Spend That 2017 FSA Money On These Bespoke Glasses You Can Order From Your Phone

Topology Eyewear

Topology Eyewear

Finding eyeglasses that fit well, look awesome and perfect your vision is at least as difficult as finding a swimsuit you're happy with—possibly less emotionally fraught, but equally frustrating.

Topology Eyewear aims to turn the experience around by facilitating custom prescription eyeglasses orders from your iPhone. Other companies offer online try-ons and at-home try-ons of stock eyewear, but no one else offers this level of customization.

Topology

Topology Eyewear app

They also offer panic-free ordering: After you click the buy button, you'll receive a mock-up of your bespoke frames, so you can try them on and make any final adjustments to the fit, or change your mind altogether. Even after you receive your final frames, you can return them for a full refund if you're not happy—unheard of when it comes to custom products. Prices for prescription glasses start at $545, and you can use your insurance, FSA or HSA dollars towards them.

Eric Varady has been working on Topology since 2013. He hired his brother, Rob, as COO in 2016, and he and his team launched the app publicly earlier this year. "Now we're growing as fast as we can manage," Eric said in an interview. Read on to find out what led to him launching an eyewear company after a career in medical device design, and how the power of the iPhone combined with customers desperate for something other than ill-fitting stock frames is driving the company's early success.

Topology Eyewear

Topology Eyewear

You have a really interesting and eclectic background, including medical implant design. What made you want to launch a custom eyeglasses company?

"I wanted to work on a product and in an industry that sold directly to consumers, and that moved faster than the highly-regulated implantable medical field. In addition, I wanted to work on a product that could leverage my unique skills in design and advanced manufacturing, with margins that could allow for it to be manufactured locally. Bespoke eyewear was the perfect fit. And as I like to joke, it makes for much more interesting dinner-party conversation!

I stumbled into the optical industry by pure chance. I was shopping for eyewear in the Marina district of San Francisco with my then girlfriend (now wife). She made it clear that since she looks at me all day, she should have final say in what I wear on my face! And I certainly welcomed the help, since I can’t see myself in a mirror without my Rx glasses on!

Shopping for stock eyewear certainly isn’t easy—we went from store (with limited inventory) to store (with limited inventory) trying the find for me the right combination of style and fit. I happen to have ears set much farther back than most, and so most stock eyeglass and sunglass temple arms are far too short. And everyone knows the prices for stock designer frames are outrageously high, as the frame is often just a little bit of plastic or metal that is mass-manufactured abroad for only a few dollars then relentlessly marked-up. And that’s where I had the lightbulb moment—it isn’t the retail price that’s the problem, it’s the product itself, as well as how you shop for it. Make a fundamentally better product.

Stock eyewear by definition won't fit you, because it wasn't made for you. If there was ever a product that demands customization, it's eyewear. Think about the enormous diversity of face sizes and shapes across gender, age, and ethnicity, and then combine that with the equally enormous set of fashion preferences across shape, color, and material. It’s actually crazy that any store with, say, 50 frames can sell anything!

But if you could crack how to do custom eyewear, like a bespoke suit or a couture dress, and critically be able to preview what it will look like before you buy (which means you can interact with it, share it, and get feedback), then you’d have something truly special. And if you could charge the same price (or less) than what customers are already accustomed to paying for an inferior stock product in an inconvenient retail store, then a startup could actually take on the mega incumbents.

So I set out to reinvent how eyewear is made and sold, in order to produce a product and experience that would redefine what it means to be a premium in the optical category. Not someone else's brand name engraved on the outside, but a completely custom product, like a bespoke suit or couture dress, with your name engraved on the inside."

Topology Eyewear

Topology Eyewear

Was there specific technology that made Topology possible? 


"What we do today couldn’t have been done five years ago for a number of reasons. First and most obvious, we leverage the extraordinary power, sophistication, and standardization of modern iPhones. We push the phone to the limits in regards to its ability to calculate and render in real-time the virtual preview of a perfectly-fitted custom set of eyewear. And you can tweak any style’s shape and see it adjust to your ears and nose shape, all will staying perfectly in place as you move your head.

Second, we leverage the latest in cloud computing, computer vision, and machine learning in order to build a millimeter-accurate 3D model of your face from a simple video taken from any iPhone model (not just the iPhone X). We use said model to measure the unique contours of your nose and the asymmetrical location of each of your eyes and ears. We also ensure our lenses won’t contact your eyelashes or cheeks. And we solve in 3D the unique position-of-wear variables required to order a state-of-the-art fully-compensated progressive lens—and we’re the only online company in the world that can do this.

