In this episode of 'In Reviews We Trust' the REVIEWS.io podcast, host and CEO, Callum McKeefery is in conversation with Dhruvin Patel, Optometrist and founder of Ocushield, discussing the super fast growth of this DTC and wholesale brand.
They talk about Ocushield's journey from UK start-up to expansion into the US and beyond.
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Callum: So today we have Dhruvin Patel from Ocushield. Ocushield is a super fast growing brand based on Shopify. We work with them at REVIEWS.io. Dhruvin has taken Ocushield onto Dragon's Den, and has recently raised a seed round of just over a million pounds.
Thank you so much for being on today Dhruvin.
It is a pleasure. I know we've spoken a few times; can you tell us a little bit about how you started Ocushield and how you got to the point where you are now?
Dhurvin: Yeah, sure. Thanks Callum, nice being on here and speaking to you. My journey began in City University in London. I studied to become an optometrist, which is a profession where you look after people's eyes. And when I was studying there, I was working on the weekends to earn an extra few bob to get my way through university and also my social endeavours.
I was working at [00:01:00] Vision Express at the time. The optometrist, she gathered the team and said, "Hey, we've got this new product innovation." So this was 2014. She said, "it's a coating for people that wear glasses. And what it does is, it stops blue light getting into your eyes because, That contributes towards eyestrain." And I was really naturally intrigued because I've grown up with my mother, telling me screens are bad for your eyes, but she never actually had a reason.
And I thought, wow, this is really, this is something. So I was really, really interested by this and, um, so much. So I went back to the faculty and lecturers at university, and I demanded that I did a research study on blue light.
So I looked at how blue light affects the eyes physiology, which is the eyes structures. And then how blue light affects the circadian rhythms, which is our sleep and wake cycle. And after completing this research across the nine months, I found, yes, blue light affected our eyes short-term causing eyestrain and headaches, but also suppress melatonin, which made it harder for us to sleep. So I thought two massive pain points, you know, [00:02:00] screens are only getting bigger and brighter. I wasn't a glasses wearer, and I thought, actually, how can I bring this technology to fit to life? And put it directly onto a screen.
And at that time I was like, you know what, I'm going to try and make this. And I'm fortunately at my university, I have a business competition with the sister university Cass business school, and submitted into an idea and through two stages was able to, uh, move forward and get some grant funding.And by the time it got to 2015, I had set up a Wix website. And anyone I spoke to, I just kind of got their details. And I think by the time I had the product ready to launch, I had a thousand pre-orders plus the grant funding, and I just bootstrapped, I started selling the products out of my university dorm room. And that's that Ocushield was born.
Callum: Yeah. That's amazing to have a thousand pre-orders! How did you get those first thousand orders? That's huge.
Dhurvin: It was mainly through all the work I was doing, building the brand, I think the university, I mean, it was the place to be [00:03:00] to harness word of mouth and connections, there's always an event on there. I'd go network, and I just had so many connections and I just created an email newsletter effectively, you know, and had these people signed up and it was kind of like, boom, our product's going to be ready in X, Y, and Z and pre orders just started climbing.
Callum: So did you just start with one product?
Dhurvin: So we started with a screen filter for, I believe, three iPhones and two iPad products. So we have five skews and this was the era of the iPhone four, I believe.
Callum: Wow. And then you've expanded. I obviously know you do the glasses because I know a few of our staff in the office where them. What, is that the biggest skew now?
Dhurvin: So let me give you a bit of a journey from then what happened in terms of product development as well. For three years after that, I kept hustling and bootstrapping. I had to qualify as an optometrist. You know, you have to do a pre-registration year, you have to work. So I was tied to Specsavers for two years, and then by 2018, we kind of hit, hit the six figure revenue marks.
We started doing a hundred thousand pounds and I was like, right. I've got decisions to make was I was doing [00:04:00] full-time testing eyes and then doing this evenings at lunchtime.
