Episode 211: Show Notes
Today on the podcast we welcome husband and wife business duo, Ben and Laura Harrison, of Jonas Paul Eyewear. This episode is for anyone who has ever been afraid to go after that seemingly unattainable business or their passion project. A lot of us let those things sit on the shelf gathering dust because they seem, well, really hard and really scary! Ben and Laura are two people who are really living what a lot of people only dream of creating. In 2013, Ben and Laura gave birth to their son, Jonas Paul. Jonas was born with a rare disorder, Peter’s Anomaly. As Ben and Laura searched for fashionable eyeglasses for their visually impaired son, they grew increasingly frustrated at the limited (and very un-trendy) options for children.
They were so inspired by their son, that they decided to leave their careers to launch Jonas Paul Eyewear with the mission of helping children feel beautiful in their glasses and providing sight to children in need with every purchase. Laura and Ben saw a gap in the market, combined their skills and followed their passions and their need to make a difference in the world to create a unique and impactful business. In this episode, we’ll be diving deeper into how their business came about, the challenges they faced along the way and how they transitioned from a service based business in wedding photography to a product based business in eye care! Ben and Laura have a truly inspiring story and if you have an idea you’ve been wanting to get off the ground – trust us, you’ll have all the motivation you need after this episode.
Ben & Laura’s Business Background and Why They Started Jonas Paul Eyewear
Ben and Laura started a wedding photography business together, travelling around the world and taking photos at weddings. Later they moved toward the online business space, providing a digital download service for photographers, design resources and a website hosting template company for photographers. They eventually started to burnout in the wedding photography business – it’s no easy feat photographing the biggest day of people’s lives! Although they loved working together and travelling together, Ben and Laura soon started to identify pain points and needs within their own industry and life and knew they needed a change. Change happened when their son, Jonas Paul, was born in 2013. Jonas was born with a rare disorder, Peter’s Anomaly, that caused opacified corneas and glaucoma – essentially visual impairment. Their world came crumbling around them, and they quickly had to adjust to the new “normal.” Despite being blind at birth, Jonas Paul now has low vision thanks to 21 surgeries and the determination of Ben and Laura. Their lives had been changed and Ben and Laura felt compelled to do something. When shopping for glasses for their son, they noticed how unfashionable the glasses out there for kids with visual impairment, were. Ben and Laura wanted their kid to feel cool, to be a hipster kid, and immediately they saw a big gap in the market. They shared their idea with some friends, got the encouragement they needed and hit the ground running. They had the idea in March 2013 and launched the business in December 2013. Did we mention that they had zero background in medicine or optometry?
Adjusting From A Photography Service Business To Selling Glasses For Kids
The service industry was far more interpersonal for Ben and Laura, whereas with the Wild West of the internet, you have five minutes to make an impression on somebody. The wedding photography piece, for them, was almost easier from a marketing point of view. It was easier to connect with people who liked their aesthetic. The product based business has been a lot more to research and figure out with regards to manufacturing and product fulfillment. Initially, Ben and Laura self-funded their new business venture, starting with five styles of glasses only. What they found to be helpful in the switch from service based to product based business, was to surround themselves with great people who have experience and who are willing to share it! Ben and Laura advise leaning into that experience and asking for help. That helped them take their business to the next level, where they introduced eyewear kits. Eventually, and after three years of learning the different systems they slowly started bringing prescriptions in-house. Ben and Laura advise doing low-cost testing incrementally as your business grows. This helps test the water and get it off the ground, just before you jump off any big cliffs. “Jumping off a cliff” is a fitting analogy to this side of business because it can cause the same fear and trepidation; feeling like you’re at this decisive moment where you have to jump. However, there are ways you can ease that entry into it. This is often the holdback for a lot of people and what we want to encourage you to do, is just take the first step and then grow into it from there. If your graphic is perfect by the time you’ve launched it, then it’s already too late! You need to get out that minimum viable product – start with a small test, then get feedback and make sure you have a constant feedback loop from customers to ensure you are providing the most value for them. It’s about taking those small, intentional steps and not being afraid to tackle problems as they arise. Then eventually you’ll look back and say, “How the heck did I get here!?”
The Press Onslaught: Did It Really Change Ben & Laura’s Business?