Topology Eyewear

Topology Eyewear

Third, we use advanced software to drive our manufacturing machines, so each part made is completely unique, yet held to the tightest tolerances ever achieved in the eyewear industry. And we need such precision in order to ensure our yields are extraordinarily high, that each part of the frame mates together, and that the prescription lens fits securely at precisely the right location and angle with respect to each eye. We build your unique facial asymmetry into the product, so it fits you perfectly right-out-of-the-box: no adjustments required."

How is Topology better than going into your optometrist's office?

"We do both frames and lenses better than any store or doctors office, because we know the precise 3D shape of your custom frame and the precise 3D shape of your face. That allows our product to be better than a stock product in a number of ways.

First, our frames will fit you better, because we customize 21 different parameters of our frames to fit the unique shape of your face perfectly, yielding superior comfort and aesthetics. We contour our nosepads to the exact shape of your nose, manufacture each custom temple unique to your ear locations, and position and angle your lenses to achieve optimum optics.

Second, we order the most sophisticated lenses, equipped with only the best coatings, that the industry has to offer. Moreover, we design your frame with the curvature of your Rx lens taken into account. For example, I have a high minus Rx—stock frames are sold with demo lenses that have far more curvature than my Rx lenses, so when a store would pop those demo lenses out and install my Rx lenses, the temple arms would splay way out!  That’s one of the reasons they then take the frame in the back to warm and distort the frame to make it better work with my lens and my face. Warming, stretching, and distorting is how the industry makes stock products fit a wide diversity of people… but that is also why stock frames loosen and stretch out over time and need to be constantly adjusted! Ours never stretch out, because we build your measurements into the product so it fits right out of the box perfectly, with no adjustments required.

Third, we solve in 3D for the measurements necessary to produce state-of-the-art progressive lenses. Most optical stores don’t have a way to measure the distance of your eye to the back of your lens, or the tilt and wrap angles of your lens with respect to your eyes, so they make assumptions that are by definition inaccurate. Our progressive lenses are the best in the world, because we measure everything precisely, and then ensure the frame positions the lens perfectly. Guaranteed.

And since each of our frame styles is auto-adjusted to fit you, and each frame is available in every color in our inventory, the result is as if you walked into a store where everything was made for you. Your choices are endless, yet we make it extremely fast and easy to get a look that you want. Everything you see is already sized for you! And we make it easy to share your designs with others to get feedback, because no one likes to shop for eyewear in a vacuum. And no matter how your use our app, we do the hard work to ensure the fit is perfect.

Lastly, and most importantly, we're so confident in our software, manufacturing processes, and materials, that we offer a no-questions-asked return policy. If you don’t like the frame, the color, the material, the fit, or the optics, for any reason, you can return it for a full refund. This 100% satisfaction guarantee is in itself groundbreaking—a first for any custom product in any product category."

What materials do you use to make your frames?

"We choose to make our frames out of only the best frame materials the industry has to offer: Italian cellulose acetate (plastic) and stainless steel.  We don’t 3D print, because 3D printing looks and feels cheap. It makes our manufacturing challenges far harder, but the results speak for themselves."

What was the toughest problem to solve when launching Topology?

"The more different you are, the more consumer education required. Most people assume e-commerce means a cheaper alternative to brick-and-mortar. While that may have been true in the past, I believe e-commerce can also mean a fundamentally better product. The only way to do what we do is to get a 3D model of a customer’s face, and the best way to do that is via the phone in their pocket—it's better and more convenient. But for a luxury product sold remotely, let alone through an app, we’re forced to develop entirely new strategies to acquire and engage with our customers. It is early days, but a challenge we’re well underway at solving."

What's the most surprising thing you've encountered since launching?

"I started this company to solve a problem I experienced for myself. I thought I had a hard time finding frames that fit, but I had no idea how much harder it was for others. The vast majority of eyewear in this country is designed for a Caucasian nose structure, so if you’re non-caucasian and you’ve struggled all your life trying to find glasses and sunglasses that fit. Many customers think it is their face that's hard-to-fit, but that’s not the case. It's simply that the industry has refused to cater to minorities, since no store can have more than say 50-100 frames on display and therefore they stock products that are going to cater to the majority.

