My Mission: To Make Your Eyes Smile! Reflections by a Booth Alumna Entrepreneur

By Cecile Thai, Class of 2016

Cecile Thai Headshot.jpg

Take it from me: “severe corneal hypoxia” is not a phrase you want to hear from your ophthalmologist.

It means that the cornea—the little lens responsible for about two-thirds of your vision—isn’t getting enough oxygen. It’s a serious condition.

And yet here I was, sitting in my ophthalmologist's office listening as he told me that my eyes weren’t breathing properly. The problem? I’d been wearing monthly contact lenses for years—and, being a student, I tried to get the most bang for my buck by wearing them a little longer than advised. I would even sometimes fall asleep still wearing my contacts (pro tip: do not fall asleep wearing contacts).

Sure, my eyes were uncomfortable, but I assumed that was part of the deal when wearing contact lenses. As it turns out, I also had an allergy to contact lens cleaning solution, leading to bumps on the inside of my eyelids.

I needed to immediately stop wearing contact lenses to alleviate my symptoms. I ended up getting refractive surgery to correct my vision.

This episode got me thinking—were there other millennials out there who were undergoing a similar experience? Daily disposable contact lenses (the healthiest and most hygienic option) have traditionally been expensive. And it’s a pain to trek to a doctor’s office every year just to renew a prescription. The old-school contact lens industry just isn’t keeping up with the needs of today’s consumers. We’re online, we want to ensure our dollars are being spent wisely, and we don’t have time to sit around and wait in someone’s office in order to get our contact lenses. We also want them delivered directly to our home.

I knew we could do better.

I quit my day job as an investment consultant, enrolled in The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and dedicated myself to getting the tools I needed to begin my venture. At Chicago Booth, I learned frameworks that helped me strategically tackle complex problems. The rigorous academic program motivated me to keep pushing through challenges. And the culture of inquiry and innovation gave me the confidence to challenge conventional wisdom. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to build a strong network through the extremely supportive community at Booth. To this day, I still bounce ideas off of my former classmates… and they do the same.

When I graduated from Booth, it was time to put my learning to the test. If you’ve ever been at a dinner party with that one friend who is starting a new project, you’ll have an idea of what it was like to be around me—my entire social circle is now well-versed in eye health and contact lens manufacturing specifications (if you’re as obsessed as I am, you’ll like this: our contacts are made with premium omafilcon A with 58% water content, and they’re made in a fully automated facility by the world’s most advanced robots).

In April 2018, it was time to pull the trigger. We launched Aveo contacts in the United States with a splashy new website and a small (but eager!) team of people who shared one goal: to make your eyes smile. We’re data-driven, we constantly test and optimize, we’re not afraid to challenge the status quo. We celebrate our successes—and if we fail, we fail fast, we learn, and we move on.

I’m not a traditional CEO. To start with, I’m 30 years old. I’m hands-on, extremely data-driven, and strive to understand every aspect of the business—from the back-end code of our website to the shipping process from our LEED-certified facility just outside of Chicago. I assembled a team of marketing and operations experts and gave them the tools they need to do their jobs. I have also been known to answer our customers’ questions on Instagram at midnight from my phone.

Six months since we launched, Aveo Vision is going strong. Headquartered in San Francisco (we’re so millennial we rent a co-working space in SoMa), we’re taking on the major brands with our digital marketing, superior product, and best-in-class customer service. We’re earning press in major publications. I’m proud to say we’re changing the way people experience contact lenses. In short: it’s working.

I started Aveo Vision because I don’t want anyone to experience what I went through. We’re making better eye health accessible through premium daily disposable lenses. We’re making a better product with advanced technology that’s more sustainable than our competitors’.

And we’re trying to have a little fun along the way.

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Cecile Thai is CEO and Chief of Happy Eyes at Aveo Vision. She lives in San Francisco with her dog Benji and tweets infrequently from @CecileJThai. To learn more please go to www.aveovision.com