Get over the fact that you will need to put yourself out there. Accept that you will face challenges and everything won’t be smooth sailing - it’s part of the process and its character building.
Rope in anyone you can to help and reach out to people in the industry - you’d be surprised who wants to help and give you support.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We will be looking to get an optician involved in the project once we begin retailing, which is required when selling glasses. In addition to collaborating with a lens fulfillment partner in the future.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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