528 Jenna Zigler:
What’s your vision for success and happiness in your business and life? We all have a true purpose and when it aligns with a mission we are truly passionate about…miracles happen.
I’m Melinda Wittstock and today on Wings of Inspired Business we meet an inspiring entrepreneur who is on a mission to heal one million people who suffer from dry eye.
Jenna Zigler started out as an optometrist and before long realized she could help more people in business than she could seeing patients one-on-one. So, she took the entrepreneurial leap and founded EyeLove with her husband. Today we talk about what it takes to start and scale a business, why success always begins with a mission, and how Jenna is using her business to “give forward” to help those in need.
There are many reasons to become an entrepreneur: You want to be your own boss, you have a vision of cashing out with a multimillion-dollar check, or like many, you are really motivated by the mission.
There comes a moment in every entrepreneurs’ life where a passion, a mission-driven practice, a skill or a talent turns into a business.
The spark comes often when we realize we can help many more people, often millions more, when we apply our purpose to growing a business.
Dr. Jenna Zigler says she “didn’t even know what an entrepreneur was” until she became one. Jenna co-founded EyeLove so she could heal 1,000,000 dry eye sufferers naturally. She uses the profits from Eye Love to fund free and low-cost clinics in Jamaica and in the US – and also started a charity called the Eye Love Cares Foundation, which provides exams, glasses and sunglasses for those in need, free education, and scholarships for students that align with the mission.
Previously, Dr. Jenna owned two optometry practices, which were sold in 2017 to focus on Eye Love and her other brand, Heyedrate. I can’t wait for Jenna to share her inspiring journey and first …
And you’ll want to take out your phone and download the Podopolo app too as you listen to this episode, so you can join the conversation with me and Jenna as we talk social impact mission, scaling, how to cope with tragedy and adversity, and why a community of supportive women around you is vital to your success and prosperity.
Let’s fly with the inspiring Jenna Zigler.
Melinda Wittstock: Jenna, welcome to Wings.
Jenna Zigler: Thanks for having me.
Melinda Wittstock: I’m excited to talk to you because you do something very, very close to my heart, which is use business for social, good, for social impact, using business to help people. And for many, many years, so many people thought you had to have a nonprofit to do that, but we’re finding now that those kinds of models are actually more profitable than your standard model of just looking at the bottom line. What inspired you to create this mission driven aspect of your business?
Jenna Zigler: Well, when I was in optometry school, I went on a couple mission trips and we went down to Ecuador and we went to Peru and we got to help people see better, basically. We would give them an eye exam as students, we didn’t have to be doctors yet to do it there, but we would go down, we would give them an eye exam, we would give them glasses and sunglasses and bring medications and treat their disease and things like that. And I realized when I was there, just looking at how many people we were able to help, it was so amazing to me. And I would come back to the US and I would then look around at all of the things around me and it’s so humbling to see what other people have to deal with in their life. And it’s humbling to know that not everybody has access to the things that we do.
Jenna Zigler: And so when I graduated optometry and I was out in the world seeing patients, I kept thinking about how can I do more? And working all the time and seeing patients all the time, it was really tough to think about leaving that job for a week or two at a time to go to another country. So my husband and I actually started this business, we started Eyelove so that we could fund our eyecare missions. We just said, “We just want an extra $1,000 a month to be able to go on these trips and to help people that can’t afford eyecare.” And so we started our company with that mission in mind, that was our only goal really. And then it just has grown in the past couple of years. Since 2015 it’s grown to be so much more than that. You know, we’ve been able to open up a private foundation called the Eyelove Cares Foundation and we put profits from Eyelove into the Eyelove Cares Foundation. We use it to go on two to three mission trips every year. We do a lot of our work in Jamaica and we love the Jamaican people, so that’s what keeps us coming back. But it’s inspiring for us, it keeps us going. You know, we want to help more people, so by building our business we’re able to help more people.
