Jonas Paul Founder Ben Harrison Shares Insights and Inspiration Behind the Brand's Success
In the heartwarming tale of Jonas Paul Eyewear, a family's extraordinary journey unfolds. Husband and wife duo Ben and Laura Harrison launched the brand inspired by their son, Jonas, born with a rare eye condition. They embarked on a mission to provide functional, stylish, and affordable eyewear for kids, ensuring every child feels beautiful in their glasses. Their story of resilience and love transformed a family's search into a global movement, impacting children's lives and preventing childhood blindness worldwide. Jonas Paul Eyewear stands not just for fashion but for a vision of hope, empowerment, and positive change.
Chris: Hello, Ben! It's a pleasure to connect with you today. Thank you for joining the call. I'm really excited to have this opportunity to learn more about you and your company.
Ben: Hi, Chris! Thanks for reaching out. I'm happy to be here and share my story with you.
Chris: Fantastic! Before we jump into the interview, I'd love to get to know you a bit better. Could you please introduce yourself and tell us how you ventured into the world of entrepreneurship? I'm particularly interested in the personal story behind the creation of your company and the unique value it brings to your customers.
Ben: Definitely, I'm Ben Harrison, the founder and CEO of Jonas Paul. I was born and raised in a small town in Indiana. I come from a family of professors, so I studied computer graphic arts at Taylor University and received my master of fine arts in photography from Kendall College of Art & Design in Grand Rapids. I always had a passion for the creative space, including photography and computer graphic arts. I initially planned on teaching due to my family's background in education and seeing the impact they had on student’s lives.
Along the way, I started a photography business with my wife Laura, and we found success through search engine optimization (SEO) becoming top destination wedding photographers. We also started a website company, Folio Websites, which created mobile-friendly websites for photographers when the first iPhone was released and “mobile friendly” was a new concept.
In 2013, our son Jonas was born. We discovered that he had a rare condition called Peter's Anomaly, which affected his corneas. This life-changing moment led us to focus on finding stylish glasses for him, as we felt the existing options were limited. In December 2013, we launched Jonas Paul, initially offering five styles of glasses.
Chris: That's a very interesting story, by the way. So, the name of the website store is actually your son's name?
Ben: Yes, exactly. We named it Jonas Paul after our son. Jonas is a name we love, and Paul was the name of Laura's impactful grandfather. It felt like a perfect fit for our brand.
Chris: When you started with five glasses in the beginning, how did you approach your marketing? How did you reach out to your target audience, and when did you realize there was a demand?
Ben: Marketing-wise, we relied on our background in website development, photography and SEO. During the early days of social media platforms like Instagram, we were able to organically reach our customers through our network. We also invested a small amount in paid advertising to target customers searching for stylish kids' glasses. However, the first two years were challenging. While people loved the story and our product, there were hurdles in the industry, such as the reluctance to accept online optical options.
Nevertheless, we built enough traction to attract investors who saw the potential in what we were doing. Their support allowed us to scale the business and brand, which then led us to also have the opportunity to expand into national retailers like Walmart Vision Centers, America’s Best, Eyeglass World, Eyemart Express, and BJ’s Wholesale. This diversification helped create cash flow, which we reinvested in building the brand.
Chris: That makes sense. And how many team members do you have, and can you provide an overview of your sales range?
Ben: Currently, we have around 31 team members. Given the different aspects of our business, including our direct-to-consumer business, managing a high-volume lab, and wholesale fulfillment, we have various teams fulfilling different functions. Regarding revenue, while I can't disclose specific numbers due to confidentiality agreements with our investors, I can share that we have seen substantial growth with our revenue now in the 8 figures.
Our average compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) has been around 73% since our first full year in business and that’s something we are really proud of and thankful to our investors who believed in us and supported us along the way.
Chris: That's impressive. Moving on, what has been the most critical point or the top three challenges you have experienced? How did you overcome them?
Ben: The first significant challenge was taking the leap and pursuing something we were passionate about, even without knowing if it would be successful. The second was cash flow challenges, which is common in any growing D2C business as you manage acquiring customers and purchasing enough inventory to meet the demand. However, finding the right investors who aligned with our values and goals made a significant difference in overcoming those challenges.
The third challenge is the transition of the founder's role as the business grows. It's essential to find the right balance and understand where your strengths lie, while also ensuring the team has the right leaders to support them. Navigating this transition requires humility, self-awareness, and maintaining the company culture we have built.
Chris: Got it. And now, looking back at the ten years since you started Jonas Paul, how do you stay motivated?
Ben: Our motivation comes from multiple sources. Firstly, the experience with our son Jonas and the realization that we can provide resources and support to children with visual impairments. Knowing we can make a positive impact on their lives, both through our products and charitable initiatives, keeps us driven.
Secondly, it's the team we have built around us, who share our vision and are passionate about our mission. Their dedication and support are inspiring, and we want to continue creating opportunities for them and others like them.
Lastly, we see the potential to address the high unemployment rates among blind or visually impaired individuals. We aim to provide opportunities for people like Jonas to have a livelihood and meaningful work.
Chris: That's truly inspiring. Lastly, what are your goals for this year and the next five years?
Ben: Our goal for this year is to reposition the brand and make investments in more scalable and sustainable growth. We have recently undergone a rebranding process with Red Antler and redesigned our website with Fuelmade to enhance the customer experience. These efforts aim to set us up for the next stage of growth.
Over the next five years, our primary focus is growing the brand's awareness. We want Jonas Paul to be synonymous with kids' glasses and be recognized as a trusted name in the industry as it's a rising tide for us as well as our wholesale partners. By scaling our impact and building a strong brand, we hope to make a difference in the lives of more children and expand our reach.
Chris: That sounds fantastic. Thank you so much for your time and insights, Ben. One last question. What advice would you give to someone starting their own business?
Ben: Yeah, that's a loaded question. I'd have a lot of different things I could share with anyone interested in starting a business. While I may have a higher risk tolerance than many, I would say that if you feel a passion for it, just go for it. I think so many people have such a fear of taking a chance or struggle with a “failure to launch syndrome” where they have something they're really passionate about that never gets off the ground. And I think when you can find something you're really passionate about and can dedicate your work to it, it gives you incredible fulfillment. Even if it's hard, even if you struggle, it goes back to finding that motivation to persevere.
I believe there are few things more motivating than being able to start your own business you are passionate about and really invest your time into it. And then in many cases, with greater risk comes greater reward. In the end there can be these wild successes, these unicorns, but there can also be the majority of small businesses and lifestyle businesses that can create a great living.
You can do something that you really enjoy doing and feel passionate about while providing a living for you and your family. So I'd say, yeah, it's worth taking the risk. And also, don't be discouraged if you fail and have to pivot. I know so many friends of mine and others who have pivoted multiple times and just haven't been willing to give up, and their personal growth has been inspiring to witness and now many of them have found something that's been successful and fulfilling.
Chris: Thank you so much for sharing your valuable insights, Ben. It was a pleasure talking to you.
Ben: Thank you. I appreciate it. Have a great day.
Overall, Ben Harrison's journey with Jonas Paul serves as a testament to the transformative power of entrepreneurship, combining business acumen, compassion, and a commitment to making a difference in the world.
Follow Jonas Paul on social media to stay updated with the latest news, inspiring stories, and fashionable eyewear trends. Join the Jonas Paul community and be part of the movement to empower visually impaired children while showcasing their unique sense of style. Connect with Jonas Paul on Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube to witness the impact of their brand firsthand and engage with like-minded individuals who share the passion for making a difference. Together, we can continue to spread awareness, foster inclusivity, and create a brighter future for visually impaired children around the world.