I Invented A $3.6M Blue Light Filter Blocking Health Business

Dhruvin Patel
Founder, OCUSHIELD
$300K
revenue/mo
1
Founders
12
Employees
OCUSHIELD
from London, UK
started January 2015
$300,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
12
Employees
273K
alexa rank
22.4K
followers
6.8K
followers
336
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi, I'm Dhruvin Patel - a qualified optometrist who began Ocushield, a brand which develops medically-rated products to eliminate harmful blue light from digital device screens, allowing consumers to have fresher feeling eyes and improve sleep after screen use.

Ocushield’s flagship product is our blue light blocking screen protector and filters for smartphones, tablets, laptops, and monitors, selectively filtering harmful blue light while maintaining a crystal clear image, unlike software...ahem, night shift.

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The majority of our customers fall into three categories, firstly families. Parents who are wanting to protect the eyes of their toddlers or teenagers from extensive screen time can do so with Ocushield, through learning times tables on screens or simply watching the latest Tik Tok. Second, working professionals. Professionals are spending more than 8 hours on a screen a day, honing in on their craft, and are feeling the detrimental physical impact. They’re also looking to find ways to improve productivity and boost their output.

Lastly, what I like to call health optimizers. Now with access to more information than ever, consumers who care about their health and wellbeing search out solutions to benefit their health - they know prevention is better than cure.

Serving over 150,000 + customers in 80 countries, Ocushield generates $300k per month - & this all started from a university research study I did 6 years ago. Our products are sold in Verizon, BestBuy, HSN & URBN Outfitters.

We also appeared on the UK’s version of Shark Tank in July 2021, called Dragons’ Den & have even personally been recommended by Sir Richard Branson.

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What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

While I was studying to become a qualified optometrist at City University, London in 2013 I was working on the weekends at a large opticians chain, Vision Express (Grand Vision). Whilst there, one afternoon the lead optometrist at the time gathered the team to brief us on a new product that came to the market for people who wore spectacles.

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She advised, "blue control is a new coating that prescription glasses wearers could add to their glasses, this would eliminate something known as harmful blue light from backlit LED screens such as computer screens and in turn meant reduced eye strain and headaches". I was amazed! I thought, is this the piece of the missing puzzle where my mother has always told me not to look at screens as my eyes will go square?!

I rushed back to the university the next working day and demanded my lecturers allow me to do a research study on blue light. Somehow, I got my way - I began a research study on "how blue light affects our eyes physiology and circadian rhythms". After 9 months of research, I was shocked at how many clinical papers were already out there showcasing harmful blue light from screens was not only contributing to eye strain and headaches but also impacting our sleep because blue light suppressed the hormone melatonin which tells our bodies it's time to go to bed. I realized this is a mass-market problem!

At the time, it was only the iPhone 4 that was out in 2014 - screens were only going to get bigger and brighter, therefore I thought to myself selfishly, I need something to limit the blue light exposure but I don't want to get prescription glasses because I don’t wear glasses in the first place! The prescription lens coating only limited up to 19% of the harmful blue light, I wanted to double this at least as I thought - this isn’t enough! So, I began my journey on creating a material that could take the form of a screen filter that could go directly onto the screen itself and limit the blue light directly while protecting the screen at the same time.

Be messy, until the mess creates problems. Don’t worry too much about being perfect with business practices, in the beginning, be focused on sales and marketing.

Armed with my research and development, at the same time I entered my idea into a CASS business school competition (sister university) where I impressed the public who voted and judges alike, and won circa £10k grant funding across multiple stages. The business at the time was called iSleepEasii - I’m so glad I rebranded before launching that! Ocu means eye in greek, and as we shield eyes - Ocushield was the brand name I came up with with the help of a mentor.

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Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Creating the first physical Ocushield products meant finding out how to selectively filter harmful blue light first, without changing the colors on the screen.