Callum: Wow, six figures before you even left Specsavers.
Dhurvin: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Callum: That's very cool.
Dhurvin: Yeah. So, uh, it, it gave me the fuel to say, right, I need to jump into this. Because also for me, it's about impact. While I can test 10 to 20 patients eyes a day, but with Ocushield I can serve hundreds or thousands and protect their eyes long-term. There's more of a scale there. So in 2018, I bought on my partner and commercial director Asad, who also invested in the business at the time, and we spent that money on, rebranding and also product developed.
So what we did was we got all our products registered with the MHRA in the UK, which is a medicines and healthcare regulatory agency. They make sure drugs and medical devices are safe for the market. So we thought that was important as we're healthcare brand.
And then yeah, we expanded into iPhone tablets, laptop and filter monitors. So we cover from 11 to 27 inch monitors. Our core products with smart phones are [00:05:00] tempered glass, so it's not just a film, it protects your screen at the same time. And then we, um, we released the glasses. That was a kind of natural steppingstone because that market was growing and we had consumers asking for it and so much so now we're actually bringing out a specific kids range as well because families want to protect their whole eyes. And then in 2019, we also brought out our OcuLamp, which is a lighting portable desk lamp, which is eye friendly. So, you know, we know our consumers care about the lights around them, and there's also different types of temperatures of lights, intensity, which affects our day-to-day.
So OcuLamp allows you to control the lighting. So that's our current product set, and our vision in the futures to become, you know, a leading eyecare brands. I'm going to be more around eyes, probably less blue light in the future, but it's more around catering to that need of our consumer.
Callum: Right. Right. You've sort of hinted at new products there
Can you tell us about these new products
Dhurvin: I can share some of them. so as I said, we're focused on the eyes on the pain points that our customers have around them [00:06:00] Dry eyes is one. There you go. Um, let's see. Have the eyes vision, I can see from here it Callum, they need some sorting out.
Some of our future products might be able to help, Yeah. We're looking to solve them with, an eye mist spray, because if you, you may or may not know, but when we look at screens, we only blink three times in a minute. We should be blinking 18 times. And what happens our blink is responsible for a replenishing your tear film.
So therefore your eyes stay lubricated, but you know, it's very hard to keep doing that when you're focused on a screen. So actually, supplementing your eyes, with a form of eyedropper or spray means you can keep them lubricated throughout the day and you don't get that achy, annoying feeling in the eyes.
Callum: That's really interesting.
Really interesting. So clearly you've gone into the science of it a lot more than most direct to consumer brands. You've looked at the problem, solving the problem, then doing Shopify, a lot of people think, wow, can I sell something? They work backwards from there.
What's one piece of [00:07:00] advice you could give to somebody starting out on Shopify?
Dhurvin: Yeah, I think you can make things too complex when they don't need to be. You know, I see this all the time with website designs and building out a great user journey. Just keep it simple to get the conversion. You know, the only thing that's going to keep your lights on is getting those sales. So actually, find out what converts best on nine times out of 10, it's probably a really simple user interface without too many fancy buttons or colors, et cetera.
If you do really want to do that to improve your brand or create a better brand, obviously split test it, you know split testing is so important. Um, in the beginning we didn't do it, but now we do it all the time.
Callum: What do you use your split testing?
Dhurvin: Google Optimize.
Callum: Yeah. Yeah, we use Google Optimize as well. It's good. what's your favourite app apart from REVIEWS.io in the Shopify app store?
Dhurvin: Oh, you beat, you beat my answer and that that's not just because we're on the call together. I'd say Zipify as my favourite app.
Callum: I've not heard of that one.
Dhurvin: So it [00:08:00] allows you to upsell items, once something's been added to cart in Shopify, so I'm sure there's other alternatives. You can generate more, more revenue per customer just for a simple add-on.
