In late May, when eyewear retailer Lenskart opened store number 500 in India—this one in Bengaluru—it was a mark of how far the company had come. Started in 2010 by co-founders Peyush Bansal, Sumeet Kapahi and Amit Chaudhary, it was originally an online-only platform selling contact lenses.
The online space continues to be the company’s primary driver, contributing to 65-70% of Lenskart’s overall revenues, according to CEO Bansal. However, it is now only part of the behemoth that Lenskart has grown into.
Today, Lenskart’s shadow looms large over the entire Indian eyewear ecosystem; its stores dot the landscapes of 100 Indian cities, providing free eye-checkups as well. From once retailing only third-party brands, Lenskart now has three private labels of its own—Vincent Chase, John Jacobs, and Aqualens, its contact lens offering. Its private labels occupy pride of place in its stores, with third-party brands largely sold through its website. Standalone stores have been established under the John Jacobs branding.
The company has also systematically gone about building a completely digital eyewear experience. Its website and app hawk thousands of eyewear products spanning the gamut from prescriptive to fashion and everything in between.
It has invested heavily in technology that allows for virtual try-ons of eyewear. The company hopes to eventually reach a point where users can use its app to perform refractions on themselves, allowing them to check their power, browse their products, try them on and purchase all without ever physically visiting a store. It’s an ambitious vision, but ambition is not something Lenskart lacks. In an interview with Fortune, Bansal said he wanted to conquer 50% of the Indian eyewear market.
This sort of hustle made it unsurprising when reports surfaced that Lenskart was primed to enter the unicorn club—startups valued north of a billion dollars. SoftBank was the rumoured investor, and a funding figure of $350 million was touted. Bansal, however, refuses to be drawn on any such talk. “To me, all of that is immaterial. I think it’s more flap than reality,” he says.
Instead, Bansal indicates other areas that the company is focused to achieve the 50% dream—ramping up its tech capabilities and going beyond Indian metros to underpenetrated areas. “We are in about 100 cities now… but we are getting deep at the taluka (sub-district) level. Our mission is to give vision to India,” Bansal says. It is a grand vision, but one easier said than done. A lack of trained optometrists, the rural public’s apathy towards eyecare and, ultimately, the affordability of Lenskart’s eyewear all stand in its way. And even before that, the most obvious question, should it even bother yet?
The Lenskart vision
“If I were Lenskart, I’d hesitate to go down to very, very small towns today,” says Kiran Anandampillai, founder and CEO of Drishti Eye Care.