Melinda Wittstock: Mm. This is a really important point. You know, a lot of people look at it and think, “Oh, well I should give back.” I think entrepreneurs are already giving forward in a profound way because not only are we solving major problems for people inherently, you start a business to solve a problem but also hiring people, we’re the engine of the economy, we’re all these sorts of things. So we’re already kind of “giving forward”, but when you add this dimension, it makes the operation of the business, I think, easier in the sense that you have this mission that propels you through the times when things are difficult, because we all have bumps in business, especially in startups. As we’re growing and scaling, there’s always something that surprises you. Is that mission the thing that really just keeps you going when times are tough?
Jenna Zigler: It is. And so one of our core values in our company is service before self. And so when something bad happens, I think about all of those people that we’ve helped, we’ve helped thousands of people on our eyecare missions. And when I lose a bunch of money or when Amazon pulls my product or whatever’s happening in your life, I have to think about, if I were to stop now, then I’m not going to be able to help any more people. You know, I have to continue going because if I don’t, then these people aren’t going to the care that they need. And so that really does, it does keep me going. You know, we’ve had a lot of hardship during our time in this business and every single time I just have to remind myself that there’s a bigger mission and when there’s a bigger mission, then you’re going to be able to get through whatever you’re going through.
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Oh this is so, so true. So was it scary making the leap from… Because here you are, you’re an optometrist and you’re trained in that, but then all of a sudden you have to learn this whole new thing, business.
Jenna Zigler: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: Did that come naturally for you or was it a total leap in the dark? Like was it what you expected? How did that go?
Jenna Zigler: Yeah, no, never in a million years would I have thought that I would not be seeing patients right now. And that’s what I wanted to do, I went to optometry, I went to school to see patients and to help people. And I always thought that I would be in an exam room seeing patients all day long. But when we started this business and it started to take off more than our practices did, we had to make a choice. We were running two optometry offices while running this other business and we were about to have our first baby and it was like, “Okay, we can’t do everything. We need to get rid of something.” And that something just happened to be our optometry practices because we realized that I can help so many more people through Eyelove and through our dry eye brand than I can seeing patients one-on-one. And while I would love to still see patients one-on-one some days, it’s just for me, I enjoy doing that when I’m on a mission trip and things like that. So yes, it was very, very difficult to leave optometry, but I don’t know, I just felt like I just had to do it. So I did.
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Absolutely. Well, it’s interesting because you can help more people so you can help people one on one or you can help people at scale.
Jenna Zigler: Yep.
Melinda Wittstock: Which is what you’re able to do now. So what were some of the challenges in the early stages? A lot of people who listen to Wings are women in that early stage of just taking the leap, like accomplished executives, accomplished at what they do, perhaps they have a side hustle and they’re taking that leap into entrepreneurship. Or they’re women who are a little bit later stage at the scaling part. Right? So let’s break it down a little bit. I mean at that really early stage, what were some of the biggest challenges for you?
Jenna Zigler: I think one of the biggest challenges was I felt like business for me was learning a completely new language. So I had gone to school for eight years to be an optometrist and I know the eyes front and back and all the way around, but all of a sudden I’m running this business and I have to learn all of these terms. I mean I don’t even think I knew what an entrepreneur was until I became one, basically. And so just the business side of it was difficult, it was like I said, learning another language, but I did find a lot of support there and just by doing you learn the most. But I think also is just scaling. Scaling has been difficult or knowing where to go next because sometimes I feel like we would get to the end of a rope and then it got to the point where we needed to go in a different direction, kind of stack a curve and go elsewhere. And making that decision was tough for me because it’s like well this thing is working so well but you can only do this so long you need to do something else in your business to make it grow and to ensure that it thrives.
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, scaling is tricky, right? I mean you can create a business model that’s inherently scalable, like a software as a service company or anything to do with technology that you create it once and sell it multiple times. Service companies are a little bit harder and so tell me a little bit about your business model and how it works and what are some of the things you’ve done to scale?