I’ve also met customers with very large or petite heads—the latter is forced to shop in the children’s section, where the selection of colors and styles is terrible.

You can imagine how excited said customers are when they discover what we have to offer.  Custom products don't discriminate, because each is made completely from scratch and crafted to fit each customer perfectly. Guaranteed.

I also fundamentally believed the two things that have held back bespoke products to date (suits, shirts, shoes, and eyewear) was the inability for a customer to preview the product before purchase, and the inability for said customer to return the product if he/she wasn't satisfied. Custom products have required a tremendous amount of consumer faith (and disposable income) to overcome these hurdles, which is why they have remained an extremely small segment of the apparel industry.

I believed that if you solve the inability to preview a custom product before purchase, and if you improve the quality, fit, (and optics) of the product, then there would be no need for a customer to return the product even if a generous return policy were offered. Most importantly, far more customers would take a chance on us if a return policy were offered.  It was a big gamble, and the results have exceeded our expectations.  Our customers simply love our product.  And we’re scaling up as fast as we can."

How important is it to send customers a mock up of their frames? It seems like that could be expensive, but I imagine you've found it's worth the expense? 


"It's definitely an expense, but the benefits to our customers outweigh the cost. Customers love our prototype process because in a very short period of time they get to put on their face the physical manifestation of all our software and all our promises. And the result speaks for itself—the fit is perfect out of the box, with a grip on the nose that solves the red-spots and slippage issues they’ve always experienced with their stock frames. It makes our customers feel more engaged with the process, like coming in to a tailor for a final fitting. It is also another way for them to get feedback from others as to how this frame looks on them aesthetically. Lastly, there’s nothing like a physical prototype to better help them express how they’d like to make any small changes, should they so desire. And for us, the process allows us to make our return guarantee that much more generous, which our customers love and appreciate."

What near future plans do you have for the company?

"We're just getting started. We've got a lot of new features for the app and for the product we're working on that I can't discuss quite yet. But in the near-term, we'll certainly expand on the styles and colors that we offer. Every week we release a new version of the app with visible and under-the-hood improvements that result in a better shopping experience and a more-accurate fitting. And we’re constantly ensuring our manufacturing process can withstand rapid scale. 2018 will be a very exciting year!"

 

">Topology Eyewear

Topology Eyewear

Finding eyeglasses that fit well, look awesome and perfect your vision is at least as difficult as finding a swimsuit you're happy with—possibly less emotionally fraught, but equally frustrating.

Topology Eyewear aims to turn the experience around by facilitating custom prescription eyeglasses orders from your iPhone. Other companies offer online try-ons and at-home try-ons of stock eyewear, but no one else offers this level of customization.

Topology

Topology Eyewear app

They also offer panic-free ordering: After you click the buy button, you'll receive a mock-up of your bespoke frames, so you can try them on and make any final adjustments to the fit, or change your mind altogether. Even after you receive your final frames, you can return them for a full refund if you're not happy—unheard of when it comes to custom products. Prices for prescription glasses start at $545, and you can use your insurance, FSA or HSA dollars towards them.

Eric Varady has been working on Topology since 2013. He hired his brother, Rob, as COO in 2016, and he and his team launched the app publicly earlier this year. "Now we're growing as fast as we can manage," Eric said in an interview. Read on to find out what led to him launching an eyewear company after a career in medical device design, and how the power of the iPhone combined with customers desperate for something other than ill-fitting stock frames is driving the company's early success.

Topology Eyewear

Topology Eyewear

You have a really interesting and eclectic background, including medical implant design. What made you want to launch a custom eyeglasses company?

"I wanted to work on a product and in an industry that sold directly to consumers, and that moved faster than the highly-regulated implantable medical field. In addition, I wanted to work on a product that could leverage my unique skills in design and advanced manufacturing, with margins that could allow for it to be manufactured locally. Bespoke eyewear was the perfect fit. And as I like to joke, it makes for much more interesting dinner-party conversation!

I stumbled into the optical industry by pure chance. I was shopping for eyewear in the Marina district of San Francisco with my then girlfriend (now wife). She made it clear that since she looks at me all day, she should have final say in what I wear on my face! And I certainly welcomed the help, since I can’t see myself in a mirror without my Rx glasses on!