Callum: Yeah. Yeah. There's just not enough brands, doing those upsells because at the end of the day PPC is so expensive at the minute, getting the customer to the checkout is so expensive and if you can just add on just a little bit, you can actually become way more profitable. There's one of the brands that I talk to a lot, which is a Waterdrop. they do a really good upsell on theirs. Theirs is, you're interested in that product, this product to be really great for you also. Um, is that what yours is like?
Dhurvin: Yeah, we we've just started dabbling in it. And actually what we're doing is we're trying to upsell a more expensive product, which it's working to an aspect, but if you're thinking from a psychology point of view, it's probably the worst way to do it because you don't know if they can one afford that because of the price point, you know, they're and I'll give you examples.average order value is, is 50 [00:09:00] pounds, but we're trying to upsell a hundred pound product. but it's working, so it's kind of telling me actually, you know, it's good, but we want more volumes. So as what you said, why don't we try a lower margin products for a lower price product, because then you can increase the volume and amount of people that purchase.
Callum: They do really well with that approach. It's free revenue at the end of the day. And it has increased their adoption in one of their lower price point products that has to be renewed. So similar to like the mist, obviously once you've used it, it's gone and you've go, almost a repeat customer then. On the mist and things like that. Have you, have you thought about subscription?
Dhurvin: Another reason why we're going for products like that. And also the other element is eye supplements as well. One because the customers care about it, but two, as you said, the costs online are forever increasing and there might be future barriers in play when it comes to customer acquisition.
So actually, how can we keep customers with us for longer? And these two products for us make perfect sense, for they tick all the boxes, including subscription, you [00:10:00] know, they need to replenish them after a month or three months. So it's yeah. Perfect for us.
Callum: Yeah. Subscription something which it's gotten pretty big on, on the Shopify ecosystem. There's companies like recharge. I think Shopify has their own subscription solution now. Talking about Shopify and apps. Do you use Klaviyo?
Dhurvin: We use Omnisend
Callum: I did know that I did know that. So you send, REVIEWS.io review collection emails via Omnisend only, yeah.
Yeah. And how are you getting on with Omnisend
Dhurvin: Omnisend is good. I guess the main issue of Klaviyo, and Omnisend was price point, I think Klaviyo is quite steep when it comes to what we need as a package. I think you also, if you want to really take email marketing to the next level you need someone, on email marketing like day and night, right.
I don't think we're quite there yet. I think, you know, we're managing just about getting to use all the features that Omnisend has and the segmentation. And I think once we cross that bridge, then we'll start looking at Klaviyo a [00:11:00] little bit more, but, you know, everyone thinks Klaviyo's the best. That's what everyone talks about. I don't, I've not had any experience with it, but Omnisend's, doing a great job.
Callum: Good company. They've got some great, great team members in Omnisend, Everyone who I know who works for them seems pretty happy. And to be honest, it's what works for your business. Not every product fits every brand.
How many team members are you guys now?
Dhurvin: So we've got seven full time. and then we, we use eight contractors over eight, 20 hours per week. So it's a relatively small team. But everything we do is outsourced, so obviously fulfilment, key legwork. We always thought about do we create our own warehouse but we don't want the hassle with that.
We'd rather focus on the more important things and let you know the handling be done by partners.
Callum: You guys are a bit unique really because you sell into stores, but also your direct to consumer through the website, but also you've got a wholesale side of the business. Why did you choose that path?
Dhurvin: So we chose this path 12 months [00:12:00] ago as we thought an omni-channel approach makes sense. Right? Our customers are not just online. We have a, more of a mature audience who cares about products. You know, that the sweet spot is between actually I'd say 35 to 45 in terms of age demographic. Male or female evenly split, but that mature customer likes to shop in stores as well.
And actually, for us, it's another sales channel. As a business, we need to make sure that we're diversified. So if Google got rid of their cookies or Facebook made a change, you know, we're not just shut off. I think it's becoming more important, but it's mainly for the consumer. You know, we had requests, people to touch and feel products and as long as it doesn't cannibalize what we do DTC,because we've had retailers when it does right.