Jenna Zigler: Yeah, so we actually started out as a sunglass company. So our business name is Eyelove and we started out selling polarized sunglasses because and we did it on Amazon, but we decided to sell something that we knew better than anyone else. So we looked at all different types of things that we could possibly sell and definitely kept coming back to the eyecare world because that’s what I love, that’s what my husband loves, he’s an optometrist as well. And so we started out selling sunglasses and we did that for at least a year. And then we still had our optometry practices and we were looking at everything that we sold on the shelf in our practice. So we sold Omega-3 and we sold warm compress eye masks and eyelid cleansers and things like that. But why couldn’t any of those be our brand? Is kind of what we thought.
Jenna Zigler: So we went on this whole new journey about trying to figure out, how do we make those things to be our own and make them better than the things that we’re selling in our optometry practice. We want to make them better for our patients, we want to make them sometimes in some cases more affordable for our patients. And so how do we do that? And so we kind of dove into that and that’s what got us into the dry eye world. And now we run a Facebook group called the dry eye syndrome support community and it sounds really exciting, I know, but there are 10,000 people in that group that come there every single day for advice, for the videos that we do and the content that we put out.
Jenna Zigler: So we do a couple of videos and blogs every week, sometimes interviews with different dry eye specialists and things like that. And we put them out into this community and we started doing that from day one. It was just blogs and my husband and I on a camera and I’m pretty sure at the beginning there was nobody watching, but it has completely grown into this amazing group that we can now basically go to them and say, “Okay, we’re ready to come out with a new product. What do you guys think? What product do you guys want to see? Would you rather see this, this, this or this?” And basically our community is telling us what to come out with next. They’re telling us what they want and what they need and so that’s how we grow as a company, that’s how we have expanded our business is by asking our community what they want. And so there’s nothing that’s been more important for us then building this community. And it’s a huge part of what’s taken Eyelove from nothing to what it is today.
Melinda Wittstock: Well Jenna, this is really the key, I want everyone to hear this, this community, because what you’ve essentially done is co-created with your customers.
Jenna Zigler: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: And a lot of women in particular in business shy away from that because they’re so busy with their heads down perfecting something that they don’t get it out early enough to really get insights and feedback from the people whose problem they’re solving. So I see a lot of people, particularly in the technology space, create solutions for problems that don’t even exist. And you don’t really know, it’s all a hypothesis until you have people using it. So building that community is a really smart way to go. Was it a little worrying to begin with to put yourself out there? Like with video and stuff. I know a lot of women shy away from that as well. Like there’s a real fear I guess around really shining our light. Like did you have to kind of overcome something to be able to do that?
Jenna Zigler: Oh yeah. Yeah. I am not an extrovert by any means. And so the introvert in me would just stay behind a computer screen all day long and happily write, but I never thought I would be behind a camera on video a couple of days a week. And so, absolutely, some of our initial videos, I’m sure I was incredibly nervous and I should probably go back and watch some of those, that’d probably be entertaining. But yeah, I had to learn how to get over that and now it’s just a part of what I do and I enjoy doing it. And I don’t think about 50,000 people are going to watch this every single day. If I thought about that, I would maybe be nervous. But it’s an amazing thing, once you start putting yourself out there, it just becomes easier and easier. That can be a good thing or a bad thing. But if you’re doing it for good and you’re solving a pain point, then the more you put yourself out there, the better it’s going to be for everyone that you’re helping.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah and just really staying focused on the mission. I think one of the other things that women struggle with too, that men don’t so much, and this affects things like delaying a personal brand website because we want to lose 10 pounds for the photography. We’re so acculturated to be really concerned about our appearance and trying to be perfect and yet, when I look at people’s Instagram or people who have great communities, they’re allowing people to see their imperfections and that’s how we connect. Right? So trying to be literally perfect or look perfect, not only does it get in the way of just getting out there and launching your business, but people can’t connect with pure porcelain, they need to kind of find the cracks.
