Adapt: Part of what I have learned along this journey of building Tajima Direct is that the world will hit you with so many things you don’t expect, like COVID-19, but the success comes from adapting to the circumstances and making the best situation out of it. That’s a concept that has been engrained in me through my career sailing as well — you can’t predict or control the wind and the weather, but the winner will be the one that adapted best to the circumstances and made the most of every hand they were dealt.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, 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.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Yes, of course. I grew up in sunny Southern California in a sunglass household. When I was born, my dad was a key leader at Oakley. When I was two, he left in pursuit of creating his own sunglass brand featuring a better-polarized lens technology than the industry and brands were offering. So, I grew up around sunglasses and entrepreneurship as he built his company, Kaenon Polarized. Spending my time surfing, sailing, and constantly on the water, sunglasses were a necessity and I saw firsthand the value of a superior polarized lens. Fast forward and I find myself as an undergraduate at Stanford University, surrounded by a vibrant startup culture, focused on incorporating the latest developments in technology into our increasingly digital-first world. All of these factors lead me to want to start my own company revolving around eyewear. The pieces all came together as my Dad had sold Kaenon and was now doing the B2B business for this patented lens technology he developed. It all seemed to make sense, why not offer this superior polarized lens technology direct to the consumer, with a lean startup e-commerce model using the vast resources that Stanford had to offer in digital technology as well as know-how and wisdom from professors.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
At our core, Tajima-Direct.com provides high quality polarized replacement lenses that can be custom cut into any frame for a fraction of the cost of purchasing a new pair of sunglasses. Prescription lenses too for 25–50% less than your local optical shop or eyewear retailer!
At a time when Americans are spending more time outdoors, worried about finances, and don’t trust going into stores to try on sunglasses or visit their optician for fear of catching COVID19, we’re strongly positioned to disrupt the eyewear industry with an affordable, convenient, and contact-free solution for consumers.
The disruption is two-fold: changing how superior polarized lenses are viewed from a business perspective and how to purchase them from a technology standpoint to offer extended life to their current frame.
Research shows Americans spend more than 4-billion dollars on sunglasses a year! When the sunglass lenses get damaged then they’re tossed. Why toss a good pair of sunglasses just because the lenses are not up to par any longer? We saw the opportunity to change that view, by seeing sunglasses as two equal parts. Keep the frames that you love and upgrade them with the best-polarized technology available.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’m not sure if it’s a lesson, but the craziest thing that’s happed to us was Covid-19 and the ensuing shutdown of America and the world. Not only did it unceremoniously end my collegiate academic and athletic career, but it also jump-started my full-time focus on the business — ahead of schedule. While we take Covid seriously and protect ourselves, I can candidly say COVID has offered up a huge Silver Lining in that we are an ideal business at the right time. We recognized this 3 days after I was told to leave Stanford and went home. Here we are!
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
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. I came up with the idea for Tajima Direct between my Sophomore and Junior year. Being busy with school and captain of the Stanford Sailing Team, the progress 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.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
When I think of disrupting an industry, I immediately think of these industries that have these “too big to fail” major players that “own” the industry and have been around forever and then a new, young company comes in with a modern spin that simply just makes more sense for the consumer and changes the way in which the buying/selling of that product or service is done. Think Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s Razors going up against the giants of Gillette and Schick or Casper going up against the two giants, Tempur Sealy International and Serta Simmons Bedding. Or Robinhood when it comes to trading. They’ve each changed the way their industry — and competitors — now think and act. The disruptors brought a new way to sell a simple commodity like a razor or a bed that simply just made more sense and fit into our modern world better by being cheaper, more convenient, and online. In my mind, disrupting an industry can only be positive. If a company tries to disrupt an industry and it wouldn’t be a positive addition, they will probably not be able to successfully make it — thus, no disruption of an industry. The beauty of the disruptors is that they can only disrupt the industry if their solution and way of selling truly makes more sense for this day in time.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
Iterate and Experiment: I’m going to lump these two together because they go hand in hand. This story stems from what I discussed above regarding my mentors, Perry and Jeremy. Every week in Office Hours, they would start by asking you to write on 4 post its: Target Audience, Pain Point, Key Feature, and 24 Hour Experiment. The 24 Hour Experiment was the last part of the conversation, but arguably the most important to them. What could you do in the next 24 hours to reduce the most risk that your business is facing? Essentially, the answer was never polling an audience or surveying a group, but doing something actionable and quick, where you could test the links between your Target Audience, that audience’s Pain Point, and how your Key Feature addresses that Pain Point. The goal was to fail fast and try again or find success and follow that success up with more short experiments to narrow down (iterate) every week who the target audience really was, what pain they feel most strongly, and how to message your solution to that audience. My answers to those first three post its are very different today than that first day I walked into the d.school to meet with them for the first time due to constant iteration based on the success or failures of the experiments we have run.
Adapt: Part of what I have learned along this journey of building Tajima Direct is that the world will hit you with so many things you don’t expect, like COVID-19, but the success comes from adapting to the circumstances and making the best situation out of it. That’s a concept that has been ingrained in me through my career sailing as well — you can’t predict or control the wind and the weather, but the winner will be the one that adapted best to the circumstances and made the most of every hand they were dealt. For us at Tajima Direct through this pandemic, that has meant emphasizing and focusing more on the messaging of quality, service, convenience and value while also being contact-free, delivering directly to consumers’ doorsteps, saving a trip to the doctor’s office, etc.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
The next major product we are working on is getting an accurate and easy to use online eye exam on our website. With the Coronavirus, people don’t want to take unnecessary risks like going to their eye doctor so we want to be able to fully accommodate people on our site who need a prescription by allowing them to get their updated prescription from our site and then get new prescription lenses in their favorite frames without having to leave the safety and comfort of their home.
We also have a ton of new lens technologies and applications developed to expand our offerings (when we’re ready).
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
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 very 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.
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 that I also discussed above. This has been relevant in my life in a few key ways. First off, growing up as a competitive sailor, adapting to the circumstances and cards you’re dealt 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 the current situation you find yourself in is what brings success instead of chasing what you thought was going to happen even as it becomes less of a reality. Secondly, for example, the pandemic hitting and cutting my Senior year at Stanford short made this quote extremely relevant. I was planning on graduating after the winter quarter anyway to fully focus on our final College Spring Sailing Season and working on Tajima Direct. Then, it all ended quite abruptly and we were all sent home. Instead of sulking about the missed opportunities, I decided to move my timeline up by 4 months and dive right into going full time into building and growing Tajima Direct and haven’t looked back since.
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? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Definitely would be a movement of acceptance and respect of others through peace, mutual respect and stopping the violence and unjust treatment of others.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!