How One Female Founder Made it Her Mission to End Unaffordable Vision Care

The Crunchbase “Female Founder Series” is comprised of stories, Q&As and thought-leadership pieces from glass-ceiling-smashers who overcame the odds and are now leading successful companies, or investing in them.

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As the granddaughter of a South African wildlife photographer, I understood from an early age the unique role our eyes play in how we see the world. 

I started wearing contacts at 11 years old and after nearly two decades of using lenses every day, I was frustrated with the quality and extortionate costs of contact lenses sold by large pharmaceutical companies. My mom was born partially blind in one eye, so vision has always played a very big role in my life and upbringing. 

After graduating from the University of Cape Town, I took on various marketing and corporate strategy roles in Switzerland and London. I then decided to take a year out of corporate life and did a master’s at Harvard, which is where I developed the idea for WALDO.

 

The inspiration behind WALDO

Today, WALDO is an e-commerce eyecare brand that wants to change the way people feel about buying contact lenses and the ocular health category more generally. But it started out of a simple need: I was studying one evening and my eyes were burning from a long day of staring at screens. 

As I took out my contacts, I realized I only had one pair of lenses left and went online to buy more. I was surprised at the cost and found the experience confusing, so I started wondering more about my contact lenses: their cost, where they were made, the delivery cycle and why the price differed so dramatically by channel and country. As it turns out, contact lenses have really complicated distribution channels and greedily high margins are taken at every point, meaning that lens wearers, generally, lose out to big pharma. 

It was then I decided to dive headfirst into entrepreneurialism and set out to create the highest-quality contacts, without the hassle or price tag.

 

Lessons from the early days

In the early stages of setting up my e-commerce business, I spoke to many influential business professionals who gave me valuable advice and recommendations. However, among that, was the guidance to be careful who you listen to. 

As a young female entrepreneur just starting out, I was often given a recurring suggestion from the men around me: Consider bringing on board a male co-founder. There was a widespread consensus that if I brought on a male co-founder during the early stages, it would be easier to raise capital. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that someone’s gender could influence the success of my business, and worried, gender aside, that bringing someone on board fairly late in the game—when the brand and business had already been launched—had the potential to create conflict and dilute the focus. 

So being cautious of what advice I took and always contextualizing it, I looked at this in the context of it being easier to raise money with a male co-founder. I understood the advice was based on the fact that “most investors are male”—only 7 percent of partners at the top 100 venture firms are women—and therefore they find it easier to build a rapport with male founders. But, I ultimately decided, we should be breaking this very cycle rather than playing into it, and it is important to build professional relationships and rapport with men to do so. 

I also followed the excellent advice of one of my Harvard professors, who told me to create a team of advisers rather than relying on one person, particularly if it’s just for their gender. Over the years, this advice has shown that building relationships with strong men and women as mentors is the best way to go further, and to never underestimate how much people want to help and share their knowledge.

I believe it’s important to approach every interaction by thinking about what you would like to gain from the discussion (based on the person’s expertise) as well as what you think you can offer. It’s this exact approach that stopped me from hiring a co-founder just because of their gender and why we’ve partnered and brought on the industry’s most respected experts, including our doctor partners, to bring their expertise to complement our own and who are all aligned in our mission.

 

WALDO’s mission

I started WALDO because I want to change the way people feel about buying contact lenses. It’s such a personal product and an enabler for so many people, that we fundamentally believe the experience for the consumer should be better, more connected and exciting.

Now, with new product launches, a customer base of 200,000 people globally, and a growing team, I’m very proud to be the first e-commerce contact lens company to give doctors the opportunity to offer our lenses in their practice through our doctor partnership program. We understand that the customer’s journey starts with the eye doctor, and want to bridge the gap between doctor-patient care and online lens distributors. 

Over the past four years, we’ve accomplished a lot, and in the future, we’ll continue to prioritize innovation and accessibility in the eyecare industry.