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Fashion, Interviews, Lifestyle

Fashion, Function and Entrepreneurial Success: Chris Benedict Talks Felix Gray

I admittedly pay no mind to Facebook ads, as far as I am concerned, they have no effect on me. However, I could not help but the hit the breaks in mid scroll when I saw an ad for the stylish computer glasses from Felix Gray. I gave the ad a click and was immediately hooked. The frames are classic and timeless and most refreshing of all, adult. I was wearing computer glasses while looking at the Felix Gray product lineup and felt I was missing out. Not only was this company clearly boss level at social media ads, they also have a product that fills a need I didn’t even know I had. Now beyond the products, I was curious about the company and reached out to see if I could get the full story. Luckily Felix Gray Co-Founder Chris Benedict had no qualms about letting me pick his brain.

I am so excited to share this story with our readers here on Sugar Gamers. Felix Gray products are something any one of our readers can appreciate as we’re all nerds here and constantly have our faces plastered to screens. Naturally I imagine most of us want to protect our eyes and look good doing so. Chris gave me a glimpse of how millennials are putting their spin on the American Dream and it’s really inspiring.

Rebecca Rothschild: Can you give us the origin story of Felix Gray? What’s the story behind your dream team? 

Chris Benedict: The beginning of FG was about as organic as it can get. Prior to FG, I was a quantitative data analyst in the hedge fund world, which entailed staring at multiple screens full of data for countless hours each day. I absolutely loved how technology was changing the financial world and found my work quite interesting, but after my first year in the role, I felt my 20/20 vision begin to really pay the price. Jobs in that industry require long hours with tight deadlines and I began to notice that my eye stamina couldn’t keep up with required screen time. Having gone to college with some friends who were involved in professional gaming, it dawned on me that the fatigue and strain on my eyes had to be felt by gamers as well, and that there had to be a solution. I took a trip to the eye doctor and learned about “computer” and “gaming” glasses, but thought they all looked ridiculous. Fast forward a couple months just as I was moving back to New York, I coincidently met my now co-founder David Roger through a mutual friend. David was a financial analyst for Tony Hseih, and like me, spent countless hours in excel each day and also thought that the computer glasses on the market were lacking. He pitched me the idea on starting FG the first night we met. Noticing that all my friends had jobs that required long hours in front of the screen, and being cognizant of how fast esports was blowing up from friends from school, I realized that the digital world was here to stay.

We both saw FG as an opportunity to make a high-quality product for everyone we knew using digital screens to do their thing – a beautiful product that would help them both feel good and feel confident in how they look.

We left our jobs and started FG immediately after. The first few months were spent researching and figuring out how to make eyewear using highest-quality components (frame material, lenses, etc) while still being able to offer them at an affordable price, as you get what you pay for in eyewear, and good lenses have always been extremely expensive. Once we had prototypes, we spent the next 6 months partnering with companies like Google, Uber, and Barclays to allow their screen addicted employees a chance to try FG to ease their eyestrain, no strings attached. We used this “office try-on program” to learn from actual users and improve the product. We launched in May of 2016 and the rest is history.

I’d like to think we’ve done an excellent job assembling our dream team at FG. We’re currently a team of 8 fulltime employees with backgrounds in business, non-profit, design, and development. We treat each other like family and use everyone’s domain expertise to continuously improve the customer experience. One of the things I’m most proud of, personally, is the team we’ve assembled and the relationships we hold with our customers.

RR: What have been the biggest challenges for your business?

CB: The biggest challenge has been learning how to grow while still keeping our costs fixed in order to pass the savings along to our customers. Given that this is our first time building a company in an otherwise “stale” industry, each day has its challenges. Luckily, it’s the challenge that keeps us motivated. Communicating the fact that we are just a small group of technology users trying to make something awesome for our friends and family is also a challenge. People seem to think we’re some big corporation, but we’re just like everyone else, trying our best to create a great product and pleasant experience.

RR: What sets the Felix Gray lineup apart from other similar products?

CB: As mentioned, we were really unhappy with the options on the market before starting FG. The biggest differentiator is our lens, which is proprietary to FG. We developed our lens with an internal filter that filters 50% of the blue between 400-440nm while letting in the other “good” wavelengths. This allows our lens to remain virtually clear without effecting the color on the screen – they look just like normal glasses. It also means there’s no ugly tint or coatings that will eventually chip or fade like other blue light lenses. The premium AR coating we use to eliminate glare is the highest rated in the industry. Our lens itself would typically cost around $300 from the eye doctors.

The second part is the frames. Where other companies use plastic injection molding, we handcraft each pair using cellulose acetate from Varese, Italy – the same acetates used by designers like Oliver Peoples.

Finally, we’re building the FG brand to be friendly and attainable everyone who stares at a screen all day – whether that’s for coding, crunching numbers, gaming, or designing. We control every touchpoint of the supply chain and technology stack to offer our eyewear at an honest $95, much less than the hundreds it would typically cost. We also offer free shipping, returns, and exchanges so folks can find the perfect pair, risk free.

RR: I noticed there is a very distinctive aesthetic when it comes to the style of your glasses, can you elaborate on why you chose that route?

CB: To pay homage to forward-thinkers that have advanced the world to where it is today, we name all of our glasses after note-wrothy scientists and engineers. Given this, our vision with design aesthetics is classic meets modernity. We design our glasses to standout from the boring, yet subtle enough to remain appropriate for any setting – whether that’s the office, or out for dinner and drinks.

 

RR: In being the co-founder have you learned anything that you didn’t expect to learn?

CB: I’ve always been interested in entrepreneurship, so I’ve been cognizant to the challenges it takes to start and grow a business. In my last job, I was building a data business to modernize the financial system. Now, we’re modernizing the way people work with technology to make it an empowering and overall better experience. One thing I’ve definitely become aware of is how much of a pleasure it’s been working with a smart, affectionate team to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives. David and I saw a need for creating FG; I don’t think we ever expected the amount of positive feedback we’ve received from our customers. It’s been a great experience hearing and learning from such interesting and ambitious people from around the world. 

RR: Any predictions or goals you’d like to achieve for the future? 

CB: We’re currently non-Rx, but are working toward prescription to truly help everyone that is tired of eyestrain and headaches. We’ll also continue to responsibly expand our product suite in order to maintain our honest price point. Our goal is to create a better way to work and play, and do so in a way that also helps our customer feel confident and beautiful. We predict that as more people become educated on digital eye strain, they will realize there’s a fashionable way to maintain a healthier relationship with technology. Eventually, it will catch on similar to how sunscreen did decades ago and we’ll all learn to evolve our habits in order to live happy, healthy lifestyles.

I want to thank Chris for telling his story and breaking down his business for us. Felix Gray is definitely a company I intend to keep tabs on. I am thrilled to have a pair of Felix Grays in my possession and I will post a full product review soon. If you’re already sold, head over to ShopFelixGray.com. Thank you again to Chris Benedict and all the incredible people at Felix Gray.

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Rebecca Rothschild

Editor in Chief
Rebecca is a writer and narrative designer living in Chicago working on several animation, comic and game projects. She is the creator and writer for the sci-fi comic book series Warshiner as well as the free web comic Shero and Vex. She has worked on games like Mutant Football League.
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