Jenna Zigler: Right. Yeah, yeah. You have to really connect with the people that are watching you. And I have a great example right now because I suffer from dry eye and when I get really stressed, I end up with a sty on my eyelid, which I have now. And so like this whole past week I’ve been on video with no makeup and a sty. But you know what? Like that’s very real. And people in our community, they truthfully probably love seeing that because they know that I’m not just this porcelain person behind the camera that nothing ever happens to, I’m a real person and I’m going through the same things that they are.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. Well, it’s relatable because you created this product and all of this to solve… This is always true of people in business too, like it’s always solving kind of a personal challenge or problem or issue or whatever. Right? That’s one of the reasons that makes us want to go do it, it’s part of our kind of life mission, often. We’re given these problems and we can find ways to not only solve them for ourselves, but millions of other people, which is like the joy of entrepreneurship. And so I can only imagine when people see you like that, it’s actually a big advantage because they go through the same thing themselves.
Jenna Zigler: Yeah, absolutely. It is.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. So it connects you empathetically. So Jenna, I know you had the most difficult year of your life last year. So you had a young child and you had another one on the way and there was something wrong.
Jenna Zigler: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: And your child passed on. I can’t tell you how, I don’t know. I mean, sorry, I’m really tearing up trying to get this out.
Jenna Zigler: No, you’re fine.
Melinda Wittstock: I can’t tell you how inspired I was to see you, knowing this, come to the Wings of the Empowered Woman retreat and be fully present with everything that you were going through. You know, being able to accept the help of all the women there who really were sending their love and prayers and good intentions and everything to support you. But I just looked at you every day and you were just such a beacon of inspiration, were you were that other people, other women were seeing you in that way?
Jenna Zigler: No, I probably wasn’t. The day before I came to the retreat, I found out that our second son had trisomy 18 and so there was a possibility that we would lose him and lose the pregnancy. And I told my husband after we found out, I said, “I need to so go on this retreat. I just have a feeling that it’s going to be exactly what I need.” And the first encounter that I had with all of the women there was during a meditation and it was amazing, I let everything go, I let everyone know what was going on, I didn’t hold back. And it’s not very characteristic of me to do that, I tend to hold things in and it was very therapeutic for me to be there and to be able to be real with people and talk about what was going on in my life, the good and the bad. And I don’t think that I was aware that anyone was seeing me in that light, but it was probably because I just felt like I belonged and I felt so happy being there despite everything that was going on.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh my goodness, I’m moved by that because in my wildest dreams and putting these retreats together and everything I do with this podcast, it’s just a belief of mine that when women really show up for each other in that genuine caring space, when we leverage all the things that are incredible about being a woman, like our natural God-given ability for ease of empathy and intuition and collaboration, those kinds of feminine archetypal feminine skills or talents, if you will. When we really leverage that and come from a good place, genuinely about lifting each other, miracles happen. And it felt like a miracle, those two retreats last year, and of course I haven’t another one this year. But it was so important to bring women to it that had that spirit and were in abundance and not scarcity. And we all have fears but conscious enough to recognize where we’re being driven by those kinds of fears and have the courage to step past them and be vulnerable with each other and all of that.
Melinda Wittstock: And it was amazing to think that in the months after the retreat, there’s been more than $300,000 of business done between each of us.
Jenna Zigler: That’s so amazing.
Melinda Wittstock: It blew me away. It’s amazing when we actually get out of our own way and ask for help and, and whatnot. Now I know there’s a whole bunch of things, these come up on this podcast all the time, like everybody who is a regular listener knows that we hit these themes of like perfectionism and why there needs to be an AA for perfectionists. Right? And so let’s talk about perfectionism a little bit and like how you managed to… like what’s your recovery? Because I’m in recovery from perfectionism, so what are some of the things you do when you find yourself kind of veering into perfectionism? What are some of the things you do to get yourself out of that way of working and thinking?
Jenna Zigler: I think I just have to think about why I’m doing what I’m doing. So I go back to our mission to help end preventable blindness and help people overseas get the eyecare that they can’t afford and don’t have access to. I go back to that. I go back to the people that we’re helping in our dry eye support community. If we don’t put these products out then they’re never going to see them and they’re never going to benefit from them. So recently we released a product that we thought was going to do really well and people did love it, but we ran into some issues with it. But by releasing that product, we got to see the feedback and we got to see what is it that we might need to tweak a little bit?
