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Kyly Zak Rabin: “I cannot overemphasize the importance of quality listening and being present.”

Listen, Listen: I realized early on that I was not being an effective listener. I was always doing something else (because there was always something else to be done) when my team was sharing insights, telling me about a challenge, or coming up with new ways to make our process more efficient. I cannot overemphasize […]


Listen, Listen: I realized early on that I was not being an effective listener. I was always doing something else (because there was always something else to be done) when my team was sharing insights, telling me about a challenge, or coming up with new ways to make our process more efficient. I cannot overemphasize the importance of quality listening and being present. I’m continuing to iterate on how our team receives and gives feedback, but quality listening is a core value.


As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kyly Rabin, co-founder of Zak. Zak. is a family business, founded in August 2018 by Optometrist Dr. Myles Zakheim and his daughter Kyly Zak Rabin.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My background is a combination of production, operations, fundraising, and marketing. After graduating from Northwestern University, I worked on the development team for the Board of Trustees at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and then transitioned into the start-up world. I had a front row seat to creating new business in marketing roles at varying start-ups in the food and beverage space, which was a particularly insightful education for all things Zak.

Zak. was born out of a dinner conversation with my dad, a veteran Optometrist. The eyewear industry is fragmented. We saw a real opportunity to change the antiquated optometric model by working to seamlessly marry medical, retail, and the modern consumer.

Traditionally, a person gets an exam at one place, glasses from another, contact lenses from yet a third provider, and their more “unique” frames somewhere else. On top of that, pricing is all over the map. We are interfacing with multiple entities to take care of one thing. My dad’s optical expertise and business experience coupled with my “millennial” perspective, start-up know how and aesthetic create the ideal partnership to solve for this dysfunction.

The windows to your soul deserve better. And we treat your eyes with respect every step of the way. From comprehensive exams, to the Zak. in-house line of affordable frames, and same-day fabrication of lenses in our onsite lab, we are making a personal and complicated journey more seamless.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

While solving for industry fragmentation was the catalyst for Zak., democratising eye health has become an additional core tenet of the business. It’s interesting (and obvious) that our initial focus was primarily solving for consumers with prescription needs and yet all humans have eyes. As we took a deep dive into the concept — another glaring industry flaw became clear: eye health is undervalued. Our ethos, design, culture, products and services don’t just tackle ineffeciency but encourage all people to consider their eyes, not just those with vision complications.

People get their eyes examined if they can’t see, but there are so many other reasons to invest in eye health from headaches and eye strain to glare and light sensitivity. Not to mention the hours we’re spending in front of our tech devices, which can cause eye fatigue and irregular sleep patterns. And most significantly, an annual eye exam can often detect systemic diseases, like diabetes, high blood pressure or even neurological/auto-immune conditions that do not necessarily present symptoms.

If you get an annual physical or dental check or track your daily steps, receive acupuncture or practice yoga, why wouldn’t you pay more attention to your eyes?

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?

When starting a new business, sometimes everything feels like a mistake. And then you quickly realize those “mistakes” are meaningful learning experiences. There aren’t definitive rules or handbooks for this kind of thing — we consistently iterate on protocol to provide the best products and services possible.

I’m trying to have a sense of humor over the little and (sigh) big things: Like the time we used a tape so strong that there was no way for our customers to open our brand new packaging or that time we first photographed our product (glasses) and didn’t think to remove the demo lenses, which resulted in glare that required astounding retouching!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Zak. streamlines the traditionally fragmented optical process to provide a seamless one-stop experience that is affordable without compromising quality. Consumers shouldn’t have to source through a variety of providers to service something as vital as their eye care. We are the sum of our parts allowing for a truly seamless experience.

Even if one has 20/20 vision, an exam is a necessary commitment to health that everyone should make. In addition to eye disease, Eye exams can uncover hidden health issues that might not present symptoms. Our team of optometrists provides comprehensive eye health evaluations, digital retinal imaging, glaucoma and cataract screenings in addition to eyeglass and contact lens prescriptions. Not all eye exams are created equally and quality care is paramount.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We’re using our Zak. flagship location and all of its varying service and product offerings as a method to collect data that will illuminate the best combination of online and brick/mortar expansion. We’d love to have select Zak. locations around the country and connect with, educate, provide products and services digitally that allow and encourage people to consider their eyes.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Spend time creating a thoughtful onboarding process and celebrate the small wins! As a founder, you know your brand more intimately than anyone else. It’s important to invest in your team and ensure your employees are thoroughly integrated into the brand values and spirit. This will result in genuine brand understanding, deep commitment and aligned efforts.

