Would you like to have fun shopping for eyewear?

HI-TRAC: The author's shorthand for Happiness Index, Infrastructure, Talent, Regulations, Access and Capital. The six pillars that make UAE a great place for a startup. This week's article is about an exciting startup that is accessing the GCC market and bringing happiness to its team and customers by transforming a mundane buying experience.

"Why didn't I think of that?" A common refrain amongst wannabe entrepreneurs. Eyewa (www.eyewa.com) is one of those startup ideas that prompt that question. But more of this In5 incubated startup later. First, let's take a look at the global eyewear market. Statista indicates that the market was sized at about $95 billion in 2016 and will grow $166 billion by 2026. Eyewa estimates that the demand in the GCC alone is about $2 billion, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9 per cent.

Driving this demand are a number of factors. Apart from demand based on eye-care and health, another key factor is fashion consciousness amongst increasingly affluent youth in the region. Safety and preventative use cases due to weather conditions as well as constant "screen" exposure creates another growth engine. At the same time, optical care and eyewear retail is fragmented and undifferentiated. The situation here is not different from what is was like in India before Lenskart or Germany before MisterSpex or the US before Warby Parker.

The eyewear industry is also susceptible to counterfeits at the retail level according to the Global Eyewear Market 2017-2021 - Latest Trends, Drivers & Challenges report from Market and Research. It appears that in specialist retail like eyewear, centralised online sources may be seen as more reliable. Other plus factors include accuracy in filling out prescriptions, seemingly endless choices, excellent buying experience, speed of delivery, ability to return orders with minimum fuss and outstanding value-for-money.

Warby Parker allows customers to try multiple frames at home before making a choice. Lenskart in India goes one further and uses the buyers' PC or mobile phone cameras to record and demonstrate virtual 3D images of what the frames and lenses will look like when worn. The bothersome and time-consuming process of trying multiple frames on in a shop is completely eliminated. Along with the end of the embarrassing process of carting family and friends to the store to ask the "How do I look in this one?" question. When you're trying on a new frame in a shop, you cannot see yourself properly if you're short-sighted.

Eyewa is an e-commerce platform for eyewear, with the stated vision and goal of becoming the largest tech-enabled eyewear specialist in the Mena region. Mehdi Oudghiri and Anass Boumediene, co-founders of eyewa, have a refreshing take on entrepreneurship. They want to build a sustainable business that makes good economic sense. One that creates great value for the customers and stakeholders. Another core pillar is that they want it to be a good company to work for. For different team-members to be happy spending their 8+ hours at work to build a great business and have fun in the process. The founders firmly believe that doing so will enable the company to achieve its vision and goal.

Today, eyewa sells sunglasses, eyeglasses, and contact lenses (colour and prescription) online, targeting the UAE and KSA. In the coming months, the portal will be launching new tech features such as enabling customers to virtually try the frames on using PC and mobile phone cameras. They will also introduce their own lines of frames and contact lenses. Eventually, the company will open its own stores. The stores will be désigned around outstanding customer experience. Visitors can expect innovative technology such as VR headsets to test different lenses and coatings as well as AR mirrors which integrate the buying process with "virtual-try-on" technology.

Boumediene and Oudghiri have been working together for several years. First at Bain and Company where they met as strategy consultants on a GCC government project. They then moved to 'foodpanda', a global mobile food delivery marketplace, where they were co-managing directors for the online food ordering business in the Middle East. At 'foodpanda', they successfully build the largest and most profitable operator in the region, which was then successfully acquired by Delivery Hero, a listed company worth north of $8 billion. Mehdi is an MBA graduate from Stanford and did his Bachelors at ESSEC. Anass has a MiM from ESCP Europe and is a CFA and an FRM Charter holder.

Boumediene's chosen reading is Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. It talks about many shortfalls in our decision making, which is traditionally thought to be rational, whereas in reality it has a predictable tendency for errors and misjudgments. It's humbling to realise that our own brain can mislead us in certain situations. 

The writer is founding partner at BridgeDFS, a bespoke digital financial services advisory firm (www.bridgeto.us). Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy. He can be contacted at sanjiv@bridgeto.us.

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