Jenna Zigler: We ended up having to pull the product and we’re reformulating and things like that and that stuff happens. But it’s all a learning experience and if we didn’t put that product out, we wouldn’t know the issues. And so you have to just do it you have to do, what do they call it, a minimal viable product.
Melinda Wittstock: Yes.
Jenna Zigler: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: The MVP.
Jenna Zigler: Exactly. And so it doesn’t have to be perfect. And you know, I think a lot of that too is being on video so much and putting myself out there so much, you can’t spend all day in front of the mirror trying to look perfect and all of that either. So you just have to do it and realize that people are people and they want to see you as who you really are. And they also want to benefit from a product that you might have without it necessarily being perfect.
Melinda Wittstock: So, one of the things we all struggle with too is, is asking for help. And the universe has a funny way of if we’re not doing that, of forcing us to do it. And so with what you were going through last year, I imagine that you had to learn to ask for help because dealing with the loss of a baby, having a young one, having everything going and having to sustain and keep growing a business at the same time, my goodness. How did you actually get through that on a day to day, on a practical basis? And I mean, I know you moved as well, like you had all this stuff going on.
Jenna Zigler: Yeah, it was. It’s a lot. And I think having a big, great support system is key. And so after my son passed away, I voluntarily reached out to people that I knew and even just moms groups that I knew or whatever, and ask them for help with meals for a few days because I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that, yet my family still has to eat. And I asked for the people on my team, I asked for help I said, “I am not mentally in a place to do anything right now and I need you guys to help me out.” And I think it was just a mindset shift that I guess I kind of knew that I would need that help and it’s all about recognizing it. It’s about knowing that you’re going to need the help, first of all, and then going out and getting it.
Jenna Zigler: And so even with moving and everything, that’s been incredibly stressful, we moved across the country and my son hasn’t yet started his new school here, so he’s been at home and it’s been crazy. But we happened to meet some friends that have a nanny and they were like, “Hey, bring your son over and we’ll nanny share until you can put him in school.” And I can’t tell you how helpful that was. And just being able to say yes as well, not knowing them very well, but trusting that they wanted to help and they are good people. And it’s about trusting people, it’s about just knowing when you need help and asking for it.
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So where is the company heading? What’s the big dream? Where do you and your husband want to be with it in the next few years? What would be wild success?
Jenna Zigler: Yeah, so we would love to be able to eventually build a sustainable optometry clinic in either Jamaica or another Caribbean country, most likely Jamaica. But it’s a little difficult because you have to be careful when you try to do something like that because you don’t want to put the local people out of business with what you’re doing, but we do want to provide care where we’re there more often than just once a year or twice a year. So that is the ultimate dream is to be able to do that and be able to work in those clinics whenever we want to. And then with Eyelove and with our dry eye brand, we would like to help heal a million people from their dry eye naturally. And doing that through the education that we provide, the products that we provide, we’re at about maybe 50,000 people right now that we’ve helped and we know we have so much more to go. But there are millions and millions of people out there that have dry eye and that suffer from these issues and so it’s just getting more awareness out there about what we’re doing and more awareness about what people can do to help heal themselves.
Melinda Wittstock: Mm. That’s wonderful. Well, Jenna, how can people find you and work with you?
Jenna Zigler: Well, first of all, we do have a dry eye syndrome support community on Facebook so you can head there and join the group if you want to, if you have dry eye. We have about 10,000 people in that group and we put all of our content in there and I’m in there every single day. You can also check out our podcast called the dry eye show where we talk about eye health, we talk about overall health and most importantly decreasing inflammation in your body to heal your chronic disease. And the dry eye show is also on YouTube, and the blog you can find at thedryeyeshow.com.
Melinda Wittstock: Fantastic. Thank you so much for being so vulnerable and sharing so openly and being a wonderful guest on wings of inspired business.
Jenna Zigler: Thank you so much, Melinda.