What keeps you going when the going gets tough?
What keeps you going when the going gets tough?
The fact that my life would have suffered immeasurably had I not had glasses. And there are 2.5 billion people out there who are experiencing the same things, but for their whole lives. My sons both wear eyeglasses, and I imagine their lives if they didn't have glasses.
Winning at the WeWork Global Creator Awards was instrumental for your organization. What was that experience like, to find out that you'd won?
What's your vision (pun intended) for 2020, seeing as it's going to be such a major year for your organization?
The greatest thing about winning at the Creator Awards was meeting Victoria and the other people involved. The funds allowed us to go from making 20-30 Usee units at one time, to making THOUSANDS at a time. I increased my staff, and found really good people to help me with this mission. And very similarly to the National Geographic award, it added outside validation that it's real, that this system is real and has to work to help those 2.5 billion people in need. The encouragement I got from the folks at WeWork, the encouragement to work harder, and the fact that Adam and his team believed in me, that was pretty humbling. The experience of finding out I won - the word is overused, but it was surreal. We weren't told who was going to come out first, or in what order, but sitting in that booth backstage with Samantha Snabes, when we were the last two, we turned and looked to each other and guessed it was either her or me! We thought we were going to win something, and I was happy for her, but I really wanted to win the $1 million. So when we came out and found out we'd both won the $1 million prize, we were both floored. And I got to introduce my boys to LeVar Burton, which was great.
This year, leading up to 2020, now we have product, it is going to be finding the right distribution partners so we can hit 1 million glasses distributed in 2020. So it's establishing those government relationships and grants to build the distribution capability. By 2020 I want to have a distribution center somewhere in Africa - either Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, possibly South Africa, so much to think about. But for 2020, the goal is to get the networks established that can hit our goals of distribution.
The issue that conventional glasses distribution has is the bottleneck of training people who can dispense eyeglasses. We've taken that training from one year to one day. We still have the same limitation of refraction - we can't hit trachoma, glaucoma, or cataracts - but you can identify them and put them into the eye health network for a higher echelon of care (this is the same with other refraction-based organizations). That ability to train someone in a day is a game-changer. And as long as we incorporate it under the umbrella of the eye health community, you're going to increase the efficiency of that entire eye health community to be able to address the other pathologies. These screeners will be able to identify when they can't help someone with a pair of eyeglasses, but they can help push them into the system.
And as of January 1 of 2019, we've become members of the IAPB, the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, and they've added our Usee kit to the IAPB standards list. What this means is that the international eye health community has endorsed our system as a viable solution to refractive error. That's why I went to Johns Hopkins, that's why we we're doing field trials with the University of Johannesburg, we're doing clinical trials at Hanoi Medical College for children, so we are doing this all under the umbrella of the greater eye health community. This is very important to me, because I don't want to be a "cowboy." I'm building this team so we can address the problem correctly, ethically, and efficiently.
To others out there who are dreaming of starting a nonprofit or other entrepreneurial organization, what words of wisdom would you want to share?
Find what you're passionate about. What injustice do you think you can make a difference in? What can't you live with? And really dig deep into why it's not happening. What's wrong with the system that we can't solve this issue? And then become an expert. And then don't be afraid to think outside the box a little bit. I've had lens physicists look at my device, optometrists, and they all have the same reaction - this is really SIMPLE. And I respond with "Yes, it has to be!" I came at it from the perspective of how can we reduce error - either you can, or you cannot see - as easily as possible. It's about ease of access. You don't need electricity. You don't need a smartphone.
And then once you have that idea, get it formalized; either from where you are to where you want to be, or planning backwards on how to get there. So whether it's finding customers, finding money, finding clients - just keep working on that plan.
And then most importantly - don't give up! I've been working on this for ten years.