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Why the CEO of Felix Gray Prefers to Manage From Afar

David Roger, the Co-founder and CEO of eyewear company Felix Gray, shares his insights on on what makes a good leader, how he manages to stay productive at home , and how his brand plans to fortify their ecommerce strategy.

Home Work is a series that examines how founders and designers are managing their work and team in a remote world.
Home Work is a series that examines how founders and designers are managing their work and team in a remote world.

Home Work Issue No. 5: David Roger, Co-Founder & CEO of Felix Gray


David Roger founded Felix Gray, the first Blue Light blocking glasses company, after personally experiencing the struggles of digital screens. Unsatisfied with the bulky goggles available some years back, David set out to create a digital-first brand with timeless frames and the best Blue Light blocking technology on the market. Our chat with David offers a look at how he's transitioned to remote work, leads his team and fosters collaboration, and keeps the spirit of innovation alive at Felix Gray.

Can you tell us about how you started Felix Gray?
After I graduated from university, I had this great opportunity to work for Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, revitalizing downtown Las Vegas. I got there and saw the team treating real estate developments and new projects much like software: running around with no idea what was going to make or lose money. It was my job to figure that out. I started building financial models so I was looking at Excel for 12 to 13 hours a day. My eyes just started killing me, and I noticed a lot of co-workers and friends were complaining about the same thing.
I started talking with ophthalmologists and learned about the main culprits of eye fatigue, dryness, and pain: Blue Light and glare. But when I went to buy a product, everything I found made me look like one of the X-Men. The only options were orange and yellow hunting goggles that wrapped around your head and looked absolutely ridiculous. I began to wonder if it was possible to create something that could effectively filter Blue Light with a clear lens. And that’s how Felix Gray was born.
We developed a proprietary way to filter Blue Light that is 10 to 15 times more effective than other clear lenses on the market, all within a pair of stylish frames. We also created a brand that people could really appreciate: living happier, healthier, more productive lives in today’s world of screens.
And you ended up meeting your co-founder by chance, right?. What’s the story behind that?
A mutual friend introduced Chris, my co-founder, to become a beta-tester. At the time, he was working for UBS Global Asset Management doing quantitative work. Chris tried the product and loved it, and we went from there. A few months later, he quit his job and joined full-time. It was really cool to meet someone else who had a similar vision of why Felix Gray could be huge.
Photo: Felix Gray

On Being A Leader

As CEO, how have you learnt to manage your role as a leader?
Part of my role is learning to manage without micromanaging. So I know I’m doing a good job when a project happens and I don't even know about it. That is the best thing in the world. It means the team is functioning at a high level.
There’s times when I’ll start diving in deeper than I need to and that’s where someone might say, “Hey, you’re getting in the way, step back.” Usually it just means that we haven’t set enough clear accountability, whether it’s in the KPIs, timeline, or OKRs. I’m always going to make mistakes. I think having that level of trust within the team, for them to give me that feedback, is critical so I can work on it and improve.

"I know I'm doing a good job when a project happens and I don't even know about it."

You mention micromanaging. How did you get used to managing without micromanaging?
It actually didn’t take any time to get used to. I think what took time was making sure we set up a proper framework that didn’t need to be micromanaged. As we’ve grown as an organization, we’ve done most of our internal communication through Slack. We actually have a ton of Slack channels. The reason is so that our team can avoid private DMs where others are left out of the loop. I think those are silly and pointless. Most of our projects touch a lot of different people so all of those people should be involved.
We also use Asana really really well and I think we can continue to do a better job there. Everyone can see how a project is going without needing to keep tabs. It allows you to track, what is success for this project? Who is the project leader on this? What do they need from other team members? With those tools in place there is very little need to micromanage.

On Transitioning to Remote Work

On that note, did your communication tools help with the transition to remote work?
We’ve always had a flexible work from home schedule, which has proven beneficial. With Slack and Asana, we never required many in person conversations or one-on-ones. We’ll set up blocks when it makes more sense to chat in-person. Generally Fridays or Wednesdays are a good time for us to do that as a team. We’ll sit down (now, Zoom) and brainstorm, determine what to prioritize, or solve a problem together.
We’ve also been worried about losing company culture. So every Wednesday, we have four to five person breakout Zoom sessions. It’s a 30 minute touch base at lunchtime so that the team can connect with the people they haven’t seen in a bit. Every other week, we also have a 30 minute game session. We’ll play a game like Code Names. It’s been great for team bonding.
That’s great. We’re a big fan of Code Names here at Branch.
Photo: Felix Gray

