As a part of our series called “My Life as a TwentySomething Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sophia Edelstein and Nathan Kondamuri.
Sophia Edelstein and Nathan Kondamuri are the Co-founders and Co-CEOs of Pair Eyewear, the eyeglass company reinventing the entire glasses experience to be more empowering and fashionable for kids, while affordable and stress-free for parents. Combining their backgrounds in marketing, healthcare, and engineering, Nathan and Sophia hatched PAIR in their senior year at Stanford University. Since then, they’ve redesigned glasses from a medical device to be more exciting and versatile, and in turn inspired kids and teens across the country to feel confident and excited about their glasses.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
Thanks for having us! We originally met while freshman studying at Stanford University. We originally met because we were put in rival freshman dorms.
Nathan: I’m originally from Munster, Indiana, a small town outside of Chicago and went out to Stanford to study Mechanical Engineering. When I got glasses at 8 years old, it was daunting. Like most kids, I was self conscious and embarrassed to wear them to school because of the stigma existing around glasses. I was reminded of this negative experience during our senior year at Stanford when I heard about how my little brother was getting glasses for the first time, and quite upset with his options and the experience.
Sophia: I’m originally from New York City and went out to Stanford to study Human Biology with a focus in healthcare economics and medical devices. When Nathan began telling me about the negative experience his little brother and mother were having buying children’s glasses we wondered, why hadn’t anyone redesigned glasses from a static medical device to be more fun and dynamic? After talking to over 400 families, we discovered (unsurprisingly) that kids don’t enjoy wearing glasses, and parents dreaded the expensive and stressful process. Today, one in every four children wear glasses, and experts estimate that by 2050, it will be one in every two. Compelled by the stories we heard, we decided to reinvent the eyewear experience. We launched PAIR so that kids would be empowered and excited by their glasses and so parents could easily and affordably be able to provide a positive experience to their children.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company
One story that we love is when we wrote a handwritten note to Gayle King expressing to her how we loved how confidently she wore glasses and how she could be a role model for young children that wear glasses. We knew writing this handwritten note and getting her to read it would be a shot in the dark, but connected with someone who worked in Gayle’s office who kindly offered to deliver it along with a PAIR of glasses. We decided to go for it and this experience showed us how impactful an authentic handwritten note could be and how powerful our mission at PAIR was. It turns out that Gayle also hated wearing her glasses as a child and was inspired by PAIRs mission of redesigning glasses and the experience for children. Gayle wrote up a full story and took a photoshoot in PAIR frames to go in her ‘World According to Gayle’ page in Oprah Magazine expressing how difficult her experience wearing glasses as a kid was and how she wished PAIR was around when she was a kid.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
PAIR stands out because of the connection we are forming with our customers, parents, and children.
There is one story in particular that humbles us and reminds us everyday of why PAIR exists.
A mother told us about how her daughter was getting bullied at school for about a year, which was really difficult for their family. They were a military family and when they moved to a new location, the daughter was really scared and anxious about going to a new school and having to make new friends. By chance, she had just ordered her daughter PAIR and when she went to her new school for the first day, she made friends because every classmate wanted to see how her magical glasses worked. Kids were telling her how cool the glasses were and helping her pick different top frame colors for different classes.
What makes us most proud is that we are building a brand that empowers kids to be themselves and gives them agency by allowing them to personalize their glasses based on their personality. We try to embody this mission as a brand by always asking our PAIR families what new colors and designs they want us to come out with next. We’re lucky to have such a dedicated group of families that are always suggesting new design ideas for us. They are so dedicated, in fact, that we even created an invite only PAIR-ents Facebook group for PAIR parents to tell each other stories about their children, show off photos of their kids in their new tops, and directly suggest new design ideas.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
We are very grateful every day to be able to work with each other. Not everyone can say that they get to go into work everyday and solve important problems with their best friend. Starting a company as a college student out of your dorm room, especially during your last semester, is no easy task and we have been able to keep each other focused and motivated during the very best and worst of times.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Definitely! There are a number of projects that we’re really excited about that we think will change the landscape of kids glasses. Our motto is that the possibilities are endless with PAIR — soon, kids will be able to express their favorite hobbies and interests through their glasses just like they do their shoes and clothes. We’re working on technology that will give kids the ability to design their own glasses, try them on virtually, and match their glasses with their favorite sports, entertainment and fashion brands.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We strongly believe that any company or product we make needs to be solving a problem and bringing good to the world. At PAIR, we bring goodness in two ways. First, our glasses give kids confidence. We have seen kids feel more confident to go to school, and take good care of their eyes because PAIR gives them the choice of choosing their glasses on a daily basis. Second, we have partnered with an incredible nonprofit called The EYELLIANCE to donate a percentage of our proceeds per each sale to help provide a child in need with vision care.
Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
One book that was really impactful to me (Nathan) was the Steve Jobs biography written by Walter Isaacson. The way he was so persistent, creative, thoughtful, curious and unconditionally himself is inspiring. It taught me lessons of how much you can accomplish when you put your mind to something and also taught me invaluable lessons of how certain character flaws can be detrimental to your work and life happiness. I think it’s amazing how he was able to transform industries and develop so many innovative products during his time leading Apple that have shaped an entire generation. His attention to detail and conviction on user-centric design is something we put into the development of PAIR.
Can you share 5 of the most difficult and most rewarding parts of being a “TwentySomething founder?”
- One of the most difficult parts is building a team in the early stages of your company. There are so many characteristics to consider when hiring, and at an early stage you are giving your team a lot of responsibility in the success of the company. That being said, this has also been one of the most rewarding parts since we are now growing a team and surrounding ourselves with incredible minds to change the children’s glasses industry together.
- One of the most rewarding aspects has been having the opportunity to build something at an early age that truly changes people’s lives. Being so close to our customers and being able to hear how PAIR has impacted them has been the most rewarding aspect of our job.
- Accepting that the stress of running a startup is unlike any other job is an important but difficult aspect of being a young founder. The company will be on your mind 24/7 and the earlier you are able to deal with the constant stress the easier it will be to balance the company and your friends and family.
- Being a founder gives you tremendous access to other people starting and running companies. It has been incredible to learn from mentors one step ahead of us and give advice to other twentysomething founders beginning their journey.
- Although our team is still small and under ten full time employees, it has been incredible to begin defining our company culture and values. As a team, we sat down to define what were our top ten values and we are excited to continue living these values as PAIR grows.
What are the main takeaways that you would advise a twenty year old who is looking to found a business?
Our piece of advice is to always find mentors who are only 1 to 2 steps ahead of you as company founders. These people will be closest to the problems you are currently solving and will have the freshest solutions and advice to provide. As you keep advancing your company, continue to look for mentors who have just completed the biggest task you face in the next 6 months.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
We have been very inspired by Emily Weiss and impressed by how she has been able to not only create innovative makeup products but a community through the Glossier brand. She has done an incredible job of making everyday customers feel like influencers making her normal Glossier wearers the company’s greatest supporters.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
You can follow PAIR on instagram and twitter @paireyewear