Spectrometers were used to identify how a formulation of dyes and coatings could make this become a reality. Dozens of iterations left us with the Ocushield specification which first began as a plastic (PET) film covering device. This big roll of the plastic sheet would be then cut manually to clever devices or be a square in the packaging for customers to cut down to size.

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This wasn’t customer-friendly of course. So we started working with a mobile screen protector manufacturer who had the molds for all devices and could cut our plastic film into specific sizing and put it into our packaging which we would send them. This meant a finished product was easy for customers to use.

We quickly learned our customers wanted to protect their devices and eyes at the same time. We had to improve the material of our core product. So, with tempered glass being the industry standard for screen protectors on smartphones, we explored how we could take our science and instill it into the liquid that is hardened at extremely high temperatures. We then went to source manufacturers who could do this, in person.

We flew to the far east to the Global Sources trade show to seek out manufacturers who had prior experience and were up to the challenge to create our technically advanced product, it allowed us to build relationships and quality checks the factories and discuss bringing our products to life.

Out of four partners, we choose one who we continue to use due to a product falling within 99% of our enhanced requirements, quality checks, service, communication, a safe environment for workers with all the ISO accreditations and certifications in place.

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Our packaging initially looked like this, done by a freelancer for $500.

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We then elevated this by spending $30,000 on a full rebrand, including packaging across the board in 2018.

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Startup costs were $20,000 and then through pre-orders, we bootstrapped the business growth. Only taking outside investment in 2018 after generating $400,000 in total revenues.

Our first product, the blue light blocking screen protector for smartphones had many interactions as I was obsessed with creating the best products for our customers, but not initially - I would launch an improved product every 4 months taking on feedback from customers who used the product but also trying to improve the amount of blue light filtered whilst keeping the balance of color. We have now got up to limiting 54% of blue light between 400-470nm without changing the screen clarity which is 35% above all lenses made in opticians that have a blue light coating.

But, it all started with a technical specification being formulated by myself then reviewed and revised by university staff at the time. I needed to limit the spike in blue light being emitted from screens while maintaining a crystal clear picture to ensure consumers would use my innovation and not turn it off like software.

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I used numerous scholarly based websites for research studies on compounds that can be found in the eye (in the lens and macular) that naturally remove blue light, I then had to break down how can I get these elements and put them into a piece of film. I had to do numerous tests to make sure the elements within the film were stable and didn’t conflict with other ingredients. I then had to find third-party manufacturers to develop prototypes and samples, I went through a dozen initially through using an agent, someone who has feet on the ground in the area you want to manufacture the product. We choose the same region where Apple manufactures products in the far east, the agent ensured the factories provided us with all certifications needed and made sure they were not making people work against their will and/or working conditions were poor.

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If you have the capital/time in the beginning to do it yourself, this can also be useful and rewarding + speed up the process. We then worked our way down from 10 to 1 manufacturer, who I then went to visit to finalize the product needed as well as ensure the strength, quality, finishing, and quality testing would be sufficient.

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Describe the process of launching the business.

I previously spoke about my initial launch from a bedroom, I set this up on Wix.com. As I built, I networked and told everyone my idea - whoever was interested, I signed them up to the email list. This was a really powerful way of getting first adopters and advocates.

I then drove further initial purchases via Google - as people were looking for traditional screen protectors, but I gave them the option of buying the swiss army knife of products - not just a screen protector but one that protected your eyes and improved your sleep.

It’s important to not get disheartened with slow traction and the route I took of starting the business while I was occupied with university or working is the best way to give a business the most chance of succeeding. If I had gone all in, I wouldn’t have my degree and clinical practice to support the business, I wouldn’t have an income from the work I was doing, and then would have been even more demanding of the business to do well.

I also utilized my network of optometrists and opticians peers, telling them about my innovation - this allowed me to drive sales via the B2B channel as they would tell their patients about it. I got placements into popular magazines read by the profession, this drove sales to the website, and also got orders for opticians placing Ocushield products in their clinical practice, which they could then recommend to their patients.

