1-800 Contacts, the private-equity-owned online contact lens retailer, is buying 6over6 Vision, an Israeli startup that has pioneered a way for customers to bypass eye doctors and complete in-home eye tests via their smartphones.
John Graham, CEO of 1-800 Contacts, acknowledged to Cheddar on Tuesday that the company ー which itself was a pioneer in the mid 1990s when it began selling contact lenses via phone ー has not been on top of the trend in telemedicine that has helped boost direct-to-consumer healthcare startups like Hubble and Hims.
"We have been behind telehealth in the optical industry, and 6over6 is so far ahead of anyone else in the market," Graham said, explaining the strategy of the acquisition.
The price of the deal has not been disclosed.
Being able to take an eye exam at home that generates a prescription from a remote doctor would presumably be attractive for both new contact-wearers and those who need to refill their prescriptions every year ー provided they have no other eye issues that would still need treatment from a doctor, Graham said. "This should dramatically reduce the cost of eye exams."
1-800 Contacts has built over the years what Graham said is the largest database of U.S. contact lens customers, which would now be open to 6over6 to market its services. "We have what they want, and they want what we have," Graham said. The company will now be able to offer a holistic experience, with prescription fulfillment and lens sales from established third parties like Johnson & Johnson. That would help it fend off competition from startups like Hubble, which manufacturers its own lens (to some degree of controversy in the medical field, and Warby Parker, which has started to enter the contact lens market.
1-800 Contacts has had a circuitous path since its founding in 1995. It's currently owned by Thomas H. Lee Partners and AEA Investors, though it was a public company from 1998 until 2007. Graham said he expects that the company will be sold again, whether it's spun off as a public company or sold to another private fund.
The 6over6 acquisition will allow that company's founders to focus on innovation rather than fundraising, and allow 1-800 customers the opportunity to take advantage of cutting-edge technology in the telemedicine space, Graham said.