Jacob Rosenberg of Tajima Direct: “Everything has a learning opportunity”

Everything has a learning opportunity — In the beginning of the business, I would find myself getting carried away with getting orders and maximizing revenue, etc, which is important. But at the early stages, it’s even more pivotal to focus on what you can learn from every order or customer experience, instead of just taking the orders […]

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Everything has a learning opportunity — In the beginning of the business, I would find myself getting carried away with getting orders and maximizing revenue, etc, which is important. But at the early stages, it’s even more pivotal to focus on what you can learn from every order or customer experience, instead of just taking the orders and the lack of orders for face value. Thinking in more of a learning mindset to find takeaways from customers who ordered and those who didn’t may have provided even more growth than we’ve already had.

The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.

As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jacob Rosenberg.

Jacob Rosenberg is a recent Stanford Graduate from the COVID-19 Class of 2020. While at Stanford, he captained the #1 nationally ranked Varsity Sailing Team and incubated the concept for his startup, Tajima Direct since his Junior year. He is now working full time as the Co-Founder and CEO of Tajima Direct | Premium Lens Replacement.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Yes, of course. I was raised in sunny Southern California in a sailing, sunglass, and entrepreneurial household. While my mom was an Olympic windsurfer, my dad was a key leader building Oakley before he left to start his own sunglass company, Kaenon Polarized, when I was 2 years old. I grew up spending nearly all my time in the ocean, either sailing or surfing. Being on the water and seeing my dad’s company grow, I always wore and understood the importance of having the best eye protection through his polarized lens technology. I ended up attending Stanford University for my undergraduate degree as a key member and eventually captain of the Stanford Varsity Sailing Team. At Stanford is where I ultimately incubated the concept for my startup, Tajima Direct | Premium Lens Replacment.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“It is not a failure to readjust my sails to fit the waters I find myself in.” -MacKenzi Lee

This quote really falls in line with my thoughts on adapting to the cards your dealt and the uncertainties that are out of your control. Growing up as a competitive sailor, adapting to the circumstances and the situation presented to you is so key. There are so many uncontrollable factors from the incoming weather and wind to how other boats are going to sail around the racecourse that focusing on making the most of your current situation is what brings success instead of chasing what you thought was going to happen even as it becomes less of a reality. For me, this has proven to be quite relevant in real life and business too.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Yes! My favorite podcast to listen to that has certainly impacted my thinking in the last few years is the Knowledge Project by Shane Parrish and Farnam Street. Shane sits down with experts from a wide variety of fields and tries to learn about their decision-making processes, which I find truly fascinating and inspiring. My favorite episode that has had the greatest impact on my thinking would be “Taking Intelligent Risk with Jason Calacanis”. In this episode, he sits down with this high stakes poker player, now turned venture capitalist, and they talk about how he makes his decisions on the basis of taking intelligent risks, when to take risk, how much risk to take, how to quantify the risk. It all falls in line with one of my favorite classes I took at Stanford called Decision Analysis, which changed the way I view decisions, large and small — from how much to spend on advertising to how to spend my Sunday afternoon. They both focus on being able to quantify our own uncertainty perceptions and our desires for each outcome to create a risk assessment that leads us to an ultimate decision.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?

My career experience before the Pandemic began was fairly limited. I spent the early summers of my Freshman and Sophomore years of college continuing to pursue my own International competitive sailing endeavors while creating coaching opportunities to fund myself in the meantime. I found great success in these summers winning US National Titles and being the top American at World Championships, ultimately taking 2nd at one with another top 10 finish at another. Going into my Junior year at Stanford, I began slowly working on a business idea I had to bring my dad’s superior patented polarized lens technology that he had developed direct to the consumer so anyone could have the best vision in whatever sunglass or eyeglass frames they liked best that fit their needs and lifestyle. I spent the summer after my Junior year putting everything together to ‘launch’ and begin official business by the time school started up again in the early fall. However, finishing my senior year of classes while being a key part of the sailing team did not leave much time to focus and build my business so it remained a side project with slow organic growth. The plan was to have enough credits to graduate after our winter quarter ended in March 2020, but to remain on campus finishing my final season of college sailing and spending more time focusing on the business in the spring.