Shopping for stock eyewear certainly isn’t easy—we went from store (with limited inventory) to store (with limited inventory) trying the find for me the right combination of style and fit. I happen to have ears set much farther back than most, and so most stock eyeglass and sunglass temple arms are far too short. And everyone knows the prices for stock designer frames are outrageously high, as the frame is often just a little bit of plastic or metal that is mass-manufactured abroad for only a few dollars then relentlessly marked-up. And that’s where I had the lightbulb moment—it isn’t the retail price that’s the problem, it’s the product itself, as well as how you shop for it. Make a fundamentally better product.

Stock eyewear by definition won't fit you, because it wasn't made for you. If there was ever a product that demands customization, it's eyewear. Think about the enormous diversity of face sizes and shapes across gender, age, and ethnicity, and then combine that with the equally enormous set of fashion preferences across shape, color, and material. It’s actually crazy that any store with, say, 50 frames can sell anything!

But if you could crack how to do custom eyewear, like a bespoke suit or a couture dress, and critically be able to preview what it will look like before you buy (which means you can interact with it, share it, and get feedback), then you’d have something truly special. And if you could charge the same price (or less) than what customers are already accustomed to paying for an inferior stock product in an inconvenient retail store, then a startup could actually take on the mega incumbents.

So I set out to reinvent how eyewear is made and sold, in order to produce a product and experience that would redefine what it means to be a premium in the optical category. Not someone else's brand name engraved on the outside, but a completely custom product, like a bespoke suit or couture dress, with your name engraved on the inside."

Topology Eyewear

Topology Eyewear

Was there specific technology that made Topology possible? 


"What we do today couldn’t have been done five years ago for a number of reasons. First and most obvious, we leverage the extraordinary power, sophistication, and standardization of modern iPhones. We push the phone to the limits in regards to its ability to calculate and render in real-time the virtual preview of a perfectly-fitted custom set of eyewear. And you can tweak any style’s shape and see it adjust to your ears and nose shape, all will staying perfectly in place as you move your head.

Second, we leverage the latest in cloud computing, computer vision, and machine learning in order to build a millimeter-accurate 3D model of your face from a simple video taken from any iPhone model (not just the iPhone X). We use said model to measure the unique contours of your nose and the asymmetrical location of each of your eyes and ears. We also ensure our lenses won’t contact your eyelashes or cheeks. And we solve in 3D the unique position-of-wear variables required to order a state-of-the-art fully-compensated progressive lens—and we’re the only online company in the world that can do this.

Topology Eyewear

Topology Eyewear

Third, we use advanced software to drive our manufacturing machines, so each part made is completely unique, yet held to the tightest tolerances ever achieved in the eyewear industry. And we need such precision in order to ensure our yields are extraordinarily high, that each part of the frame mates together, and that the prescription lens fits securely at precisely the right location and angle with respect to each eye. We build your unique facial asymmetry into the product, so it fits you perfectly right-out-of-the-box: no adjustments required."

How is Topology better than going into your optometrist's office?

"We do both frames and lenses better than any store or doctors office, because we know the precise 3D shape of your custom frame and the precise 3D shape of your face. That allows our product to be better than a stock product in a number of ways.

First, our frames will fit you better, because we customize 21 different parameters of our frames to fit the unique shape of your face perfectly, yielding superior comfort and aesthetics. We contour our nosepads to the exact shape of your nose, manufacture each custom temple unique to your ear locations, and position and angle your lenses to achieve optimum optics.

Second, we order the most sophisticated lenses, equipped with only the best coatings, that the industry has to offer. Moreover, we design your frame with the curvature of your Rx lens taken into account. For example, I have a high minus Rx—stock frames are sold with demo lenses that have far more curvature than my Rx lenses, so when a store would pop those demo lenses out and install my Rx lenses, the temple arms would splay way out!  That’s one of the reasons they then take the frame in the back to warm and distort the frame to make it better work with my lens and my face. Warming, stretching, and distorting is how the industry makes stock products fit a wide diversity of people… but that is also why stock frames loosen and stretch out over time and need to be constantly adjusted! Ours never stretch out, because we build your measurements into the product so it fits right out of the box perfectly, with no adjustments required.

Third, we solve in 3D for the measurements necessary to produce state-of-the-art progressive lenses. Most optical stores don’t have a way to measure the distance of your eye to the back of your lens, or the tilt and wrap angles of your lens with respect to your eyes, so they make assumptions that are by definition inaccurate. Our progressive lenses are the best in the world, because we measure everything precisely, and then ensure the frame positions the lens perfectly. Guaranteed.

