When John and Mike met in their first year of university in Sydney it was like the beginning of a 'business romcom', they knew straight away that they would go into business together. It wasn't long before they moved in with each other and started an e-commence site selling women's fashion accessories. They noticed that the sunglasses were out-selling everything else two to one, and, after some research, came across a business in the UK that were delivering glasses to people's homes and work. They dropped out of their last semester of uni and started Oscar Wylee, a high-quality, affordable eyewear company that delivers five pairs to your doorstep to try in the comfort of your own home/office, for free. Oh and I almost forgot, for every pair you buy they also provide someone in need access to vital eye care. I sat down with John and Mike at their newish and stylish retail studio in downtown Sydney for a chat...
Hey, these are nice!
Mike: Yeah, they're the Gatsbys. They've been really popular lately.
Any type of marketing play there with the Great Gatsby movie?
John: I think we named them that even before the movie came out. But, I'm pretty sure it's helped in selling them (laughs)
Not that you need any help. I've heard so many good things about your glasses and of course the amazing value. But before we delve into Oscar Wylee I'm curious as to what you guys were doing before.
John: Mike and I met at university and like most uni students, most of our time was spent at the bar. However when ever we went out we'd always end up away from the group talking about business ideas and this would happen every time we went out, until it got to the point where said to each other, "Well are we going to do something or not?"
On top of our studies we started an e-commence site that sold designer female fashion accessories, like necklaces, bracelets, sunnies etc.
Mike: What we soon came to notice was that sunglasses were doing really well, so we did some research and found a business in the UK that were delivering sunglasses to your door. No-one was doing anything like that in Australia so we thought, let's give that a try.
Can you tell me a bit about what the early days were like when you started out?
John: As with most new businesses, really long hours, no money and no customers (laughs).
Mike: We were running it out of our tiny lounge room for around a year and a half. I mean it was tiny! Our neighbours started to get pretty peeved at us because once we started taking orders we had so many boxes and freight guys coming and going from our small apartment.
Now you are able to offer the same if not better quality glasses as some of the most well-known brands at a quarter of the price. How have you been able to do this?
John: There's pretty much three huge companies that own all the high-end sunglass/prescription brand names.
Mike: Gucci, Prada, Ray-Ban, OPSM, Sunglass Hut are all owned by one company.
John: That's right. These three multinationals pretty much have a monopoly over the market and have been able to charge what ever they like. I mean, for a pair of brand name prescription glasses you can pay up to $600-$700. Which is crazy! We we saw an opportunity to offer equally as good a quality at a more reasonable price. (All Oscar Wylee sunglasses retail for $98 and $120 for prescription glasses).
Do you have people questioning the quality of your glasses because of such a large difference in price?
Mike: Yeah, we do get that a bit which is kind of frustrating, because we know for a fact (their glasses are made in the same factory) that our lenses and frames are equally as good as the ones you'd buy from any optometrist.
Coming back to the business you discovered in the UK delivering glasses to peoples door — why did you decide take a similar approach?
John: One, there wasn't anyone else doing it in Australia and these guys in the UK were experiencing quite a lot of success with it and two, there would have been a lot of risk involved, and also very expensive to open a bricks-and-mortar operation.
Mike: It also takes the pressure out of the buying process. Finding a pair of glasses is a big decision for a lot of people, particularly prescription, because you wear them all the time and they're on your face, which is the first thing everyone looks when they meet you!
John: It becomes a fun and intimate retail experience in your very own home or office. You get to try on a variety of different types and styles where your family, friends or colleagues can comment on them in an honest, relaxed environment.
Customers are able to choose five pairs to be sent to them and try for free, is that right?
John: That's right. The pair or pairs they like the most they keep and the rest they just send back to us in the provided return to sender box. Once we get the box back we bill them for the ones they chose.
Mike: It's also a great marketing, because whoever you're with when you receive them will no doubt want to try on a few pairs themselves and if they find a pair they like, well, we've just then made another sale!
I'd like to talk about the work you're doing in Cambodia with i-care initiative.
Mike: Sure, my heritage is Cambodian and I've seen firsthand how simple eye-care can make such a huge difference in developing countries. Through my family, we found a clinic that was doing some work in the poorer more remote part of Cambodia and wanted to help in any way possible with their operation.
We're now helping them do up to 80-100 eye tests and around 15 cataract surgeries every day. We've also put two of the volunteers through university to become doctors and provided over 1000 pairs of glasses.
Wow, that is amazing! Was having a social cause always part of the business plan?
John: Yeah, definitely. My parents have always been heavily involved in various philanthropic projects, so I've been brought up with those principles to try and remember to always give back and help those around you who mightn't be as fortunate as you are.
What else has been an important factor of the business?
John: Having a business partner has really helped, especially in those early stages, it can be such a struggle. Like those days where you haven't made one sale or where everything seems to go wrong. It's just nice to have someone there to share your frustration with. (laughs)
So what's next for you both, and for Oscar Wylee?
John - We've always seen business as a tool to do the things you want and feel passionate about. I think a lot of business owners get so consumed in their business they forget why they started it in the first place. For us, we'd like to get it to a point where we can step away from it, go travelling for a couple of years and come back to start something different.
Mike: We've now also got this awesome space in Sydney and we're looking at opening another one soon in Melbourne.
One last thing — where did the name come from?
(Both start laughing) John : We were traveling around Japan and decided to just jump on one of those bullet trains and see where it took us. We ended up in this really dodgy place I can't remember the name of. Anyway we found these hot springs and while we chilling in these hot springs this older, really funky Japanese guy...
Mike: He would of been in his sixties.
John: ... just started talking to us. He was wearing these really cool sunnies and his name was Oscar Wilde (named after the Irish poet I assume). But we had misheard his name (laughs).
Mike: We thought he said 'Oscar Wylee'.
That's a pretty awesome story for a business name!
(By the way, I did end up buying the Gatsbys and am loving them)