I financed the business through positive cash flow, I kept a tight ship and didn’t pay myself as I was building enterprise value. I ensured the gross margins were healthy enough to reinvest back into product development and building the brand.

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Biggest lessons from the process of starting included getting references for contractors and agencies that you work with. Also setting clear expectations and deliverables - as most times I would end up disappointed from results. The biggest lesson of all, most great things take time - so you can’t get everything done the same day or the next day after, taking my time and making incremental progress daily was what became important

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

5 key elements have helped attract and retain customers.

Brand Authority. We are a business created by clinicians and eye experts. When it comes to selling online, trust is important - who else to trust than Doctors and clinicians? We are also registered with the FDA and MHRA (the UK’s equivalent to FDA).

PR. We invested heavily in manual outreach to journalists who were covering stories around screen time, zoom fatigue, and more to tell them about what we were doing to limit blue light exposure. This meant successful media placements which we could then use in our marketing across multiple channels and put on our website as a seal of approval by those publications that spoke highly of us.

Email Marketing. We focused on nurturing our subscriber base, providing value add information and promotional offers when needed. This means every time we sent a newsletter to our subscribers, it generated us $7k in revenue per send.

Multiple sales channels. We started selling on Amazon due to our customers needing convenience - who doesn’t like products fast, eh? We understood a lot of people like the ease of Amazon but it has also proven to be a strong channel for us to grow. Although it Is getting a lot more competitive now, the pandemic has forced a lot more sellers to go online - so advertising and selling costs have increased due to numerous poorer quality products at a drastically cheaper price. We also partnered with some fantastic retailers like Best Buy USA and Superdrug UK which allows us to bring more authority - in a consumer's mind if a large retailer trusts us to be their blue light filter of choice, consumers will prefer us over competing products.

Do start a business that has some future trends, don’t start a business in a trend - you are 9/10 too late.

TV, UK’s Shark Tank. We went onto Dragons’ Den (click to view pitch) which is the UK’s shark tank and slew some Dragons’. This has been fantastic for the business as we can use this as evergreen content in our marketing, and if top business people want to invest in us it means customers will too.

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How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Ocushield is a profitable $3 million revenue business and we've just closed our seed round of investment at $1.2 million, led by Rubix Ventures the same investors of Zwift and some other awesome people including Jason Ellis, ex-president of GameStop and founder of Sprint Mobile and James McArthur, ex-president Balenciaga and VP of Gucci Group.

  • Gross Margin - 50-70% (we wanted to ensure this was high so we can reinvest into improving current products and invest in our future products as well as our charity partnerships like donating to eye charities for every order)
  • LTV - £80
  • Conversion rate - 4.5%
  • Email Subscribers - 60,000
  • Social Media Following - total 90k+
  • YOY growth 200% (since 2018, founder going full time)

Currently, we use two 3PL in Banbury, UK, and one in PA, USA to serve our customers in these two key regions where most of our customers come from. We utilize four factories to manufacture our unique products.

We have distribution in Canada, UAE, Philippines, Australia, and EU. This allows our partners to focus on these areas while we focus on the UK and USA. There's only so much you can do...

In the future, we want to become the one-stop-shop for eye-protecting products. With our optometrist hats on, we know what is best for our patients/customers and we want to bring the best products to them.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Starting a business is often glorified, once you start there is a thought process that sales and success follow suit. This isn’t the case, things take time - a lot of it, especially if it's a venture you are starting with limited capital and no previous experience in that industry. Understanding this myself over some time gave me the patience for opportunities and sales to be nurtured.

It’s important to not get disheartened with slow traction and the route I took of starting the business while I was occupied with university or working is the best way to give a business the most chance of succeeding. If I had gone all in, I wouldn’t have my degree and clinical practice to support the business, I wouldn’t have an income from the work I was doing, and then would have been even more demanding of the business to do well.

