This week we sat down with David Roger, the Co-Founder & CEO of Felix Gray, to learn about the company’s early days, managing a growing team, and how the brand aligns with a digital wellness movement.
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What was the driving force behind starting Felix Gray? Was there a specific event, or series of events, that catalyzed the launch?
I went to work for Tony Hseih’s Downtown Project right out of college. (Fun fact, it was in conjunction with the Venture for America fellowship where I met the future founders of Ash & Erie, Steven, and Eric!). Tony had invested $350mm of his own money into revitalizing downtown Las Vegas, which is where Zappos is based. We had no idea if these $1–25mm+ projects were going to make money or lose money and I was tasked with figuring that out.
It was really fun, but it did mean staring in front of Excel for >12 hours a day building financial models…and my eyes started killing me. Many of my friends and coworkers shared similar sentiments.
After talking to optometrists and ophthalmologists, I learned that many of these issues came from the screens we looked at. The main culprits were Blue Light (high energy light) and glare (unnecessary feedback that enters in your eye). If you properly filter Blue Light and eliminate glare, you could create a more comfortable experience in front of the screen.
Except that it was important to make these look good too! We wanted your eyes to feel great, but you to feel great and confident in what you were wearing as well. As I was starting up beta tests, I ended up meeting my cofounder Chris. He was in finance and shared the same vision of me.
After testing the product and loving it, he came on part-time. A few months later, he quit and joined full time so we could found Felix Gray.
What should a founder be most aware of before launching a brand?
At the end of the day, it’s about whether you have the customer’s permission. That applies to the product, messaging, delivery, etc. etc. etc. It’s important to know your audience early on and stay connected with them. Before we even launched FG, Chris and I worked with companies around New York offering them the option to provide 50 free pairs of our glasses to employees for a free two week trial period (we handled all logistics, etc.).
In the end, people could buy with their own money or return them free of charge. Chris and I were literally carrying duffle bags full of glasses around the city to deliver them to different offices. About 1/3 people were buying, we knew we had something there.
But more importantly, was that we were able to talk to so many people. Learned what they liked and what they didn’t. That influenced everything from lens product to frame design to messaging.
Even now, I still try to stay close to the customer. I still read every review that we get and use them as springboards to conversations about how we can improve and about what we’re doing well.
From your experience, what have been your biggest pain points?
I started FG pretty young: ~2 years out of college. Managing people is a challenge. It’s a constant mindset of proactive empathy. It soon becomes not about getting stuff done but fostering an environment and a team that can get stuff done. I’ve spent a lot of time honing that skill set.
I have a lot more to learn and am excited about that journey (not every day affords you to always work on improving yourself as a person!), but I fundamentally understand its importance. To me, that’s critical.
What are the three tools and platforms you can’t live without?
The whole G Suite, Looker, Slack. A lot of my job is communication. G Suite and Slack cover those bases. While I’m admittedly pretty terrible about building Looker reports, I rely on them every day. We use data in everything we do, which allows us to dive deep and have the proper reporting cadence to get a good pulse on the business at any given moment.
In the broader consumer space, what macro trend is Felix Gray riding?
Our mission is to help people live happier, healthier, and more productive lives in today’s screen-filled world. We want to establish a relationship with technology that our bodies can actually handle since we weren’t evolved to handle them ourselves.
We’ve coined the term “digital wellness” to mean exactly that. As wellness rises in many verticals (what you eat, how you exercise, etc.), we think it’s crazy we’re still not approaching bringing that lifestyle to the 10+ hours a day you’re in front of all your devices.
We all know that’s generally the least healthy part of our day. We want our products and conversations to help those routings so you can be more productive during the day, and happier & more comfortable by the end of it.
On the flip side, what unique angle or niche has Felix Gray pioneered?
It’s humbling, but we pioneered the entire Blue Light glasses category. Before us, it was essentially ridiculous-looking frames with yellow/orange lenses that made you look like one of the X-Men. We built proprietary technology that could be both highly effective and clear.
Even today, the other clear products on the market filter 2–3% of Blue Light where it matters (455 nm) whereas we filter 30% where it matters. We’re seen as thought leaders and the best-in-class brand/product. It is our job to keep pushing the category forward and help consumers navigate this space.
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