The New York Times recently published an article highlighting a new study that documents the inefficiencies associated with the distribution of used eyeglasses in
the developing world. The study gives evidentiary support to what I witnessed firsthand as that optometry student 25 years ago. I learned two things from that experience:
First, the problem is immense. Estimates for those who can have their vision restored with a pair of eyeglasses range from 500 million to 1 billion. The vast majority of those individuals simply do not have access to affordable glasses. Second, the preoccupation with personal appearance is a human characteristic shared
the world over, or put another way, vanity is not monopolized by the rich. Having seen the depth and persistence of the market failure to deliver this simple tool, I decided to do something about it. I founded VisionSpring in 2001 so I could be an advocate for people like the woman in Choco, not by providing them with free glasses, but by treating them like customers. I built a commercially viable, scalable business model that activated consumers traditionally ignored by the eyeglasses market: the Base of the Pyramid (BoP) consumer.
From the beginning, I understood that our success as an organization was contingent on our ability to be responsive to the needs and preferences of the BoP consumer. Pioneering a new business model, it is easy to get distracted by the business of the business. Forging new distribution channels, streamlining supply chains and determining appropriate price points are all critical elements of any product-based business. But it was only when VisionSpring started developing aspirational products specifically designed for the BoP consumer that market forces were unleashed and we began to see a path to sustainability. That was
a critical moment in our history.
Now is another, VisionSpring has just sold its 1,000,000th pair of glasses through our distribution channels in El Salvador and India and through partnerships with organizations like BRAC. A University of Michigan study determined that reading glasses have the potential to increase our customer’s productivity by 35%. For the hundreds of thousands of tailors, mechanics and rug makers whose work suffers as their eyesight begins to fail, this increase in productivity translates into tangible economic gain. Additional analysis of the data from the study indicates that increased productivity can translate into a 20% increase in the average monthly income of VisionSpring’s target customer. Based on this data, we have created more than $216,000,000 in economic impact.
And this is only the beginning of our story; we are on course to sell 10 million more over the next 10 years. Even though we have yet to receive a single request for cat eye frames, if that were to change, we are prepared to give our customers what they want.