On Working from Home

What is your typical work-at-home-day like?
I actually have been bouncing around quite a bit during quarantine. My apartment is in Brooklyn and our offices are in Soho. My fiancé is in veterinary school in Oregon so I’ve always spent a week per month there. Now, I’m able to spend one to two weeks every month out in Oregon. And then I’ll bounce between Brooklyn and upstate when I’m home. I actually prefer it because I can switch my setting around.
Ritual-wise, I’ll generally do something to ease me into the day. What used to be my commute time has turned into time I’ll spend reading. I just let my mind wander and learn about something new or just read for fun. Then, I’ll get in a very quick, 10 to 15 minute workout. I’ll also close the day with a bike ride or some other activity. Before going to bed, I’ll do another hour or two of work to catch up and prepare for the next day.
What does the rest of your typical WFH schedule look like?
I make sure to have rigidity in my day, otherwise I get distracted easily. Usually that means quick morning calls and longer meetings later in the afternoon. Or, sometimes I’ll ask for no meetings later in the day and make it a more flexible time where anyone can ping me about anything at any time. I tend to also do a lot of my thinking around the business late at night, when I'm reflecting on what's been done and what needs to get done. Having dedicated thinking time is critical for me to digest where we are with different things.

"If you prioritize 10 things to do for the quarter, the 10th thing, that last thing on the priority list, it's okay if you fail at that. As long as the others go as planned."

On Productivity

Do you have some methods to stay productive during the workday?
Productivity-wise, I’m a big believer in my own to-do list. It’s a running list I update throughout the day, and check every morning and night. Once a week, I’ll do a deep clean. I’ll check the tasks I’ve been completing: Are they tracking to the goals that we have set for ourselves for the month, for the quarter, for the year?
I read this great article a couple of years ago about the Spotify CEO and he had this idea of “failing up.” If you prioritize 10 things to do for the quarter, that 10th thing, that last thing on the priority list, it’s okay if you fail at that. As long as the others go as planned.
We also have a team-rule that, unless there’s a reason for it, we cut meetings off at 30 minutes. If you block for an hour, you’ll find reasons to fill it up. Or you’re going to end early and not do anything, because you have another meeting in 30 minutes. And that’s just a waste of time.
What about your inbox? Do you also try to keep that clean and focused?
I am not an inbox-zero type of person. That’s why I’m so to-do list oriented. I’d rather do things on that list whether that is coordinating with other people or managing a project myself. It’s really easy to look up from a day of work and think you did a lot because you have no new notes in your inbox. Then you look at the end of the week and wonder, what did I really do?
I try to keep emails at a maximum of 30 unread at a time. If it gets bad, where there’s a two to four day period and I’m not catching up, I’ll reserve time to do a complete Inbox-purge.
Photo: Felix Gray

"What we always say is, 'what makes the in-person experience so great? And is it possible to bring some of that stuff online?'"

On Felix Gray and Business Strategy

You were one of the first eyewear companies to turn to e-commerce. What advice can you give to other companies turning to online sales during the pandemic?
It’s super category-dependent. For us, selling prescription lenses has always made a lot of sense because each person has their unique 'fit.' Any company should think: “what are the pros and cons of buying online? what are the pros and cons of buying in person? what type of input does the sale require? how might the in-person experience change when it moves online?”
For instance, we get a lot of customer feedback around fit, and people being able to do a virtual try-on. So we’re in the process of implementing software for a cohesive virtual try-on program that is seamless and easy to use. That was important because that’s part of the buying behavior. Normally, you have to go to an optometrist office to get your pupillary distance measured if you need a prescription. We actually made an algorithm that can take your picture and measure the distance between your pupils, so that we can fulfill a prescription order.
What we always say is, “what makes the in-person experience so great? And is it possible to bring some of that stuff online?”
What’s on the horizon for the next stages of Felix Gray?
Lately, we’ve been devoting time to our brand development. We brought on a new creative director and rebuilt our brand image. I wouldn’t say it feels different. But it is a much more elevated version of who we are and what we know about ourselves.
There’s also been a lot of work done on our sales strategies. Ecommerce-wise, we have a new Amazon strategy, and we’re working with third party retailers. There are also some physical plays in progress, within our own stores and with different partnerships. There are people who want to shop in person and others who want to stay online—we want to be able to answer that with a variety of different distribution channels. Our goal is to be the primary leader in quote unquote digital wellness.
Photo: Felix Gray


What's the ultimate mission for Felix Gray?

We like to say our mission is to improve the relationship people have with technology. We’re in front of our devices for 10, 12, even 15 hours a day. That’s not considered “healthy time.” So how do we improve that relationship with our devices? We want to make it so that the time we spend with our devices can be a time in which we are contributing to our well-being.

When we initially started, no one even knew what Blue Light was. People were dealing with discomfort, but didn’t know why. That’s where we stepped in. We wanted to create a product that worked and looked stylish, compared to the typical yellow-orange lenses. We want your eyes to feel good, but we also want you to feel good in our glasses.

On new furniture, exclusive sales and more.

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