A subscription commerce startup that sells its own brand of daily disposable contact lenses, Hubble, has raised $16.5 million in a new round of venture funding just five months after having launched its service publicly. One might say the deal happened in the blink of an eye for the startup, which is incorporated as Vision Path Inc.
Co-founded by Ben Cogan and Jesse Horwitz, Hubble sells contact lenses with a power range from negative 0.50 through negative 12.0 today. Customers pay $30 for a monthly supply shipped right to their door, which works out to about fifty cents per lens. Most other daily disposable contacts sold in the US cost twice as much, at least, the cofounders said.
The startup plans to use its new funding, in part, to roll out toric lenses for customers with astigmatism. It will also use the funding for marketing and hiring. Part of Hubble’s marketing plan is to give customers help finding eye doctors nearby where they can get updated prescriptions. “We used to do a lot of outreach to private practices to see if they wanted to receive fitting sets of Hubble lenses that their patients could try. Now it’s a lot more inbound,” Cogan said.
To produce its lenses, Hubble has forged an exclusive partnership with an existing FDA-approved manufacturer, Taiwan-based St. Shine Optical. “Manufacturing contacts would require you to build a factory, which could take you reasonably at least a year and a lot of capital which most startups don’t have. Then you’d need to go through the FDA reviews and approval process, which would take another 18 months on top of that,” Horwitz explained. Over time, Hubble plans to invest in new machines or robotics to expand its lines and relationship with St. Shine.
The investment in its manufacturing partners, and the level of difficulty that it takes to get into the contact lens business is seen by Hubble cofounders as good protection against copycats. In other segments within e-commerce, a wide number of followers have cropped up after seeing the popularity of early brands like mattress makers Casper, or sock manufacturers Stance.
FirstMark Capital led Hubble’s Series A round of funding joined by the startup’s earlier backers including Greycroft Parnters, Wildcat Capital Management and Two River. FirstMark is a frequent investor in direct-to-consumer brands. Besides Hubble, its portfolio has included: apparel makers Lolly Wolly Doodle and TommyJohn, the digital wine club Lot18, and several companies providing software and services to online retailers such as Shopify and Zipments.
Founder and Managing Director at FirstMark, Rick Heitzmann, said one reason he backed Hubble was its potential to win over and keep customers for decades, given that most people who wear contacts will do so on average for 20 years of their lives. “We love seeing complexity on the supply chain side of the business. But being able to acquire a big customer base fairly simply, and one with a high lifetime value is important with direct-to-consumer,” Heitzmann noted.
Besides expanding its product line, investors expect Hubble to use its funding to advance from marketing on Facebook and through word-of-mouth to a multi-channel strategy. Asked if we can expect a Hubble spot to air during next year’s Super Bowl, the cofounders laughed but also said they wouldn’t rule out a big, splashy media buy.