Asad Hamir knows the optician business well. He worked from the age of 16 in his family's optician firm, went on to study optometry at university and is now the 28th in his family to enter the trade.
Now the 28 year-old has struck out with his own optician business, KITE, with the aim to shake up the industry with a new sense of cool, with added 'specs appeal" and "mojo".
He's already had success with his first business, a foray into telecoms, so he is aiming higher with KITE - which already has a flagship outlet in the Westfield department store at Stratford City.
HuffPostUK caught up with Hamir to find out how he began and his vision for shaking up eye-care.
How did you get started with KITE?
After graduating from university, I spent a year working at an optician chain, which was long enough to prove to me that the industry as a whole had lost its mojo.
It has always been my view that eyewear is a fashion accessory like any other, so why wasn’t shopping for glasses as much fun as shoes, or that bag you’ve been eyeing up? Who made the rule that eye-care can’t be exciting, anyway?
It was only two years ago that I felt I had the right team of people – and the timing was spot-on – that the KITE brand was born. Since day one, it’s our mission to throw out the old-school rulebook and bring in a new-generation eye-care experience, and that’s what we have created.
Was KITE your first business?
KITE is my second business. After fashion and eye-care, my next love is definitely technology, and five years ago I set up Telenomics, a franchise of 17 O2 stores throughout the UK that provides telecoms and cloud services to small businesses. We have over 105,000 customers and a team of 190, are growing fast and picking up awards along the way.
Why did you strike out by yourself in business rather than staying with the family firm?
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial streak. I think this partly comes from my family’s influence, but also that when I spot an opportunity I want to see if I can make it work as a business.
At college, I bought and sold CDs to fellow students to make a bit of extra cash. After graduating from university, I was keen to make my own mark doing something that really interested me personally while being inspired by those around me.
I was only 22 when I set up Telenomics, which I think is a good time to start – what you might lack in experience you make up for in energy and fearlessness – and, six years on, the hard work has paid off and it’s going strong.
What did you learn from the challenges of setting up the business?
We have created a whole new retail concept, which means that, when something doesn’t exist – which has been pretty much everything – we have made it ourselves from scratch. Take our KITE Kiosk, for example, which is a touch-screen mirror which allows customers to take a ‘spec selfie’ wearing their favourite KITE frames and share it instantly with their social media networks.
But it’s the design of the frames themselves that has been a real labour of love. From the very first sketch on paper to opening up the boxes when they arrived from Italy, it’s been a very personal process. We set out to create the best glasses possible – for design, fit, quality and comfort – that set the bar higher and put the fashion back into eyewear, but that are also affordable.
There’s no getting away from the fact that creating a new brand is expensive, especially with all the different plates we are spinning. As a start-up you always need to be conscious of costs, but at the same time there are some things not worth compromising on – and, for us, that’s our mission to truly ‘re-design’ the eye-care experience.
What’s helped us keep costs down is getting people on-board who believe in what we’re doing and are in it for the long term, not necessarily the short. That, and Jedi-like negotiation skills...
How's business now?
It has been a whirlwind since we have launched. Feedback from customers is that they are loving the experience, which is great to see and hear. Our footfall is increasing every day, as more people hear about KITE.
What was your entrepreneurial inspiration?
My entrepreneurial inspiration has come from my parents. They both came to Britain from Africa with nothing to their names and built enterprises that supported their families. They had businesses that were built on foundations of amazing customer service and I have taken this and used it in all my other businesses.
I’m also a big believer that you never stop learning in business. I’m constantly seeking out knowledge and learning on the job, whether through books, courses or meeting other entrepreneurs.
What is your target for the next few years?
I want us to re-define the opticians category and replace the salesy and sterile industry it is today with one that stands for innovation, excitement and the best care. I want KITE to become a household national brand, with stores all over the UK offering our own, unique brand of eye-care.
And the longer term?
Having only launched weeks ago, it’s difficult to think too far ahead. We are super ambitious and want to grow fast, but with the right foundations.
What’s really important to us is to create real experiences for our customers, work with great people – and, of course, have lots of fun along the way.