“It was not easy giving up our jobs and university [but] they saw our drive. This allowed us to thrive against the odds as Singapore’s first eyewear brand.”
– Eddie Tan, co-founder of Visual Mass.
Founded by 2 optometrists in 2013, Visual Mass is a homegrown brand with roots as an e-commerce store.
Fast forward to 2017, and the founding team of 2 has blossomed to 7 along with 3 stores all in the CBD.
And it all began with a desire for rebellion.
An Industry Ripe For Disruption
“We have always been interested in entrepreneurship,” says co-founder Eddie Tan.
“We wanted to maximise our time and resources to be self-sufficient. The small ventures we started in fashion and entertainment as students also gave us an early insight into entrepreneurship.”
As optometrist graduates, he and Jerial Tan (not his brother) took a “deeper dive into the industry”, and realised how flawed it was.
“Prices were unjustly inflated, innovation was lacking and customer experience was mediocre,” says Eddie. “The environment was old-fashioned and boring.”
It turned out that the solution was to challenge the status quo. We had to reinvent the way glasses were being sold.
The goal was to make spectacles affordable as paying $400 for a pair of metal or plastic just “didn’t make sense”.
In contrast, Visual Mass’ products cost between $95 and $195.
Investing $500 each, the pair traveled to China to source wholesale centres, handpicking “designs they intuitively wanted to wear”. As an infant company, the pair was also in charge of handling everything from “product photography to logistics”.
Launching on a Shopify web template, their burgeoning success later “attracted their first investment from a close friend.”
“This allowed us to expand into our first retail store.”
“Visual Mass is unique because of its culture,” Eddie shares. “It’s not so much about the products, but the lifestyle we believe in and want to emulate as a brand.
We want to revolutionise the industry and create something to our names.
“As optometrists, we have the privilege of understanding the optical aspect. We want to offer a twist by infusing a lifestyle of cult, design and social good around it.”
Of Challenges and Over-glorification
A crucial setback occurred when their ambition grew too quickly.
“Our low costs let us grow at an astonishing rate,” Eddie says, as they doubled sales every year. As a result, they expanded into store #2 quickly.
That decision soon became “one of their toughest challenges”.
“Sales were not growing and the expansion stretched our resources. We only managed to turn it around through our pop-up stores.”
As the company began to grow again, they also expanded the team for marketing and PR. That however, incited problems due to “internal differences in perspectives.”
Today, the team is only made out of 7 people, but they are the ones who “truly understand the company’s vision.
“We are a fast-paced team that grows on mistakes. We have made so many and we understand it’s unavoidable [but] we make sure not to repeat them.
Every step carries uncertainty and the team has developed a mindset to adapt to circumstances instead of trying to prevent mistakes.
Being an entrepreneur, they are often “over-glorified”, Eddie shares.
“For the first 3 years, we did not draw salaries; everyone else was paid before us.”
Needless to say, this drew much “negative feedback”. They simply “kept their heads high and stuck to their beliefs that it was going to be worth it.”
They were also lucky to have the support of their close ones, Eddie reveals.vui
“I guessed it helped to only share the good things and not the failures and mistakes we made,” he laughs.
“We didn’t want them to worry [so] we stayed positive as much as possible.”
The more glamorous it looks, the more hardships there are.
“We always had to act strong in front of our team even while going through difficult times. Being at the helm meant that the way we carry ourselves has an impact on our company and customers.”
“It is a painful but worthy journey of self-restraint and development,” Eddie muses.
The journey has also been an exciting one, when it comes to “the transformation we went through, the people we met and the places we went.”
“From becoming Cleo Bachelors, receiving investment from a billionaire, meeting high profile VCs and speaking at conferences, we are truly thankful for these opportunities.”
“We also hope to inspire others to follow their dreams.”
Words Of Hardship Hold Weight
Having doubled their sales every year, the pair have grossed over $2M since launch and sold over 17,000 pairs of glasses.
They are en-route to expanding their Singapore presence as well as their online presence in Malaysia, Thailand and South Korea.
“Nobody would have believed us at the start if we told them Visual Mass would become what it is today,” Eddie laughs.
“Visual Mass will continue to challenge notions and grow as a lifestyle brand.
“We live in a very noisy world where brands have increasingly less time to attract consumers,” he admits.
“One way to stay competitive is to stay authentic, understand who you are talking to and what your brand message is. Markets, trends and many things change, but brand values do not.”
Visual Mass has kindly offered Vulcan Post readers an exclusive ‘One-for-one’ promotion with free upgrade to PC Lenses for every pair purchased. Use the code “VULCANPOST” upon checking out to be entitled to it.
The promotion is applicable to all frames in Visual Mass Orchard Gateway Store only. Lens top-up may apply. Not to be used in conjunction with other promotions, vouchers or gift cards.
Featured Image Credit: Eddie Tan, Szeszhang.blogspot