Callum: I know some brands that go into omnichannel go, um, wholesale that say you can't bid on any of our terms. You don't mind that?
Dhurvin: We implemented that three to six months ago, we had to do that because it was just driving up our costs, as you can [00:13:00] imagine. Uh, So just another tip for anyone that's selling in brands is, selling into retail is really tough online. Because once you're on a retailer's website, you've got to pay to play it to market, to their customers. Nine times out of 10, they may do one or two things that are free, but it's not a long-term growth cycle for you.
Unless you're a brand like Dyson where people will go onto the retailers of sites and search for them. it's going to be very difficult for you to grow over e-tail retailer. So actually in the long-term you're probably doing yourself a disservice. So where we've started getting rid of retailers that don't add value or are not working with us both offline and online.
But for us, for example, we're launched in John Lewis in store and online this summer, which is really exciting for us.
Dhurvin: Yeah, definitely. We don't mind them, you know, bidding on our stuff because it adds to the kudos, right. Whereas if it's a, another retail, which doesn't best brand affinity, you know, then you don't really want that.
Callum: So I asked this because I know I'm obviously in the U S a [00:14:00] lot. I have an American wife, we've got offices there and I love Best Buy. I'm still a geek who likes going into the store and playing with everything.
And your products are in there. how did you do that deal? Because that's massive. To get your products actually into the store at Best Buy and get them on their site is huge. And I'm sure there's loads of listeners who would like to know. How do I do that?
Dhurvin: So I'll route into best buy was actually working through a rep, out in the USA and what reps do. So it's a lot more traditional in the USA. So retailers like best buy, target. They all have reps that, um, communicate with them very regularly that bring them new products, new innovations, and they say, Hey, look, this is the brand.This is what they're doing. And they want to enter this market or they want to sell more in this market.
And that how it panned out. What's interesting as well is we went in through the mobile category buyer, but,of course we sell our glasses products as well, and it's not with the same buyer and they don't just immediately introduce you to someone.
So this was a tactic, actually, [00:15:00] I went to the vice president of Best Buy for health on LinkedIn. And I said, we sell with you at the moment, but we don't sell our glasses products, which would be fantastic. Can you introduce us to someone or do whatever, you know? And he came back.
Yeah. He sent an email on introduced like five of his team members to me and we just kind of got it cracking and we introduced the whole range on to Best Buy. So there's that element of bits of both there, which is yeah, you need some support to get the foot in the door, but then to make more things happen, you might need to go out
Callum: It's probably been great for you for exposure for the brand. I don't even know if do you sell on your site to the US?
Dhurvin: Yeah, we do. We have a fulfilment centre that we work with in Pennsylvania, which we launched last year. So actually 40% of our sales come from USA.
Dhurvin: So our DTC website is UK/ US mainly. And you know, it's hard to measure um, because again, you've got the whole cannibalizing of your DTC, you know, we see sales on Best Buy, but would they have come to us directly?
So just to confirm we're online only at the moment. [00:16:00] Um, but we're pushing to get into the store and how most retailers work is they want to see good sales online and then move you into the store.
And I think if we get into an in-store proposition, obviously the volumes will increase and it makes it more worthwhile. So that's what we're working towards.
Callum: So, yeah, I mean, would you, would you set an office up in the U S eventually?
Dhurvin: I think at this moment and what we want to do in the next kind of 12 to 18 months, I don't, I don't think it's needed, personally.
Dhurvin: And I think the remote, you know, that the pandemic kind of showcase a little bit of that. It depends how big the team gets. You know, if we start getting, uh, a team forming there, then it's gonna make sense to open office because they need that in-person time to collaborate.
Callum: I tried to break the US a couple of times while being in the UK. Impossible. And then the first two times I went to the US myself and trying to break into the US with REVIEWS. I came back both times with my tail, between my legs. I got my ass handed to me both times. [00:17:00] And then luckily that third time, and it was only because it was a good hire.
