Sophia Edelstein and Nathan Kondamuri: “Be prepared for every pitch”

Personalize your pitch for your audience — For our Shark Tank pitch, we wanted the judges to know that our pitch was designed for them! For example, Mark Cuban is a part-time owner of the Dallas Mavericks. We made sure to mention in our pitch the ability to create licensed PAIR top frames and one day have […]

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Personalize your pitch for your audience — For our Shark Tank pitch, we wanted the judges to know that our pitch was designed for them! For example, Mark Cuban is a part-time owner of the Dallas Mavericks. We made sure to mention in our pitch the ability to create licensed PAIR top frames and one day have a Dallas Mavericks top. Turns out that day came much sooner than we anticipated. We just launched our NBA team collection this past July.

As a part of my series about the ‘5 Important Business Lessons I Learned While Being On The Shark Tank’, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sophia Edelstein and Nathan Kondamuri.

While at Stanford, Nathan shared his awful experience of wearing glasses as a child, with Sophia. At the time, Sophia was studying Human Biology with a focus in healthcare economics and medical devices, and Nathan was studying engineering. The duo wondered: why hadn’t anyone redesigned glasses from a static medical device to be more fun and dynamic? After talking to over 400 families, they 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 they heard, they decided to reinvent the eyewear experience. In addition to the smiles they bring their customers, through PAIR Eyewear, Sophia and Nathan have also impacted the lives of children around the world. To help the hundreds of millions of kids who don’t have any access to vision care, they built their PAIR for a PAIR program, where they donate a pair of glasses to a child in need for every pair sold.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit of the backstory about how you grew up?

Sophia: I was born and raised in NYC. My father is an artist and my mother has always worked with nonprofits. I grew up surrounded by amazing creative energy and an instilled philosophy to do good in the world. I think both of those things have played a huge role in the mission of PAIR Eyewear.

Nathan: I was born and raised in Indiana in a small town outside of Chicago, called Munster. I found out I needed to wear glasses at age 8 and distinctly remember my first PAIR. It was a blue wire framed PAIR that I hated but had no choice to wear for the next 2 years.

Can you share with us the story of the “aha moment” that gave you the idea to start your company?

Nathan: We were best friends studying at Stanford when during our senior year, I found out my little brother Nikki needed to get glasses. He was devastated and became further upset when he was presented with a limited number of options at the optometrist. Meanwhile, my mom was going to spend upwards of 300 dollars for a pair of glasses Nikky didn’t want to wear.

This made me think back to my own experience of needing to get glasses nearly ten years earlier and how nothing had changed. One day, I was telling Sophia about Nikky’s experience and we started asking ourselves why isn’t there a glasses brand designed for parents and kids from the ground up?

We went directly to the source and interviewed over 400 children and quickly found out that kids want choice! Just like they get to pick their favorite shirt to wear on a daily basis, they want to choose what kind of glasses they wear. This started our journey and soon we were prototyping glasses that you can customize on a daily basis, like your clothes.

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

Sophia: It’s been amazing to see how everyone from different walks of life have been able to rally behind PAIR’s mission because of their own negative experience wearing glasses as a kid, even prominent celebrities. Nathan and I were watching TV when we noticed how Gale King changes her glasses to match her outfit. Looking how confident and proud she was to wear glasses today we wondered if she had worn glasses as a kid. On a whim we decided to write her a handwritten note and send her a PAIR, telling her about our mission and how we thought she could help inspire children to feel confident in their glasses. We got really lucky! Gale loved the concept and aligned with the mission so much that she decided to feature us in Oprah magazine. She even had a photoshoot done where she was rocking PAIR and showing how you can switch tops.

Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

Sophia: We designed the first PAIR collection while still students at Stanford. To get help designing the collection we thought, “let’s find a lot of kids, put them into a Stanford classroom and run panels and discussion groups asking kids which designs they like the best.” We found families who had children, who wanted to help and planned the sessions so each child had two signs: one they would raise if they liked the design and another they would raise if they didn’t like it. As soon as we began the session, we realized we had forgotten the natural tendencies of kids. As soon as they would raise their signs the kids would look around and quickly change their decision based on what everyone else had picked. Ten minutes in, they were getting distracted and we had succumbed to tempting them with candy to keep them concentrated. Thirty minutes in they smelled that pizza had arrived in the hallway and we had 20 crazy kids running all around the room screaming “Pizza time, pizza time!” Thinking back, this was one of the most humorous experiences we had and ingrained in us early on that we would have to reinvent the wheel to make sure everything we did was designed from the ground up for kids and parents.

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

Nathan: I think these last few months have been the most exciting for PAIR and I can’t wait for our new initiatives ahead. We just launched our first partnership collection with NBALAB, creating the first-ever line of NBA team glasses. Kids can now rock top frames in 13 of their favorite NBA teams and feel like their favorite players. We think collaborations like this turn glasses into a product that kids actually want to wear. It keeps them excited to wear their glasses and gives them the confidence they need to succeed in every part of their day.