And since each of our frame styles is auto-adjusted to fit you, and each frame is available in every color in our inventory, the result is as if you walked into a store where everything was made for you. Your choices are endless, yet we make it extremely fast and easy to get a look that you want. Everything you see is already sized for you! And we make it easy to share your designs with others to get feedback, because no one likes to shop for eyewear in a vacuum. And no matter how your use our app, we do the hard work to ensure the fit is perfect.

Lastly, and most importantly, we're so confident in our software, manufacturing processes, and materials, that we offer a no-questions-asked return policy. If you don’t like the frame, the color, the material, the fit, or the optics, for any reason, you can return it for a full refund. This 100% satisfaction guarantee is in itself groundbreaking—a first for any custom product in any product category."

What materials do you use to make your frames?

"We choose to make our frames out of only the best frame materials the industry has to offer: Italian cellulose acetate (plastic) and stainless steel.  We don’t 3D print, because 3D printing looks and feels cheap. It makes our manufacturing challenges far harder, but the results speak for themselves."

What was the toughest problem to solve when launching Topology?

"The more different you are, the more consumer education required. Most people assume e-commerce means a cheaper alternative to brick-and-mortar. While that may have been true in the past, I believe e-commerce can also mean a fundamentally better product. The only way to do what we do is to get a 3D model of a customer’s face, and the best way to do that is via the phone in their pocket—it's better and more convenient. But for a luxury product sold remotely, let alone through an app, we’re forced to develop entirely new strategies to acquire and engage with our customers. It is early days, but a challenge we’re well underway at solving."

What's the most surprising thing you've encountered since launching?

"I started this company to solve a problem I experienced for myself. I thought I had a hard time finding frames that fit, but I had no idea how much harder it was for others. The vast majority of eyewear in this country is designed for a Caucasian nose structure, so if you’re non-caucasian and you’ve struggled all your life trying to find glasses and sunglasses that fit. Many customers think it is their face that's hard-to-fit, but that’s not the case. It's simply that the industry has refused to cater to minorities, since no store can have more than say 50-100 frames on display and therefore they stock products that are going to cater to the majority.

I’ve also met customers with very large or petite heads—the latter is forced to shop in the children’s section, where the selection of colors and styles is terrible.

You can imagine how excited said customers are when they discover what we have to offer.  Custom products don't discriminate, because each is made completely from scratch and crafted to fit each customer perfectly. Guaranteed.

I also fundamentally believed the two things that have held back bespoke products to date (suits, shirts, shoes, and eyewear) was the inability for a customer to preview the product before purchase, and the inability for said customer to return the product if he/she wasn't satisfied. Custom products have required a tremendous amount of consumer faith (and disposable income) to overcome these hurdles, which is why they have remained an extremely small segment of the apparel industry.

I believed that if you solve the inability to preview a custom product before purchase, and if you improve the quality, fit, (and optics) of the product, then there would be no need for a customer to return the product even if a generous return policy were offered. Most importantly, far more customers would take a chance on us if a return policy were offered.  It was a big gamble, and the results have exceeded our expectations.  Our customers simply love our product.  And we’re scaling up as fast as we can."

How important is it to send customers a mock up of their frames? It seems like that could be expensive, but I imagine you've found it's worth the expense? 


"It's definitely an expense, but the benefits to our customers outweigh the cost. Customers love our prototype process because in a very short period of time they get to put on their face the physical manifestation of all our software and all our promises. And the result speaks for itself—the fit is perfect out of the box, with a grip on the nose that solves the red-spots and slippage issues they’ve always experienced with their stock frames. It makes our customers feel more engaged with the process, like coming in to a tailor for a final fitting. It is also another way for them to get feedback from others as to how this frame looks on them aesthetically. Lastly, there’s nothing like a physical prototype to better help them express how they’d like to make any small changes, should they so desire. And for us, the process allows us to make our return guarantee that much more generous, which our customers love and appreciate."

What near future plans do you have for the company?

"We're just getting started. We've got a lot of new features for the app and for the product we're working on that I can't discuss quite yet. But in the near-term, we'll certainly expand on the styles and colors that we offer. Every week we release a new version of the app with visible and under-the-hood improvements that result in a better shopping experience and a more-accurate fitting. And we’re constantly ensuring our manufacturing process can withstand rapid scale. 2018 will be a very exciting year!"

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