In this edition of On The Grind, we talk to David Roger, co-founder of Felix Gray eyewear.
David constantly challenged rules as a kid just by asking the question “why?” so it makes sense that his company was founded on the idea of “why isn’t there eyewear made for people who stare at screens all day?”
David spoke with us about his early days working with the CEO of Zappos, why listening to advice is often a bad idea and how to turn physical pain into profit.
Can you tell us about your background (education, where you grew up, what type of upbringing did you have, prior career if any)?
I grew up pretty lucky.
I have two loving parents. My dad’s a surgeon, my mom is a nurse and also runs his practice. I’m the oldest of three (my sister is two years younger, my brother is six years younger).
My dad is a massive nerd. He never played sports. I always liked running around and being active. We’re both stubborn and would fight a lot.
I wasn’t okay with the rules because he just said so. I think this kind of defiance is essential for an entrepreneur.
My parents also pushed hard for education. They always said my inheritance was my education (I am very fortunate that they paid for school).
I was always asking why, but my answers had to be thoughtful. I couldn’t just say something was unfair. I had to explain what made it unfair.
Looking back, that discipline, coupled with my defiance of the norm, helped me excel on my entrepreneurial path.
Tell us how you first got into the eyewear industry and why you founded Felix Gray.
I graduated college in 2013 and went to work for the CEO of Zappos – Tony Hsieh – on his next startup, Downtown Project.
Our goal was to revitalize downtown Las Vegas. I worked on the Operations team. We were responsible for building on much of the land we owned. My job was to analyze the projects and see if they were financially and operationally feasible. If not, I had to tweak the models to make them work.
This position meant I sat in front of a screen for hours and hours every day. I’d leave work, and my eyes would be exhausted.
My co-founder, Chris, was working at UBS at the time and staring at screens for longer than me. We both wondered why people hadn’t already invented a solution for this inevitable eyestrain caused by digital screens.
We realized we could make glasses with lenses that effectively filtered blue light and eliminated glare. We set out to place these lenses in beautiful, high-quality frames that people would feel confident wearing.
We started with the problem and then backed into eyewear with Felix Gray.
What has been the biggest reason behind your success?
We focused our resources on conducting research that backed the need for consumers to wear blue light filtering eyewear. We then utilized this research to educate consumers, which resulted in a trial, trust, and, ultimately, the purchase of this new category and product.
The execution was an additional pillar of success.
We’re focused, we take chances, we think thoughtfully about how we’re going to execute, and then analyze if the initiative was successful.
We have a lot of smart people at Felix Gray. That’s key.
What has been the most significant barrier to your success?
Felix Gray built an entirely new category. That’s pretty crazy. Before us, most people didn’t even know what blue light filtering glasses were. Our efforts to educate consumers on why they need blue light filtering glasses were both our biggest
What is the most actionable piece of advice you would give someone trying to get into this type of business or any entrepreneurial endeavor?
Don’t half-ass it. You better fully jump. You can figure out how to swim along the way.
What is the biggest mistake that you’ve made during your journey that can serve as a warning to other entrepreneurs?
Listening to prescriptive advice. I hate that now.
We were in an accelerator program and had a lot of mentors. People would meet with us for 30 minutes, and the bad mentors (there were a lot) would think they knew our business, our vision, and give out advice like it was the only path.
It’s important to get advice, but only follow what resonates.
Ultimately, good leaders make the right decisions, and you need to trust that you’ll do that.
What’s the most important tool you’ve found to help you with your day-to-day?
I use Evernote, but anything works.
I also have a piece of paper on my desk with my biggest initiatives for the foreseeable future.
I look at it every morning and see if what’s on my list for that day helps me toward those goals.
I look at it every night to see if I’ve made progress on them.
How important have other people (cofounders, S.Os, investors, etc.) been to your success?
Oh man, I don’t know how you swim after that jump without a co-founder.
How much luck do you think you can attribute to your success? OR right time, right place?
There’s always luck.
We were lucky to have picked many great suppliers early on. Even though we interviewed diligently, we were still fortunate with our first hires.
We knew there was a massively overlooked problem in Digital Eye Strain, but we had great timing.
“It’s important to get advice, but only follow what resonates.”
What are you doing today to take Felix Gray to the moon?
We’re listening to our customers. Improving every day based on their feedback and what they want, while also making sure that those initiatives make our business stronger.
How far do you look down the road when thinking about Felix Gray?
Far. But it’s also important to have a shorter sight too because things change and you’re in less control the further out you look.
Do you think ANYONE can be successful at being an entrepreneur or does it take a specific “type?”
I think there are some traits that many founders share.
They ask “why?” a lot.
If other people don’t like the status quo either, they realize there’s opportunity.
However, as a company progresses, the founders that can stay successful are those that are thoughtful, inquisitive, logical, time efficient, and empower those around them (to name a few).
How will you know when you’ve “made it?”
The day we say we’ve “made it,” is the day it starts to fall apart.