To start a business that has some future trends, don’t start a business in a trend - you are 9/10 too late. Ocushield began way before the pandemic which supercharged screen time and zoom fatigue. Our marketing and paid acquisition are far more effective now as the pain point of “tired eyes” or “poor sleep” after device use is far greater now than it was pre-pandemic. I saw from my early research that devices were going to be products we couldn’t live without and would spend many hours on, the pandemic has highlighted this.

Being digital-first, as a brand, we could learn and get direct customer feedback. It also means larger cash margins for us to reinvest in creating the best product, best customer service, and more. Although - we’re not perfect, we always are learning. We can then entertain other channels like retail and wholesale as we can afford to do so. You can’t sustain those channels without a direct or Amazon channel being profitable.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Our eCommerce operations work on Shopify, we were previously on Wordpress/WooCommerce (after Wix) - but it wasn’t stable enough for our needs. What I mean by that is, something on the checkout could break and you would have to troubleshoot, with Shopify key elements don’t break and maintenance is a lot easier.

My favorite app on Shopify is Zipify, it allows you to upsell to customers - a really easy way to boost AOV.

Reviews.io is the best review tool we’ve used, better than Yotpo for example, and more economical. It has some great features like sending customers to other platforms like Trustpilot to leave reviews too as now customers want to check multiple review sites to make sure the reviews are legitimate.

We use Linnworks and ship hero to integrate with our 3PL/fulfillment centers.

Omnisend is our email marketing tool, great for those wanting to nature their subscriber list and grow the email marketing part of their business.

For contractors and freelancers UpWork (wide pool of talent) and Freeup (fast quick experts matched) have been the best providers.

Steak CRM is a great Gmail extension to allow us to follow up leads, partnerships, or buyers. Free too.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Start with Why, by Simon Sinek. It made me understand that to do something well you have to do it with purpose. If you why isn’t strong enough, then you won’t have the resilience to see it through. My why is to serve others by helping them see. I’m motivated each day to protect thousands more peepers globally.

Secondly, The Millionaire Fastlane by MJ Demarco. There were so many actionable insights that I took forward to this day, such a business can only grow as much as the impact that is provided + the number of people you can impact. Therefore, a local shop doesn’t have the scale or reach an online business has which is one of the reasons I chose to not test eyes for a living (helping 10-20 people a day) and go for protecting hundreds of people's eyes a day instead with Ocushield products!

Furthermore, I found that luck is a product of the process, action, work, and being “out there”. And when you are “out there” you stand a chance at being in the right place at the right time.

My favorite business podcasts her the High-Performance Podcast, Ecommerce Masterplan and my personal favorite is, On Purpose by Jay Shetty.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Helpful short-fire tips:

  1. I’ve learned getting advice from experts is key in areas you know nothing about. That’s what will move the needle. Learn from those 9-18 months ahead of you for the best actionable advice and those 5 years for inspiration and vision
  2. Use contractors/freelancers - most people give the most nuggets of wisdom in the first few weeks you work with them, then this tapers off. Take this and run with it yourself if you have the capacity, if not hire them to do it
  3. Be messy, until the mess creates problems. Don’t worry too much about being perfect with business practices, in the beginning, be focused on sales and marketing. Then you can clean up the processes or documentation mess
  4. Work with organizations or individuals who can amplify your brand kudos. Corporations like FDA, MHRA, B-Corp retailers, and clinicians worked for us, what does that look like for you
  5. Brand is king in this new age! Protect it at all costs
  6. Don’t spend too long on a perfect product, create an MVP and test - you’ll be surprised how much harder It is to market a product than it is making it
  7. Above all, know things will work out whether in the venture/idea you choose to follow or something else. Believe in yourself

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

After raising $1.2 million we are looking for a Head Of Marketing, Head Of Operations, Ecommerce Manager, Social Media Executive, and a Finance Assistant. If you want to work with an entrepreneurial team and learn what it takes to launch and run a small business - reach out to us. Job posts can be found on LinkedIn.

All job posts are full-time and paid.

Where can we go to learn more?

Ocushield

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If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Dhruvin Patel, Founder of OCUSHIELD
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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