Operating is a feat in and of itself and there are so many moments to celebrate along the way. Your team should be recognized for their accomplishments (both big and small) to foster a positive culture and allow for the moments of constructive criticism to fall on eager ears.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Founders typically start off as a team of 1 (or in my case 2)! Your instinct is to do it all and be as scrappy as possible, but help is essential to grow. Hire an operations manager to take things off your plate and share in the responsibility of oversight. Systems and protocols are the backbone of your ecosystem — they ensure you’re working as a unit with like-minded goals and expectations.

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 about that?

My business partner and dad, Dr. Myles Zakheim. My dad is an expert in the field. He has been in practice for over 35 years with three locations. Although he doesn’t see patients at Zak., he is the optical brains behind the operation. His insight, experience, and medical know-how are essential as we aim to provide the highest degree of comprehensive care and educate consumers about the importance of eye health. His long-standing career has provided us with rich data that serves as the blueprint for the products we develop like our in-house collection of frames to the lenses we stock in our on-site lab to ensure same day fabrication all the way to patient care, insurance practices, medical equipment/technology, contact lenses and so much more.

Working together has its challenges. We are both very specific (must be genetic) and sometimes there are generational hang-ups, but for the most part, we’re learning a ton from each other and as a family we always find middle ground.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Crisp and comfortable vision is a gift, and what we strive to provide all patients and customers. Our eyes are resilient so we typically take them for granted. Sight allows us to experience the world and keep us safe, which is profound

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Starting a business is complex! Here are a few lessons that I am (still) learning:

One Size Does Not Fit All: I think it’s really easy to compare your company or self to other brands or entrepreneurs. There is such an emphasis especially now on “unicorn companies” and businesses that have raised multiple rounds of funding to achieve massive growth. I constantly remind myself that every company is different, and that the path we’re on with Zak. is right for us.

Be Humble, Be Active: On a small team, there is no job too big or too small. Some days I change light bulbs, some days I have a light bulb idea for a new product offering. We all literally do it all.

Listen, Listen: I realized early on that I was not being an effective listener. I was always doing something else (because there was always something else to be done) when my team was sharing insights, telling me about a challenge, or coming up with new ways to make our process more efficient. I cannot overemphasize the importance of quality listening and being present. I’m continuing to iterate on how our team receives and gives feedback, but quality listening is a core value.

Find Your Tribe: I’ve found that one of the most important support systems in my life is other entrepreneurs. I have a few friends who are also launching brands in Los Angeles, and our communal dinners, laughs and frustrations have been overwhelmingly important to my sanity and personal growth as a leader.

Find Your Team: Build a strong team around you that inherently understands and supports your vision. You need skilled like-minded teammates committed to execution and growth.

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. 🙂

Naturally, I would like to inspire a movement for people to take better care of their eyes! Through Zak. I hope to create products and services that encourage our customers and patients to consider their eyes beyond prescription needs. Our eyes matter. They are responsible for our impressions of the world — which means they’re the building blocks of our individuality. They allow us to be aware and in awe. Yet we rarely consider them. We put them in front of screens without rest. We rub them without thinking. We don’t realize they can be indicators of other health issues. We avoid the eye doctor unless we can’t see.

More broadly, we as a country need to rethink access to medical care. Quality care should be a fundamental human right, not a luxury. Whether ensuring all kindergarten students — regardless of their backgrounds — get an eye exam and a physical, or that all mothers receive paid maternity leave, or that people can afford critical medication is unquestionably crucial.

Aside from that, as a person in Los Angeles, it’s hard not to think about income inequality as one of our greatest societal challenges. It’s also clearly not a job that any one person or one company can solve. As a small business owner, I think about how to create quality jobs for my employees, how to ensure that we offer competitive wages and benefits, and to offer opportunities for career advancement. For society, business, philanthropy, policy all must come together to address this pressing issue.

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

For over a decade, my mom has emailed a daily quote to a list of friends and family. Sometimes the quote shows up in my inbox and I really feel like it was meant for me on that particular day. One of my favorites as a reminder that we are ever evolving and limitless:

“We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing — an actor, a writer — I am a person who does things — I write, I act — and I never know what I’m going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.”

― Stephen Fry

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 with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Sara Blakely! I’m so inspired by her early days hustling to create Spanx. She sold fax machines door to door while she worked on her patent. She had grit and tenacity and the “whatever it takes” attitude necessary to dream big and even better, meld those dreams into a tangible product celebrated by women (and men) everywhere. After almost 20 years of growth, she’s still running her business to this day, which is supremely impressive considering the inevitable twists and turns along the way. She’s now investing in female entrepreneurs and I would love to pick her brain!

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