I went there the third time with a really strong hire. And then we grew the team off the back of that person. And that that person actually worked in our UK office and we transported him there and he was able to kind of get the culture and the team up and running in the US but without him, I probably would have failed a third time to be honest.
Dhurvin: That's really interesting mean, I think it's so important. The whole, you know, I think there's a big debate on, at the moment in terms of working remotely five days, full time versus some in between. And I think being in in-person, you feel part of something and I think it's, you can work remotely five days a week, but actually some, some elements you just can't do, which is a brainstorming, ideas, the energy of building something together.
Callum: it's that excitement isn't it? I our teams are now starting to come back to the office. Are you guys fully remote at the minute or are you guys back in the office?
Dhurvin: Uh, we're back in office two days a [00:18:00] week, um, Tuesdays and Thursdays. the other days we work remotely.
Callum: What's the, one of the biggest things onsite that you think helps conversion
Dhurvin: On websites? I think it's trust signals. I think anything that can give trust, is probably the biggest thing. So for us as a, as a healthcare brand, you know, as I mentioned before, we registered with MHRA and we got FDA registration in January as well, communicating that is massive. What ties again into that is our experts that support the brand and then also reviews, right.
You know, testimonials, generate content, people, holding the product, people talking about the products. Um, so it's all the trust signals that I think made the biggest difference in a website. That's going to convert a customer.
Callum: If Amazon says, it's going to be there the next day you believe it.
And I know there's a load of fake Amazon reviews out there on a lot of our products, but, um, [00:19:00] generally Amazon has got very strong trust signals and that built up over a long, long time. And that's why they convert. I think there was a study the other day about how much traffic Shopify gets versus Amazon and it's the same but Shopify sites convert at a much, much lower rate because they've not got the trust signals and it's getting those trust signals up.
Dhurvin: That's why it's important to also as a brand own Amazon yourself, don't use a distributor to sell on Amazon. And that way you reap the benefits and it almost becomes like your profit and loss across the business. You treat Amazon as your website. They're both in the UK. The adoption of Amazon is so massive people almost go on Amazon to check out a brand.
They like, because they’re on Prime already. So, you know, kind of make sense.
Callum: Have you ever had a problem where you've been looked at being banned?
Dhurvin: Nine times out of 10, you're going to be all right.
But it's that one time that really messes things up. So what happened was [00:20:00] as we went on to Dragon's Den July 2021, and Amazon was verifying our account. They do regular business checks and they wanted to verify the directors and the business. And for whatever reason, we got stuck in a loophole with their admin support team and our Amazon UK account was shut down for 45 days.
And it was across the period of that airing. So we lost a lot because in the airing on Dragons Den, then we mentioned Amazon on our pitch. We say, we rank very well on Amazon and it was the worst timing possible for it. So there is definitely a risk, um, for things like that.
And I know people can also get their whole account wiped off and you can't get back online. That's a different, different problem itself.
Callum: You've got an amazing story and I think you've got huge things to come over the next few years, what's the long-term aim? Would you exit? Would you sell?
Dhurvin: Yeah, long-term aim is to make Ocushield synonymous with [00:21:00] eyes. Just the way Specsavers in the UK is known, you know, with eyes, and yeah, I think you look, you know, I'm open to an exit. If it means the business can grow and go into a different stage of business with, or without me that that's not a problem. Um, I'm not tied to it in that sense.
Callum: Right. Yeah. Beautiful. Beautiful. Thanks for being on. Absolutely appreciate it. Dhruvin, I will add your LinkedIn cause you post on LinkedIn all the time and you post some really good stuff. Very knowledgeable so people can reach out to you if they need some advice. Honestly, thank you for being on today. Really appreciate.
Dhurvin: Thanks for having me.
Callum: Thank you for listening today. In Reviews We Trust is a bi-weekly podcast where I hope to be bringing you advice and insights from brands that are taking the e-commerce world by storm.