The Crunch: More than 30 million Americans and millions more around the world have difficulty focusing on smaller print — from the screen on their phones to the headlines in the newspaper — right in front of them. For those people, having a pair of reading glasses handy is an absolute necessity. With its line of thin and flexible glasses, and cases small enough to fit on the back of a phone, on a keychain, or in a wallet credit card slot, ThinOptics solves that problem, transforming the need to carry reading glasses from an inconvenience into a delight.
Silicon Valley entrepreneur, executive, and investor Teddy Shalon has spent his career building companies, mainly in the biomedical field, that solve real problems for humanity. One day, he was on a long bike ride with a friend who had received a text message but hadn’t brought along his reading glasses. He asked Teddy to read the message aloud.
A phone is a technological wonder, but if you can’t read what’s on the screen, it’s pretty much useless. Teddy wondered why his friend couldn’t store his glasses on the back of his phone case, where they’d always be handy.
Over the next 20 miles of riding, he formulated the idea for ThinOptics, a company that would make reading glasses thin and flexible enough to be wherever they needed to be, when they needed to be there.
As ThinOptics CEO David Westendorf recalls, developing the product was a process Teddy originally estimated would require six months, but that ended up stretching to 30.
“He built about 225 prototypes before he finally got in the ballpark,” David said. “Then he gave a pair to one of his wife’s friends. A week later, she asked for another — she had given the first pair to a friend.”
Teddy was onto something.
“The psychology is that people will get into their late 30s and start to experience a bit of blur. They’ll hold their phone or their book farther and farther away, until their arms just aren’t long enough anymore,” David said. “Eventually they resign themselves to the idea that they need reading glasses. So they buy a pair — and lose them.”
Then, David said, they move a level closer to acceptance of their own humanity — and buy a three-pack. “They think that, if they can just put a pair in their car, in their briefcase or purse, and beside the bed, problem solved.”
“Except it never works,” David said. “And that’s when we step in.”
Solving Real Problems in Ways That Delight Consumers
ThinOptics reading solutions are based on the premise that there are only three things most Americans never leave home without: their phone, their keys, and their wallet. That’s true for women as well as men since ladies who carry an everyday bag will often transfer a few things into a smaller purse when they go out at night.
“So those are the three items we connect our product with,” David said.
Drawing on his biomedical expertise, Teddy built ThinOptics glasses from medical device materials. The nose bridges are made from Nitinol, a titanium alloy used in heart stents, which is 10 times more elastic than spring steel and lets the glasses flex and fold a virtually unlimited number of times. They’re encased in medical-grade silicone tubing and anchored in an injection-molded polycarbonate frame available in designer colors.
The extremely slim lenses are made from shatterproof thermo-injection-molded optical-grade polycarbonate used in safety and ballistic eyewear. The nose pads move independently to fit the vast majority of noses and are covered with a grip-sensitive material. The wearer simply flexes the bridge apart and positions the pads. The glasses do the rest.
“They’re so light and comfortable you forget you’re wearing them,” David said. “We engineer that magic into everything we do.”
But the cases are what make ThinOptics a go-anywhere product. The back-of-the phone solution works in two ways. For a range of iPhone and Samsung Galaxy devices, ThinOptics manufactures protective phone cases featuring a built-in container for the glasses. Or customers can choose an ultra-slim, universal pod to stick to the back of any device.
The keychain case is perhaps even more ingenious. “You literally fold your glasses in half and hide them in a little encasement that fits on your keyring,” David said. “People are always telling us how convenient that is.”
That’s the goal — to wow the customer and elicit that positive response. “Our products achieve a surprising elegance,” David said. “The elegance comes from the thinness, lightness, and compactness. And the surprise comes from how well they work and how easy they are to use.”
Glasses That Make a Statement About Their Wearers
The result speaks for itself. “According to a widely accepted benchmark, consumers recommend us more highly than some of the most esteemed brands in the world,” David said. “And we’re very proud of what we’ve achieved in terms of design, manufacturing, quality, customer service, and website experience. It also reminds us that we need to continue to deliver on the promise we’ve made to our consumers.”
And ThinOptics does even more than that. Through its curated collections, it lets customers express themselves by supporting causes that are important to them.
“Our commitment to charity partnerships is part of our culture,” David said. “It stems from the fact that some of our own employees are disabled. Our customers often buy with that intent, and the product designs reflect it.”
For example, a collaboration with artist Gregory Burns generates support for the Prevent Blindness foundation 20/20 at 40 campaign, which encourages adults to take control of their own eye health by scheduling a baseline eye exam at the age of 40 and obtaining regular eye care thereafter.
Another collaboration with musician Quincy Jones generates support for two causes: Keep Memory Alive, which funds research and programs dedicated to improving the lives of those affected by brain disorders and their families, along with The Quincy Jones Foundation and ArtLifting, a benefit corporation that connects socially conscious companies with artists impacted by homelessness or disabilities.
Sales from another series support ArtLifting exclusively. And, to bring its customers myriad choices for self-expression, ThinOptics constantly seeks new artist collaborations while it develops its own designs.
Challenging the Status Quo in Design and Retail
As small as a credit card and as thin as two nickels, the flashcard case — it slides right into a wallet credit card slot — is ThinOptics’ most striking innovation yet.
“It’s a brilliant piece of engineering,” David said. “I’ve personally been using it for about five months, and even though I have my phone with me most of the time, there are always instances where it’s somewhere over there while my wallet is in my pocket. Voila, a pair of glasses!”
Materials used in the flashcard case are cutting-edge as well. “We use a brushed-steel effect with an anodized paint finish on one side, and there’s a soft-touch paint finish on the other side. It’s a very luxurious feel,” David said. “Design-wise, we’ve raised the bar to create a product that people who choose Louis Vuitton or Tumi are comfortable with.”
Meanwhile, more innovation is on the horizon, including new products and expanding into more retail outlets worldwide.
“We’re always striving for progress in our corporate culture and in our ability to deliver products the world has never seen before,” David said.
All to help people do one simple thing — see what they need to see, when they need to see it.