When we hear the word “entrepreneur” in the field of optometry, many equate this to owning a private practice, starting a practice cold, creating some sort of web-based business or dabbling in real estate. Sometimes, we come across other optometrists that start a side hustle in addition to practice ownership. But every once in a while, we come across a “pure entrepreneur” - someone that has decided to dive into their dream head on and leave the comforts and safety of what is better defined.
This individual represents a story like the ones presented on the hit TV show Shark Tank. They give up the normal 9-5, invest their own capital and place all their chips on, well, themselves. Dr. Kaleb Abbott is an example of this pure entrepreneur. Dr. Abbott’s journey into creating SunSnap Kids, LLC represents true grit and a great learning opportunity for fellow ODs interested in starting a business other than a practice. Read on to learn about Dr. Abbott’s journey:
Dr. Neufeld: What gave you the idea to start SunSnap Kids? Was it always a dream of yours or was there a sudden spark?
Dr. Abbott: After optometry school I moved to Denver, which is one of the sunniest cities in the United States. Located a mile above sea level further intensifies this UV light exposure. I quickly found that my adult patients wear sunglasses year-round, but that my patients under the age of 12 rarely wear sunglasses. Parents told me they often do not buy sunglasses for their kids because they are afraid that the sunglasses will get lost. In January 2019, I began collaborating and brainstorming with several Texas A&M University entrepreneurs associated with Startup Aggieland and StartupGrind BCS. From these discussions, the concept of kid slap bracelet sunglasses emerged — kid sunglasses specifically designed to not get lost. The goal was to create a sunglasses product parents could trust and better protect young and developing eyes from harmful UV light.
Dr. Neufeld: How did you go about planning the initial business plan?
Dr. Abbott: As a startup attempting to create a new product, the initial business plan was fairly simple. We needed to conduct market research to determine if this product was desirable from a consumer standpoint and if there was any market share available for this product. Next we had to contact potential manufacturers to determine tooling costs, minimum order quantities, and estimated cost per unit to evaluate if this could be a viable product. Further market research and surveys were then conducted assessing potential price point for these kid sunglasses. We needed to determine if this was a product consumers would want and if the margins would allow us to sell it profitably.
Dr. Neufeld: Did you obtain financing for start up costs or did you finance the business yourself?
Dr. Abbott: My partners and I self-funded this startup in its entirety. There may come a time when we need investors — several have already reached out to us — but we are hoping to stay self-funded as long as possible.
Dr. Neufeld: Describe the process of going from an idea to a solid cash flowing business.
Dr. Abbott: Having launched less than a month ago, I wouldn’t describe us as a “solid cash flowing business” just yet. The process is long, intensive, tedious, and ongoing and we’ve only just begun. We also haven’t started paid advertising yet. All of our initial sales have been word-of-mouth and through free social media posts.
Dr. Neufeld: How are you sourcing your materials? Are you involved in any of the manufacturing process or just on the sale/marketing side?
Dr. Abbott: We have partnered with a manufacturer who makes the sunglasses and provides the materials. Our in house designer does all the CMF (color, materials, finish) design and works closely with our manufacturer to ensure the design and quality of the product meets our exact requirements.
Dr. Neufeld: When it comes to the frame industry, many would say the market is saturated, maybe even over saturated. How are you carving out your own unique niche against competitors?
Dr. Abbott: In our world today, almost every industry has either stiff competition or requires a significant amount of in-depth knowledge in an emerging field. While competitors do exist in the frame industry, none of them have ever designed a non-conventional pair of sunglasses specific to the needs of kids. All previous kid sunglasses were just smaller versions of adult sunglasses. All kid sunglasses were just as easily lost as every other pair. Our sunglasses don’t just have a specific niche, they solve a universal problem previously neglected by all frame companies — that kids are prone to lose their sunglasses.
Our sunglasses are foldable, snappable, and unforgettable. We also know that kids are more likely to use a product they enjoy, so we aimed to make our product playful and fun. Who doesn’t like slap bracelets?
Dr. Neufeld: What has the time commitment been? (are you still working FT as an OD?)
Dr. Abbott: SunSnap Kids has three founding members who all dedicate significant time and energy to our company. I quit my full-time optometrist job and now perform fill-in work around the Denver area to give me flexibility and time to dedicate to SunSnap Kids.
Dr. Neufeld: What are a few pitfalls you encountered when building your business?
Dr. Abbott: International shipping and importing has probably been our biggest headache to deal with. There is a steep learning curve in understanding the methods of how products get shipped internationally, not to mention dealing with US Customs and the FDA. Additionally, our initial shipment of 1000 custom designed sunglasses boxes arrived defective due to poor packaging by our supplier and were completely unusable.
Dr. Neufeld: How are you positioning your product? - online sales, private practice, corp practice, dept stores, etc.
Dr. Abbott: Initially, our main method of selling has been direct-to-consumer via online and at events. We are exploring other sales channels, but don’t have anything to share about them just yet.
Dr. Neufeld: Talk about profitability and scaling a bit. How are basing sales projections? Are you hiring additional employees? etc etc
Dr. Abbott: One challenge with startups is forecasting sales. It is not as simple as starting an optometry practice and estimating revenue by number of patients seen steadily increasing every quarter. Also, sunglasses sales are seasonal by nature. However, our initial sales are better than predicted. We have proven our business model is scale-able and our product has market demand. We anticipate needing to hire additional help in the first half of 2020, based on our current run rate.
Dr. Neufeld: Words of advice for other OD entrepreneurs/wantrepreneurs?
Dr. Abbott: I think being an entrepreneur requires ODs to adapt a much different mindset than healthcare instills in us. As ODs we form routines and habits which we repeat over and over throughout 95% of our day. When a patient encounter falls in that 5%, we are taught to make a differential diagnosis list and search for the most probable cause (i.e. looking for horses and not zebras).
However, with startups zebras dart out from everywhere. Unexpected problems you never dreamed possible occur randomly and you have to figure out how to fix it. This requires not only a change in thought process, but an acceptance that you will be constantly dealing with uncertainty. Healthcare also teaches us how not to fail. We memorize concerning signs and symptoms, refer patients when we are uncertain, and oftentimes live in fear of “missing” a diagnosis or “mismanaging” a complication.
Conversely, entrepreneurialism teaches us to not only embrace failure but to fail as much and as often as possible because each failure brings us closer to success. I found it helpful to approach entrepreneurship with a mindset inconsistent and quite contrary to how we as optometrists approach eyecare.
Want to Check out this great Business or even order some for your own kids? Check out Dr. Abbott out @ SunSnapKids