What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?

When the pandemic began to shut everything down, we were flying back to campus from the East Coast after securing a win at the first spring season college sailing event of the year. The rest of winter quarter had been moved online, but we still believed we’d be back after our spring break. As that next week continued day by day, the world started to fully shut down — sailing season canceled, everyone required to get off campus, and spring quarter would be held completely online. So, all of a sudden, I was unceremoniously graduated and forced to move home. The one silver lining — I quickly realized I had been building a business that was actually perfect for the new economy we were moving into — a fully online, contact-free business that provided premium eyewear (polarized sunglass lenses and prescription lenses) to people in need who no longer felt safe or comfortable going to eyewear retail shops or their eye doctors’ offices. The best part is that we were providing a superior quality product for less than you’d pay in traditional eyewear shops or eye doctor’s offices with their incredibly high markups. As bummed as I was that I wouldn’t get to finish out my senior year nor our college sailing season, I was grateful and excited to dive in headfirst into this business. We pivoted our messaging to reflect the convenience and contact-free nature of what we were doing while focusing harder on prescription as we saw the void being created of people needing prescription lenses, but not being able to go anywhere in person to fulfill their needs. It created the perfect opportunity to shift people’s thinking to getting their eyewear needs online.

Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?

The specific “aha moment” to pivot and go fully in on building this business was about a week after that first spring college sailing event I referenced above. I was back in my dorm room, with one day left before I was required to move out. Nearly everyone had already left, and our house felt like a ghost town. As I packed up the necessities and got ready to drive home the following day, it sunk in that this was the end of my college career and that it was time to move on to the next stage of my life, which would be putting in all I had to make this business venture a success.

How are things going with this new initiative?

Things have been going very well. We finished our first year with the business being profitable and beating our revenue goals set at the beginning of the year by nearly 50% with no outside investment. To me though, a better measurement of how things are going lies in the customer feedback and response we’ve gotten. It’s been astounding — from older generations in their 70s and 80s who are purchasing online (let alone purchasing new prescription lenses) for the first time to avid sailors and fishermen who are drawn in by the idea of a better lens to read the breeze and find the fish — their feedback and reviews continue to provide confidence that we’re on the right path and doing something special.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve been extremely fortunate to have a few key Stanford professors being willing to mentor me and provide insight along the way. The first two would be Stanford d.school (design school) professors, Perry Klebahn and Jeremy Utley. Being busy with school and captain of the Stanford Sailing Team, the progress on building the business was slow until I went to the d.school for Perry and Jeremy’s Launchpad Office Hours in early February of 2019. We discussed the idea, which they liked, and they told me to throw out the business plan and start taking action using d.school design principles of quick experiments and iteration (Design Thinking / Learning). That was a pivotal moment for me in creating this company. They told me to come back the following week with a simple SquareSpace website that detailed the Pain Point I was solving and how our Key Feature addressed that pain. So, I did, and that is when our website/online store (the same SquareSpace site we still are using to date) was created. I continued to come back week over week to meet with them, discuss the week’s progress, and make a plan for the following week. Early on was a lot of testing product/market fit and understanding who the target user was and what their pain point was that we solved. Not only did they help me to roadmap and strategize to find product / market fit, but they also put me in touch with resources and experts I would have never had access to. I have continued to meet with them roughly every week (still continuing via Zoom today) since then. It has been perfect to have the combination of Perry and Jeremy because Perry brought experience and wisdom in consumer products through his background building Atlas Snowshoe Co. and Patagonia while Jeremy brought more creativity in designing different specific technologies and advanced ideas for referrals, chatbot messages, etc. I’ve also had other mentors, who were professors in classes I’ve taken who caught wind of what I was working on and offered to help. An example would be Jack Fuchs, a decorated finance and operations executive who was my professor for a class called Entrepreneurial Decision Making, which was the last class I took before graduating from Stanford. He’s been an amazing mentor with many connections and experience investing and working with companies at all stages of growth.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

