A Y Combinator-backed startup, JetLenses, is taking on the major contact lens e-commerce sites, like 1-800-Contacts, Lens.com, and other online ordering systems offered by major retailers, such as Walmart. The startup’s goal is to bring down the cost of prescription products by automating the overhead associated with these businesses, in areas like prescription verification, order tracking, compliance and fulfillment, then pass those savings on to customers.
The company also promises fair and transparent pricing, so there aren’t surprises at checkout, and offers customers free shipping on their orders.
JetLenses was founded by Dhaivat Pandya, the son of an eye doctor who studied Statistics and Computer Science at Harvard. His background allowed him to identify the market inefficiencies in this business, in order to develop a new solution, he says.
“It was a space where doing this kind of work – engineering and data science – would have an immediate impact that I could see on a day-to-day basis,” Pandya explains as to why he decided to target the prescription lenses market. “A lot the reason why contact lenses are so expensive is just overhead,” he says.
Around 20 percent of the time, the online sites run into issues when verifying customer prescriptions. For example, the eye doctor may have relocated their practice, and their phone and fax numbers changed.
This ends up eating away a lot of time in terms of human labor, as staff has to research if the practice still exists and locate their new contact information before they can proceed with the verification. JetLenses, meanwhile, will instead try to first match the doctor’s information to a data set it maintains of existing practices to find a match, then locate the new phone number and fax automatically
It also automatically faxes the office to verify the prescription, and processes the doctor’s office response.
The company is leveraging data science around the logistics of order fulfillment, too, in order to determine which fulfillment partner to use for each incoming order.
These sorts of engineering tasks may already be common to larger e-commerce shopping sites, but haven’t really been put to work in the prescription lenses market, Pandya claims. [Following publication, a competitor emailed to dispute this statement. Everyone has data science teams, they said. Full statement below.*]
He says JetLenses’ lower pricing comes from these improvements – it’s not just slashing prices to attract customers.
“Our margins are basically identical to others in the space,” he notes. “The goal is not to alter the business by just selling [lenses] for cheaper.”
While not a comprehensive review, I tried out online ordering on JetLenses before speaking to the company, to see how it compared with my usual site, 1800Contacts.com. I was fairly surprised to find that a 6-pack of my Acuvue Oasys for Astigmatism lenses were $32.99 on JetLenses, compared with the $51.99 I usually pay. (1800Contacts encourages shoppers to buy 4 boxes per eye at once, to get a $40 rebate on these lenses. But that’s a lot to spend all at once.)
JetLenses will honor the manufacturer rebates, too, and works with customers’ vision insurance plans.
The website itself is a little wonky in parts, but it’s only been online since the fall. You’ll need to know your lens brand and do a search rather than try to browse your way. as the site navigation is somewhat lacking, I found. But to save nearly $20 a box? Worth it.
JetLenses isn’t the only contacts lens e-commerce startup out there right now. Another, Hubble, raised $73.7 million last year for its own brand of daily disposable lenses, sold on subscription. That’s the not route JetLenses is going.
Instead, it aims to apply these data science techniques to other prescription businesses, like dental products or prescription creams. The company hasn’t fully detailed the data science techniques it plans to implement, beyond a few examples. For now, the startup is focused on raising a seed round following Y Combinator’s Demo Day to scale the business more quickly.
*Update, 8/7/18, 3 PM ET: A representative for competitor Simple Contacts was incredulous at this startup’s claims. Here’s a statement we received from them:
The gist is that we’re pretty skeptical about some of their claims around automating overhead associated with these businesses, since just about all of the legacy players have huge teams devoted to this. That includes 1-800-Contacts, Walmart, and Lens.com. Even Simple Contacts, which is pretty small relative to the older companies, has a four-person machine-learning and data analytics team for this very purpose. It’s something they’ve invested millions in.