Lapaire, an African eyewear startup, has raised $3 million to drive its expansion across the continent.
Impact investment fund, Investisseurs & Partenaires (I&P), led the equity round, which had AAIC, FINCA Ventures, and Beyond Capital pitching in. CrossBoundary provided advisory support for the deal through USAID’s Africa Trade and Investment activity.
Lapaire was founded in 2018 by Jérôme Lapaire, a Swiss national who moved to Kenya in 2015. Although he graduated with a law degree, an interest in entrepreneurship caused him to explore business ideas he could take on while living in Nairobi.
Before starting Lapaire, he considered three business ideas: digitising inter-city transport, expanding insurance coverage, and providing access to eyewear in the country. After reading a report on the size of the eyewear market on the continent, he decided to settle on the last idea.
Although he had no experience in the eyewear industry, he ordered 30 pairs of glasses online. Rather than sell to individuals directly, he went through employers, offering free eye tests before customers could purchase the glasses.
“I would cold call CEOs and HR directors in Nairobi and tell them, ‘Guys, I want to offer you something that will increase the revenues of your company. You will have more performing employees, fewer accidents if you are manufacturing, and happier employees. And you don’t have to pay anything; employees will pay for their glasses,” he shared in a recent interview.
His pitch worked, as many of his initial customers had never done an eye test or owned a pair of glasses. Lapaire glasses were also more affordable, selling for 80% less than its customers. It currently sells glasses for roughly $25.
The company can sell at this price by bypassing middlemen and interacting directly with manufacturers. It also stocks only Lapaire glasses, allowing it to control the final price.
An estimated 35% of the African population lives with vision impairments, of which 80% can be corrected using eyeglasses. However, getting a pair of glasses is often expensive for the average person.
There’s also a shortage of trained eye care professionals, and the World Health Organisation estimates that only 13 countries in Africa meet the standard of one eye health professional per 55,000 people.
Lapaire can solve these challenges by cutting the costs associated with delivering its services and opening up new locations.
Lapaire’s ideal customer earns between $200 and $800 monthly and has no health insurance. Yet, Jerome acknowledges that the company competes with essential services. Consequently, it introduced a flexible payment plan for customers who initially pay 30% of the cost on order and 70% on delivery.
Although it launched in Kenya, Lapaire operates in six countries – Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Uganda. It also operates 58 eye care centres in these countries, offering free eye tests to potential customers.
While it initially began with a B2B sales approach, it has since abandoned that model, favouring direct contact with the customer. In the process, it has tested the eyesight of more than 300,000 people and now employs 350 people.
Over the next two years, it intends to open 300 eye care centres, with the target for 2024 being 80 new locations.
“Over the last few years, we worked hard to build a highly scalable model, and we are now in the best position to accelerate our growth to positively impact the lives of 1 million people across the continent by 2026,” Lapaire said in a statement seen by Techpoint Africa.
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