The most interesting story that’s happened since we’ve gone full time into building Tajima Direct has definitely been seeing Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris wearing our Tajima polarized lenses in her viral video while on the phone with Joe Biden right after they officially won the election. Part of the story of Tajima Direct is that my dad sells this patented polarized lens technology to select other sunglass companies, including one called Mykita. Kamala was wearing a pair of Mykita sunglasses with Tajima lenses in them, which was very exciting to see, giving more credibility to the ‘Tajima lenses’ brand we’re building.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Everything takes longer to implement than you initially think — I really learned this through the process of building our new website, switching from Squarespace to WordPress. We started in early 2020 with the goal of having it done by the first or second quarter. However, we wanted to focus on every detail, and it does take time to get it all done right. We’re now scheduled to have this new site go live end of January 2021.

Collect as much data as you can as early as possible — I’ve always known that the first step of data analysis is collecting the data. However, early on I didn’t think to record every bit of data I could because I thought we were too early stage, and the data was fairly obvious and perhaps redundant to record. But now, I wish I had collected more data then because it’s so helpful for future forecasting and modeling to have past data to look back on.

It’s a rollercoaster of highs and lows — The role of an entrepreneur is naturally a rollercoaster. You take on and hear about every problem that can make certain days seem like endless problems with days where you wonder where all the orders went. It feels like it’s not working, and you wonder what you’ve been doing all this time. And then you have these unexpected record-breaking days, and you’re on top of the world seeing orders continually flooding through your email. I’ve found it’s really important to not get too high on the highs and not too low on the lows because if you keep your head down and stay determined, you’ll net out more highs than lows.

Everything has a learning opportunity — In the beginning of the business, I would find myself getting carried away with getting orders and maximizing revenue, etc, which is important. But at the early stages, it’s even more pivotal to focus on what you can learn from every order or customer experience, instead of just taking the orders and the lack of orders for face value. Thinking in more of a learning mindset to find takeaways from customers who ordered and those who didn’t may have provided even more growth than we’ve already had.

There’s always more to do — This last one is one of the most important learnings I’ve had in my journey. In the beginning, part of me thought we would get the website dialed in, get the ads optimized so they were profitable, have the logistics set up, and let it all roll. As I’ve gotten deeper into this business, I couldn’t have been more wrong. There’s so much more that I know we can be doing all the time to improve — whether that’s in our customer unboxing experience, website customer flow, new ad channels, optimizing old ad channels, etc. I’ve learned that it’s a prioritization game constantly reprioritizing the to-do list to maximize for the most impact with the least resources used (in terms of financial investment and time to implement).

So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?

While so much has been uncertain recently with the pandemic, the election, and other various news, it’s easy to become anxious and wrapped up in dramatic jolts in the news cycles. My best advice and strategies for coping would be to focus as much as possible on what you can control. It can be hard to focus on anything but the craziness that we hear in the news. However, I try my best to separate what’s in my control and not in my control because spending too much time thinking and worrying about things that you cannot affect can be a waste of time and energy. Feeling good about the elements in your life that are in your control and being able to let go of the rest is difficult, but really has helped me through these crazy times.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

It would certainly be a movement of acceptance and respect of others through peace as well as stopping the violence and unjust treatment of others. There’s so much polarization in our country that we need to take a step back and remember we’re all humans who deserve the same basic core rights and respect.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

I would love to have lunch with Jeff Raider, the co-founder and co-CEO of Harry’s Razors and the co-founder of Warby Parker. I would find it fascinating because the companies he has successfully built have been model companies that we’ve examined and taken cues from on how to build our business. He successfully disrupted the eyewear industry with Warby Parker and then the razor industry with Harry’s so I feel I could learn so much from him that would really help us grow Tajima Direct and change even further how people think about eyewear.

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Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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