My business story…Ocushield
Dhruvin Patel talks about how a winning idea helped him start screen protector company Ocushield.
Tell us the Ocushield story…
Whilst I was studying optometry at City University of London, I learnt that the blue light given off by digital devices such as mobile phones can be very damaging to eyesight and general wellbeing. I was working part-time in Vision Express, when I discovered that a new optical lens for glasses wearers called Blue Control, by Hoya. It showed eye strain can be reduced by wearing these glasses on computers and I pondered why isn’t there anything for people who don’t wear glasses?
Around this time I heard about CitySpark, a business ideas competition run by the university, where people could develop their ideas into a real business plan and turn it into a real venture. I entered my idea for an anti-blue light screen for mobile devices. It took first place in round one and was in the Top 3 in round two with a £3,500 prize. Instead of going on holiday I decided to put it towards developing and pushing the business idea.
I spent the next year making the brand look more professional by hiring an established designer and sourcing a manufacturer from China. It took six months to find the right one. During this time, we’d started to build press attention from the competition, and after an article about me was published in Optometry Today, a major optical supplier got in touch and made a pre-order.
We also made a website and started taking pre-orders there, so we’d sold a lot of stock about 6 months before the product had actually launched!
How long have you been running Ocushield?
The Ocushield products launched in January 2015.
Have you run any previous businesses?
During university, I was forever breaking my iPhone 4, and found a product which shows you which of the tiny screws goes where when you repair your phone. I thought that if I wanted one of these, many others would too, so I contacted the company in America to see if I could become a distributor. I did this for a year whilst studying. It gave me a really good background in business and selling.
What was your first job?
In the summer after secondary school I worked for a street fundraising organisation for a charity. It was tough working 6 days a week, but I enjoyed it. I found ways to stop and speak to people in the street and learnt to build a rapport with them.
How did you fund your business in the beginning?
Using my competition winnings and my student loan, which I saved to launch my business rather than parting excessively or spending recklessly.
What has been your biggest hurdle in the early days?
Having confidence in manufacturers to deliver. You send them a lump sum and you can’t guarantee that the product will be right or wrong. It takes time to build relationships with them. I found there are a lot of companies in China that present themselves to be something they’re not.
What is the hardest part of running a business?
Time management. During my last year of studying optometry I also had to work for a year in an opticians, which I did whilst also running and growing Ocushield. It was hard, but we’re still here!
Who or what has been your biggest influence?
Seeing my parents work really hard. They came here from India in the 80s and worked to provide for my brother and me. I felt I wanted to give back to them so they didn’t have to work so hard anymore. Hopefully I can make them retire early by giving them a financial reward! Also the City University business team who supported me throughout setting up Ocushield and helped me build a strong network of contacts.
How important is customer service to your business?
I feel it’s very important to keep the customers informed as to when they will receive their products and that they’re happy.
When did you realise you needed a telephone answering service?
It goes hand in hand with good customer service. Having a person to speak to shows that we take customers seriously.
Best business move?
Expanding our product line from anti-blue light covers for Apple devices to offering them for a wider variety of brands. We’re now looking at more new and interesting products such as anti-blue light glasses.
Worst business move?
Spending money without thinking about it. You can get very excited about opportunities without thinking about the return you get, but you lose money fast spending on impulse.
What is your plan for the next few years?
To keep growing the brand and be the market leader for anti-blue light products. We’re also looking at getting into retailers.
If you did it again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. It’s all a learning experience and an individual journey.
What piece of advice would you give to a start-up?
It’s quite exciting and daunting at the same time. It helps to break it down. If you think of it in the way you would a dissertation – that 10,000 words is a lot, but if you break it down into 1,000 word goals it suddenly becomes more achievable. Make small goals and objectives every week and tick them off one day and week at a time. It helps you to keep going towards your target.
Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t running Ocushield, I would be…
Working religiously in an opticians. But I’d still be thinking of a business idea I could launch.