When Nathan Kondamuri, 22, and Sophia Edelstein, 23, graduated from Stanford University this past June, they didn't transition into your typical 9-to-5 job. Instead, they moved to New York City to launch what could be a Warby Parker for kids: Pair Eyewear.
Like Warby Parker, Pair offers an affordable alternative to traditional eyewear brands that you can easily purchase online. Unlike the well-established global brand, Pair targets kids and offers customizable frames.
The idea came to the entrepreneurs at Stanford, where they met their freshman year.
"About a year ago, Nathan started telling me about his glasses-wearing experience as a child," Edelstein tells CNBC Make It, "and that got us thinking about the children's eyewear space."
Kondamuri, who picked out his first pair of glasses at age eight, recalls the experience as a daunting one: "When you start wearing glasses that early, it's the first time that you're going to look different from other kids in your class. And when you couple that with the buying experience of glasses today in an optical store, you're really left with little choice or freedom of self expression.
"You're forced to choose from five to 10 pretty boring options. I didn't really feel like I had any choice. It was just a medical device that I was forced to wear."
It turns out he wasn't alone in his experience. "We immediately wanted to figure out if this problem was universal or specific to Nathan," says Edelstein. They started interviewing hundreds of families.
"We just started hearing all of these crazy stories. There was this really funny child I remember who was admitting to us that he would purposefully leave his glasses at home during the day in order to not wear them at school. That story really spoke to us. … Another kid admitted to purposefully breaking his glasses."
Once the two college students realized the problem was universal, they set out to solve it and came up with Pair Eyewear.
"When you're a kid, everything about you is changing on a daily basis — your interests, your favorite color — and the most exciting things are the choices that you're provided with in your daily life, like choosing your outfit for the day," says Edelstein. "Glasses kind of take away that entire sense of choice and individuality."
Pair aims to fix that by offering fun, customizable glasses that allow kids to change up their look whenever they want. Kids can choose from five base frames, which cost $125 each, and 10 top frames per base frame. The top frames, which can easily be clipped onto the base frame, come in a variety of colors and cost $24.95 each.
Kondamuri and Edelstein teamed up with the former head of product at Warby Parker, Lee Zaro, and built their first prototype in February. They also raised a small family-and-friends round of funding.
By the end of of their senior year at Stanford, "we were working on it almost full-time," says Edelstein. "We both found that it was something we were good at and something that we loved on a daily basis, so when it came to deciding whether or not to pursue this full time, it was a pretty easy decision."
Their product officially launched in October 2017.
As with Warby Parker, for every pair purchased, the company provides a pair of prescription glasses to a child in need. Also like the global brand, Pair sends an at-home try-on kit. The kit comes with cardboard cutouts of the five frame shapes that kids get to keep. That means parents don't have to go through the hassle of sending back the styles they don't like.
While only time will tell if Pair will evolve into the Warby Parker for kids, for now the young co-founders are staying hopeful and focusing their resources on their new venture. "One of the nice things about being 22 and running a start-up is that you don't need that much money to live, so everything can really go into the company," says Edelstein.
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