When they started Eye Love in 2015, optometrists Jenna and Travis Zigler were hoping to pull in $1,000 a month. They wanted just enough side income to ease the financial burden of the yearly mission trips they took to offer eye care in places like Ecuador and Peru.
But thanks to their focus on customer needs and a big bet on Amazon advertising, their passion project ballooned.
By the time private equity firm Roundtable Healthcare Partners approached and acquired them in 2021, Eye Love regularly reached $400,000 in monthly revenue — and happily signed a 7-figure deal cut to their specifications, they wrote in an article for Starter Story.
How Eye Love’s founders turned passion into profit
Although they both studied optometry at Ohio State University, the Ziglers met at a football game while Jenna was still an undergraduate senior at University of Michigan. But their shared vision was far stronger than a football rivalry could ever be, and soon after Jenna arrived at OSU, they became a couple.
By 2015, the doctors had each opened an eye care clinic in the Camden, SC area where they were based. Jenna’s was called Advanced Family Eye Care, and Travis had Eye Love Cares Clinic. Like most optometrists, they sold a range of eyewear and eye-care products — and soon became curious about creating their own brand.
Eye Love, their venture together, was born when the couple received their first shipment of 100 pairs of polarized sunglasses — and, to their chagrin, discovered they had to hand-assemble them. They made their first sale to a family member, but within five days, every pair was spoken for, all thanks to Amazon advertising, they wrote on Starter Story.
Around the same time, the price of a common eyelid wash for dry eye, Avenova, ballooned from $30 to $300. (It has since price corrected, thanks in part to Eye Love.) The Ziglers saw a lot of dry eye in their practices, so much so that they’d started a Facebook group called the Dry Eye Syndrome Support Community. Now that they had proof of concept, they decided to manufacture their own hypochlorous acid eyelid wash to sell at an accessible price. They called it Heyedrate.
The idea worked. Largely bootstrapped except $20,000 in seed money from Jenna’s parents, the company earned profits far beyond their expectations. And since they’d already made it a habit to donate a portion of those profits toward communities without access to quality eye care in Jamaica via Great Shape Inc’s iCare project, the couple soon decided to start their very own nonprofit, the Eye Believe Foundation (originally called the Eye Love Cares Foundation).
Essentially, they’d created a perpetual motion machine out of helping people, sourcing ideas for new dry-eye products in the Facebook group, and using some of the money they earned to bring eye care to underprivileged populations. Products ranged from the original Heyedrate to eyelid wipes, eye compresses and more. The engine? Amazon advertising, which Travis spearheaded and perfected. Some 80%-85% of Eye Love’s business was conducted via Amazon FBA, or Fulfillment by Amazon, a fulfillment service that helps sellers outsource shipping to Amazon.
Keeping sight of their goals despite challenges
The intermittent years, despite skyrocketing revenues, were not all smooth sailing.
Along the way, the company dealt with a cease-and-desist suit by Shire, a billion-dollar pharmaceutical company since acquired by Takeda. Shire used the phrase “Eye Love” in a TV commercial campaign featuring Jennifer Aniston and tried to prevent the Ziglers from using it. After several months of legal back-and-forth, the Ziglers were able to prove they’d used the name first, and Shire offered to settle.
They also encountered a major delay that kept a whole shipment of product stuck in customs for months, which temporarily cash-strapped the company — but they persisted and prevailed, never losing sight of their goals.
“Overcoming challenges is all about mindset,” Jenna wrote to They Got Acquired. “Instead of giving in and thinking that our company was never going to recover, we put our heads down and went to work. We got a loan we needed to continue, and we never stopped providing great content to our community.”
Making a deal with Roundtable Healthcare Partners
The Ziglers weren’t looking to sell the company. They had hired three full-time employees by the time they were approached by Roundtable Healthcare Partners, a private-equity firm then known as Acumen Health Holdings.
It wasn’t the first time a larger company had proposed an acquisition. But the Ziglers had a sturdy enough picture of what they’d want out of a deal to know when to pull the trigger.
“Know what you want before you sell,” Jenna told us. “We knew our number, and we knew that we wanted to be a part of the business post-sale. If anyone approached us, and many did, we were able to say, this is what we’re looking for.”
Roundtable was willing to make it happen. The 7-figure deal included cash up front as well as equity in the parent company. Additionally, affiliate earnings on Eye Love products are donated each month to the Eye Believe Foundation. Most importantly, Roundtable was willing to keep the Ziglers on as salaried employees for 18 months after the sale so they could ease the company’s transition.
All of it was enough to make the stress of the experience worthwhile. “Our business was our baby,” says Jenna. “But in the end, we accomplished a ton of our goals because of it.”
What they’re doing since departing Eye Love
As of December 2022, the Ziglers fully transitioned out of their roles at Eye Love, but their eye-care mission lives on.
Even before the acquisition, Travis had leveraged his Amazon advertising know-how to launch Profitable Pineapple Ads, which helps entrepreneurs and brands scale enough to “get out of the day-to-day grind and … achieve financial freedom so they can help uplift the world.”
Jenna works for the company and continues to serve as vice president of the Eye Believe Foundation, through which the Ziglers aim to eventually build an eye care clinic in Jamaica.