I led Techstars Ventures’ investment in Smart Vision Labs (SVL) Series A round back in mid 2015. I was deeply inspired by the company’s mission, technology, and potential to improve the human condition on a global basis. Yaopeng Zhou and Marc Albanese, co-founders of SVL, had a drive and determination that was (and continues to be) truly special.
They are pushing headlong into an industry that was stagnant and dominated by outdated technology. The establishment is resistant to change, and yet the disruption of the 1950s approach to eye care is coming fast and the population will benefit. If you are one of the 144 million people that got an eye exam in the US in the last year, you know what I’m talking about.
I’ve now been working with the team at SVL for the past 18 months. The company has kept its head down and stayed focused while solving some very hard problems. Working with SVL has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my venture career so far, and we are just scratching the surface.
The duality of working with a company who is creating a positive global impact while simultaneously proving out a scalable and profitable business model along the way is super rewarding. Not every investment will be this profound, but I’m honored to be learning alongside SVL here. I’m writing this post to share some of the experience and some detail around why I’m excited about Smart Vision Labs.
Disruption by Creating Efficiency
One of the things we’ve learned about the vision correction market is that it is horribly inefficient, and therein likes a great opportunity! If you’ve had an eye exam in the last decade, you know that it requires an appointment in many cases, the technology takes up a room (or two), and that the operators of that equipment require extensive training and are specialists. If you add up the costs (hardware, real estate, technicians or Dr’s, etc) – it’s no wonder traditional optical retailers try to fleece you for hundreds of dollars and the prescription (RX) for corrective lenses are baked into a much bigger eye health exam and process. Even folks who have vision insurance rarely use it to its full extent due to the friction in the vision exam process (only 37% to be exact).
My Own Experience
I had a personal experience with this a few years ago. It wasn’t long after I turned 40 that I started to feel like my vision was changing, but it took 6 months or more of stuff just getting strange before I realized what was happening. I was getting headaches, having a hard time concentrating after 3pm if I was at my computer and found myself squinting or not looking at the text on the screen in meetings. It finally clicked and I realized my eyes had changed. Actually, it was more like “sh*t, I have to admit I need glasses…”
Many of us have the “eye doctor” experience in our heads. Forms, dark rooms, hour long wait, big bill, walk out with funny glasses, etc. Not something we do proactively, right? I got a floater in one of my eyes a few years ago and freaked out about it, so I went in and got it checked out. It wasn’t fun, but it was necessary and the responsible thing to do. In fact, just to be clear, I think everyone should see an eye doctor and ensure they are healthy. Conditions such as glaucoma or macular degeneration are serious business. SVL, nor I, are suggesting that regular eye health exams should be replaced with this solution or skipped.
The efficiency SVL is bringing to the market though technology is about vision correction. Thanks to some pretty amazing technology that has turned desktop hardware into a handheld device along with a powerful telemedicine platform, SVL is able to create a much more efficient experience that delivers real-world ROI (to the tune of 500%/year per location) for both the consumer and the optical retailer or eye doctor.
The efficiency comes from streamlining and speeding up the data collection process that includes the Pupillary Distance, Visual Acuity, Refraction, Basic health questions and current RX (if applicable). This enables new prescription issuance via Drs, referrals to Ophthalmologists, and for consumers to quickly know if their prescription needs changing quickly and easily.
60% of the world’s population need vision correction. Only a fraction of that population obtains corrective lenses due to the challenges with access, cost, time or awareness.
In fact, SVL runs corporate wellness screenings and has collected some interesting data that we all should be paying attention to:
- 25% of people studied would fail a DMV eye test
- 60 hours of productivity are lost each year because of eye-focusing issues
- 79 percent of employees suffer from at least one daily vision disturbance (like headaches or eyestrain) at work
The Opportunity Is In The Data
Let the first statistic sink in. Stand up and look around the room you are in (if you are in an office, coffee shop, etc). 25% of the people there would fail a DMV vision test. This means they can’t see properly, and it’s affecting their life in untold ways (let alone their driving). Fixing that only takes 5 minutes now that Smart Vision technology is available.
Although there are 144M eye exams performed every year in the US, that number should be much higher. SVL is starting to make an impact here. The company has run over 50k exams in 23 countries, and has seen the usage volume jump 300% in last 6 months.
What if you could check your vision every 6 months and it took 5 minutes and no appointment? What if you could do it at your office? At home? At your annual check-up w/ your Primary or the RN? What if you got an email from your child’s school with their RX and a link to order glasses before you even know they had a vision issue? What if your prescription was available to you at all times and you could order glasses from anywhere, anytime without having to go through the traditional process and burn a day and hundreds of dollars? Better living through technology indeed. Here’s a powerful example of what happens weekly around this company. I hope you can see why I’m excited and proud to be involved with Smart Vision Labs!