Ok, thank you for all that. Let’s now move to the main part of our interview. Many of us have no idea about the backend process of how to apply and get accepted to be on the Shark Tank. Can you tell us the story about how you applied and got accepted. What “hoops” did you have to go through to get there? How did it feel to be accepted?

Sophia: I believe thelast time I checked there are around 45,000 entrepreneurs that apply to the show every year, and the probability of making it to the tank to pitch is under 1%. We began the journey with an audition video, where we introduced ourselves and our company and why we were solving a big problem. We wanted to stand out during our audition tape so we made sure to show our fun personalities and differentiate PAIR as an exciting new children’s brand that was solving a large issue, but also impacting every child on an intimate level by providing them with confidence. After that, there was a long process that took months before we made it to the Shark Tank stage.

I’m sure the actual presentation was pretty nerve-wracking. What did you do to calm and steel yourself to do such a great job on the show?

Nathan: Filming Shark Tank was by far the most nerve-wracking thing either of us has ever done. Leading up to the show we practiced a combination of preparation and self-care. Since the show is done in 1 taping, you know you have to be as prepared as possible to answer any question the judges throw at you. We prepared by watching as many shark tank episodes as we could, writing down all of the questions they asked and then drafted responses. At the actual taping, you are so nervous and running on pure adrenaline, so this practice really helped. It made the question and response portion of the show almost instinctual. Besides preparing we made sure to take time to take care of ourselves. We took time to go on runs, eat good food and made sure to get plenty of sleep.

So what was the outcome of your Shark Tank pitch. Were you pleased with the outcome?

Sophia: I don’t think we could have been more pleased with the outcome. We ended up being matched with the perfect guest judge for our business, Katrina Lake, who also happened to be a Stanford graduate. We got very lucky that we inspired two Judges to make a combined offer. Lori and Katrina offered us 400K for 10% of our business with a royalty component until their investment was paid back. These two judges are the dream team for PAIR so we were pleased to take the deal after some entertaining back and forth negotiation — we’ll let you watch the episode to learn more about that.

What are your “5 Important Business Lessons I Learned While Being On The Shark Tank”? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Be prepared for every pitch — We spent a lot of time developing the pitch to highlight our product but also to create a compelling story that explained why PAIR is solving such an important problem. We watched and re-watched every episode ever aired on Shark Tank. We used all of this to help develop our strategy for the show and quiz each other on questions the Sharks could ask us.
  2. Personalize your pitch for your audience — For our Shark Tank pitch, we wanted the judges to know that our pitch was designed for them! For example, Mark Cuban is a part-time owner of the Dallas Mavericks. We made sure to mention in our pitch the ability to create licensed PAIR top frames and one day have a Dallas Mavericks top. Turns out that day came much sooner than we anticipated. We just launched our NBA team collection this past July.
  3. Know your numbers inside and out — As a business owner, you need to know every single metric about your business like the back of your hand. The first step is knowing which metrics are key for your type of business. The second is following these every day and knowing how to evaluate your numbers. In the tank, we got asked questions about our metrics today, what they were like yesterday and how they will be in 1–2 years.
  4. Enjoy every stage of the entrepreneurial journey — While filming Shark Tank was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of our lives, we also made the effort to remind each other what a unique and once in a lifetime experience it was. While we didn’t know what the outcome would be, we enjoyed every moment of the process.
  5. Be passionate — In the tank, the Sharks are investing in you as much as your business. If your product is mission-driven or personal to an issue, you should make sure they know. They want to get to know why you will make the business successful as much as they need to understand why the product will be successful.

What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive and avoid burnout?

Nathan: As a founder, you encounter new problems every day. It can often feel like an endless race. It’s helpful to remind yourself that most problems have been solved before. We have found it priceless to befriend other founders who have non-competing businesses and are one to two steps ahead of you in their journey. They have likely experienced and persevered through the same challenges you are currently facing.

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.

Sophia: We strongly believe that every school-aged child needs to be provided access to vision care. There are over 239 million children who currently don’t have access to glasses. Without vision care, these children are at an incredible disadvantage since 80% of learning occurs through vision. Glasses are considered the most effective health intervention worldwide. One of our missions through PAIR is to help solve this problem through our PAIR for a PAIR campaign where we donate funds to help a child be provided with vision care around the world for every PAIR we sell. We hope to inspire a larger movement where every child gains access to this important, early intervention.

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

Sophia: Ever since I was a child I was always dreaming and thinking ahead. So much so that from a young age my mom used to tell me “Be here and now.” As an entrepreneur, I think my propensity to dream big is one of my biggest strengths, but you also need to be able to focus on the challenge in front of you in order to achieve your dreams. This saying has in some ways become a mantra for me, always reminding me to be present, and enjoy and appreciate every stage of the growth journey.

We are very blessed that 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

We would love to have lunch with Phil Knight the founder of Nike.

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