Jonas Paul Eyewear soon exploded, and they were picked up by big names in the press, like The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian and The Today Show. Ben and Laura have been so excited at the interest their business has generated and although it has been difficult, they have loved sharing their story and having the opportunity to help other families out there. Often times disability can make parents want to withdraw and protect their child from the world but what they really wanted was to share an empowering story. What has been really encouraging for people is that they had the courage to put their personal story out there with the sentiment “Our son is beautiful, here he is.” This has really encouraged people to not feel ashamed and to just love your kids for who they are. But despite the press that they have had, Ben and Laura never had that Shark Tank moment, where all of a sudden you have this “break” and you’re a completely different business. They have really had to grind it out and work to get traffic during those times. In general, everybody sort of wishes for that one big moment that is going to change your life. But Ben and Laura want to encourage people to know that this isn’t really the case for most businesses. A lot of businesses just have to grind it out, day in and day out. The key to their success has really been consistency. Consistency with digital marketing and social media. The press is always great but it doesn’t always translate to business.
The Benefits of Taking It Slow: Why Laura & Ben Only Committed Full-Time to Jonas Paul Eyewear After Two Years
When Ben and Laura started Jonas Paul Eyewear they were still running their photography and web companies, were renovating their house and fell pregnant, again! Despite this busy period, they continued to go ahead with the business idea and feel it out for a few years just to see if there was even a need. It’s really scary to leave your current business and dive headfirst into something that you have no idea whether enough people will even support it! So Laura and Ben tested the market for a solid two years before really diving in. And then all the stars aligned for them and they were able to get some awesome investors. At the time, they stopped shooting weddings and sold their web company. But it took so many pieces to fall into place and if they had tried to do everything in one fell swoop, it may not have worked out for them. As much as they didn’t want to have so many things going on at one time, they were patient. However, in hindsight, they do realize the incredible power of being able to focus on one thing. When they made the commitment to do this business, and this business only, it really changed the whole ball game. We like to remind people that there are going to be many different seasons of your business life – so try not to force things so much and take it slow.
The Impact of The Jonas Paul Brand and What’s In The Pipeline For The Business
What Ben and Laura love about their business is that it started with their story but has grown to include thousands of other stories out there, with different families and kids, with different special needs. The brand has helped create a community in which a kid getting glasses doesn’t have to be embarrassing, it can be exciting and fun. The brand really does encourage kids; that if they walk into a classroom they can be excited to put their glasses on and feel like they’re cool and be a trendsetter, rather than being picked on. The brand engages parents to talk about philanthropy and encourages conscious buying behaviors. As of Q1, this year, 42096 children have been impacted by their Buy Sight, Give Sight program together with CBM, which gives a donation to buy Vitamin A supplements for children for every frame sold. Vitamin A supplements are the leading cause of preventable childhood blindness in the developing world. With the business, they are contributing to a culture shift in conscious purchasing and seeing that has been really rewarding for Laura and Ben. The Buy Sight, Give Sight program also opens up such a great conversation with kids; for them to know that their glasses helped another kid out there. There is also the added benefit that the child will come to the realization that there are other kids out there, with eyesight issues, experiencing the same thing, as what they are going through. Their goal is to make more of a global impact and by 2028, to have 2 million kids impacted by their business. If that’s not inspiring, then we don’t know what is!
- Ben & Laura’s Business Background and Why They Started Jonas Paul Eyewear. [0:02:50.1]
- Adjusting From A Photography Service Business To Selling Glasses For Kids. [0:18:50.1]
- The Press Onslaught: Did It Really Change Ben & Laura’s Business? [0:28:00.1]
- The Benefits of Taking It Slow: Why Laura & Ben Only Committed Full-Time to Jonas Paul Eyewear After Two Years. [0:33:00.1]
- The Impact of The Jonas Paul Brand and What’s In The Pipeline For The Business. [0:36:45.1]
- Find out who your customer is and how you can help them.
- Sit down with someone, share your idea and hash out the pros and cons.
- Find out your “Why” and what makes you tick.
- Establish your five second pitch for what you do and why you do it.
- Be transparent and be honest.
- Get your analytics installed on your website.
- Don’t be bummed if you only get five likes.