This week’s Misfit Entrepreneurs are Ben and Laura Harrison. Ben and Laura are the founders of Jonas Paul Eyewear. The company has been featured everywhere from the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Harvard Business Review, to even a full segment about the company on NBC news.
Jonas Paul specializes in fashionable and stylish glasses for children…
Like a lot of Misfit Entrepreneurs, we’ve had on the show, Ben and Laura didn’t start out as eyewear entrepreneurs. Instead they encountered a problem and endeavored to find a solution to help their son, Jonas Paul. Through this - a mission and a company were born.
Nowadays, Jonas Paul helps children all over the world feel beautiful in their glass and gives a portion of every sale to help provide sight to children in need. Ben and Laura have a truly remarkable story and an incredible amount of useful experience and wisdom to share.
Ben and Laura call themselves “recovering serial entrepreneurs.” Ben and Laura met in college. Ben was focused on work as a photographer and Laura on communications. They decided to grow the photography business to become destination photographers. In addition, the launched resources online for other photographers. Things were good. After 7 years of marriage, they decided to have a child. Everything seemed fine up until their child, Jonas Paul was born.
Laura ended up having to have an emergency c-section. When they brought Jonas over to her, the first words out of her mouth were, “Does he have pupils?” Since he was just born, they dismissed it. But over the next few days reality began to set in. Jonas was born blind and was diagnosed with Peter’s anomaly, a very rare sight condition. It was very overwhelming as new parents to come to grips with how their child will not be able to see or even see their faces.
They went on an extensive journey in which by the age of 5, Jonas has had 22 eye surgeries to give him some aspect of sight and 4 cornea transplants that have all failed.
As this went on, Ben started searching for stylish eyewear for Jonas, so he could look cool in the glasses he needed to see what he could. Jonas was only 2 weeks old, but Ben was searching for something to combat his helplessness. The search became an outlet and a mission that morphed into creating stylish eyewear for kids because there was nothing out there. They started on Alibaba with some designs and found a manufacturer.
How did you launch the business?
- They had always been in the digital download space, so going into selling a productive with FDA restrictions and everything else was an unknown.
- They hacked together a WordPress site to get something up to have a brand.
- They used their photography background to help in crafting the image for the brand and also creating the right design.
- They went through 3 different rounds of samples before they got one right.
- Once the found some frames that seemed right, they moved to launch.
- They just sold through their website and used their SEO experience to help organic traffic.
- It didn’t take off right away. It has been a grind.
- They used the feedback to start tweaking things and were OK taking it slow.
What was your tipping point where you started to see massive growth?
- There hasn’t been one major tipping point…it has been a lot of little things that have combined.
- The one big thing was when they made the decision to focus on one thing – Jonas Paul.
- They gave up their other businesses to focus on it full time. They became part of a business accelerator called Praxis and this gave them opportunities to pitch to potential partners/investors.
- At one of the pitches they were introduced to a former CEO of Luxotica which led to their first seed round.
What is working for you when it comes to digital marketing? What is driving sales online?
- You need a holistic approach.
- Facebook is needed, but is all about disrupting things to create interest in your product.
- Google AdWords is important because people are searching for the need.
- Instagram is also very important for a product like eyewear.
- The messages on the mediums are very different.
- Retargeting and lead capturing are important, so you can nurture people and teach them about your product.
- For a lot of solutions, there is a big education piece needed which the mediums allow you to do.
- Authenticity of your brand and who you are is the most critical part of the equation. Stay to true to who you really are.
Anything outside digital?
- They have a brand ambassador program with micro-influencers
- They have affiliate programs
Talk to us about building a culture with your business and what that means to the brand…
- The best part is being able to surround yourself with a team that has passion for the business like they do.
- Making sure the team knows the mission and vision and why is really important.
- But, you must be open to change to feedback from your team to grow.
- Giving your employees a voice is very important. Everyone should feel like it is a part of them as much as you as an owner/leader.
What advice do you have other husband and wife teams running a business or thinking about starting a business together?
- Early on – you have to understand your strengths and weaknesses and learn how to let each other run with the strengths.
- Trust each other where your skills sets are and find all the ways they can complement each other.
- Put a plan together on how to run things for your work life together.
- Using a personality tool like a Strengthfinder or DISC can give you really great insight into each other.
- Be willing and outspoken on your encouragement to each other. Don’t take it for granted just because you work together every day.
- Have fun with it. Reward each other. Surprise each other.
- You cannot separate your home life and work life – it all blends together. Embrace it, don’t fight it.
- Celebrate together when you win and come together when you lose
- It is a true privilege to be able to be a team and share the journey of a business together.
What has surprised you most on your entrepreneurial journey together?
- That you can pull things off and pull them off well, even when it doesn’t look like it can happen.
- Everybody has this entrepreneurial spirit inside them, but so many are afraid to unleash it.
- When you find what you are called and meant to be doing it gives you such a more meaningful life.
- How much you gain by taking the leap of faith…
How has social entrepreneurship made an impact for the business and for you?
It allows you to truly help people in need, make the world a better place, and be part of something bigger.
Best Quote: As an entrepreneur, you cannot separate your home life and work life – it all blends together. Embrace it, don’t fight it.”
Ben and Laura's Misfit 3
- Don’t suffer from failure to launch syndrome. Get a minimum viable product, get it out there, get feedback and go from there.
- Make a name for yourself in your market by trying everything to get yourself out there. You’ll then be able to hone in and find what really works. Have patience here.
- Fearing hardship with starting your own thing can keep you from living your life to the fullest. Hardship and suffering help you recognize life in a different way. Be open to it and be ok with it.