EyeQue is Making Eye Care Accessible to All – the Founder’s Story

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Most of us take our eyesight for granted. I know I did until I woke up one day with half my vision gone in one eye and a torn retina diagnosis. Many people also take for granted the ready access they have to eye exams; however, more than 200 million people in the United States go without an annual eye exam and 27 million have no eyecare insurance. According to the World Health Organization, over a billion people globally suffer from serious vision impairment because they don’t have access to proper eye care.

In 2015, founders and friends John Serri and the late Tibor Laczay, set out to solve that problem and have since created EyeQue, a business that will change how we go about seeing the world. Their mission is to dramatically increase access to eyecare through new technology.

John and Tibor met at a party on a wet, cool spring day in San Jose, CA. Sitting alone at a picnic table, Tibor remarked to John, “Those are really cheap awful glasses you have on.” Tibor was something of an expert in the eye industry. You might have heard of Zenni, and if you wear glasses, you probably have a few pairs of Zenni glasses yourself. It was Tibor that started Zenni in his California garage in 2003. Now, more than 50 million Zenni glasses have been sold worldwide.

After that initial contentious meet up, they became good friends and began to realize one another’s competencies. Tibor’s industry knowledge and business acumen along with a love of physics combined with John’s scientific background that includes a Physics PhD from MIT, and many years of accumulated engineering expertise had the makings for a revolutionary company and product. John shares, “Tibor created Zenni, but he wanted to do more. He was a very smart man, a very passionate man. He wanted to provide the ability to do eye tests online. He wanted to help people.”

John elaborates, “Tibor mentioned an idea to me back then and was very excited by the prospect of building a small handheld device that would be made out of plastic, very inexpensively to measure the eye’s refractive error. This little device would attach to any smart phone. He asked, ‘Would this be hard to build?’ and I responded, ‘Nah, it’s just a piece of plastic, how hard can it be?’ So he said, ‘Let’s do it!’”

John explains, “When we started the company, it was self-funded by Tibor and myself. We didn’t try to raise VC funds. We stayed in stealth mode and secured some patented technology from MIT.” John shares how excited they were that the tiny, minimum viable device, eventually called the Personal Vision Tracker worked surprisingly well. They tested it on hundreds of people before manufacturing the product using a contract manufacturer in Taiwan. We started shipping them out in 2017 through a Kickstarter campaign and in three weeks sold over 5000 devices. People were very excited about the technology.”

The EyeQue device soon won a consumer electronics show award for the best-in-class product in a health-related category. “We were off and running.” While the business took off with a bang and many awards have followed since, John eventually realized that a Direct-to-Consumer business model was going to be difficult to scale. “After a number of years of product development and offering vision products online, we decided to pivot to a B2B model.”

“We’ve discovered that the best approach to market EyeQue is through digital health providers. These are organizations that test different populations of people. They can be employees in companies, people in community health centers and shoppers who go to optical stores to buy glasses. So we’ve developed the technologies to allow that, including a powerful SaaS model to securely store, analyze and share the vision data.” He explains, “EyeQue Connect is medically ( HIPAA) compliant, and we’re integrating more technology into it, such as retina imaging, as well as continuing to further develop the core self-refraction technology. With the B2B shift, we now have recurring revenue as we charge a subscription to our business partners; whereas before, we were a pure, direct-to-consumer, buy it once, use it, and that’s the end of the customer lifecycle.”

With EyeQue, most people will eventually be able to fully test their own eyes at home using their smartphones, and then they will have their results checked by their eye doctor. “Since smartphones are owned by almost everyone, our vision technology will be available to almost everyone. We will then have met our open-access goal.“

EyeQue has unicorn potential. John explains, “Once we get through the regulatory process, which is challenging, and create the next generation of devices, which is well underway, this technology will take off. We have developed and own the IP, and there are no direct competitors in this emerging market for this particular type of technology. There’s not only a tremendous opportunity for EyeQue to become a major medical device company, but more importantly, there is an opportunity here to help millions of people.”

For individuals, EyeQue means affordable, precise and convenient at-home solutions for early detection and monitoring of eye health, and as technology improves and AI is incorporated, obtaining prescriptions for corrective lenses is on the horizon. For professionals, EyeQue is a digital health service that will help them screen, track and manage patient vision while boosting early detection and reduce preventable vision loss.

EyeQue has an experienced team working to achieve its mission. “We have an exceptional team, including Nicole Skibinski, who is Chief Operating Officer. She recently won Vision Monday’s prestigious award for being one of the most influential women in optometry,” John explains. Nicole has a deep understanding of the business and has been responsible for EyeQue’s transition to B2B. Noam Sapiens​ is Chief Technology Officer. John shares, “Dr. Sapiens has a great deal of expertise in optical technologies, including electro-optics, and human vision. He holds over 50 patents and has an infectious can-do attitude. He started college, majoring in physics at age 14, and after military service in Israel, he earned a PhD in applied physics.” Kathy Chueh, EyeQue’s CFO, also an alumnus of MIT, specializes in Fundraising, M&A, FP&A, capital and risk management, debt/equity structuring, and more. She has been steadying the EyeQue ship for seven years.

Sadly, Tibor passed away in 2021 before seeing EyeQue reach its full potential. John fondly remembers how he continued to work on the business until he passed. What started as discussions around physics, “He used to like to hear about how the universe was started, and he always had questions for me. We would discuss various theories that often led to discussions around Fermi’s paradox, futurism and AI. ” Those conversations led to a mutual passion to create technology that provides universal accessibility to eye exams. “Tibor was in the office just two days before he passed, ensuring that I would take care of EyeQue the way he wanted.”

Today, John and his team are committed to doing just that. Leveraging their expertise in vision science, medical devices engineering and optical technologies, they are developing groundbreaking devices. With everything moving in the right direction, the EyeQue name will be well-known very soon. Tibor and John’s mission with EyeQue remains unwavering, “We are changing the human vision industry forever and, with it, positively impacting millions of people’s lives worldwide.”

Find out more about EyeQue and how it can work for your practice.

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