West Side startup

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How two friends came up with the idea for Hubble Contacts, a subscription lens company


  • Benjamin Cogan and Jesse Horwitz are the founders of Hubble Contacts. They’re planning to ship to Europe by early next year. Photo: Hubble Contacts

  • Hubble Contacts are a soft lens, disposable contact subscription. They’re competing against four companies that dominate 97 percent of the contact lens industry. Photo: Hubble Contacts

You may have seen them on television. Benjamin Cogan and Jesse Horwitz introduce themselves as a woman with a barrel of money walks into the frame. Cogan takes a single $20 bill and hands the woman a bright green box of contact lenses.

“You shouldn’t have to pay a lot for daily contacts that feel great,” Cogan says in the commercial.

Contact lenses are a necessity for many people. According to the Vision Council of America, about 75 percent of adults use some sort of vision correction, either glasses or contacts. An estimated 40 million people wear contacts lenses in the U.S. and daily contacts cost about $700 a year. Someone on a budget might overwear their contacts in order to save money and put their health at risk doing so.

Cogan noticed that the price of contacts lenses spiked in 2015. He said it happened a lot, though people just accept it. But he and his friend Jesse Horwitz look into why — and decided to create a new company, Hubble Contacts, in 2016.

Cogan and Horwitz were longtime friends. Cogan, 27, who grew up on the Upper West Side, had studied philosophy at Princeton. Horwitz, 29, studied Econ math at Columbia after changing his major a few times. The Upper West Side is their home — they even used to live across the street from each other.

“This is such a West Side company,” said Cogan. “Everyone involved is from the Upper West Side.”

Cogan and Horwitz discovered that the market was dominated by four major companies: Johnson & Johnson, Alcon, Bausch & Lomb, and CooperVision control 97 percent of the industry and change prices constantly. Cogan and Horwitz found the rise in prices can lead to people overusing their contacts, potentially risking health problems. Their platform was to end “overpay or overuse.”

“It’s a high-price thing that leads to health concerns,” Cogan said of contact lenses.

Cogan quit his job at Harry’s — a subscription service for razors and shave gel — and Horwitz left his position at Columbia University’s endowment fund to start Hubble.

Hubble Contacts is doing to contact lenses what Harry’s did for razors. They’re competing with established companies, offering lower prices with the added convenience of having them delivered to people’s homes.

“We spent a lot of time talking to people in the industry,” said Cogan. “There are a lot of middle men [in the industry.]”

Hubble’s subscription service allows people to submit their prescription and receive 30 pairs of contacts for the month at about a dollar a pair. Subscribers can also submit a different prescription for each eye on the same order so they don’t have to order double.

Daily contacts are usually more expensive than reusable lenses. And some people aren’t able to to use them, like those with astigmatism or who need bifocals. But Hubble Contacts are a viable option for many people who are overpaying for disposable contacts.

Horwitz said Hubble’s design and marketing were very important to them.

Cogan’s father came up with the company name. He was inspired by Cogan’s girlfriend, an astrophysicist, and the famous Hubble space telescope. Horwitz said they had hired a design team that gave them dozens of names but all were trademarked.

Hubble employs about 100 people, including customer service employees and independent contractors. The company is located on 60th Street and Broadway, and Horwitz said they are the only startup of their size on the Upper West Side. Cogan and Horwitz say their company is profitable.

And about those commercials: when Hubble started, their ads were mostly on Facebook and Instagram.

“When you advertise on Facebook, you start reaching people only as quickly as Facebook allows you to,” Cogan said.

Cogan said there was a limit on how much return a company gets from advertising on Facebook. Hubble Contacts was hitting those walls. So by May, they moved into other mediums: television, radio and podcast. Their TV commercials have been on many networks, including Lifetime, Fox Sports, CNN and NBC.

Currently, Cogan and Horwitz are focused on expanding to more countries. This past August they started shipping to Canada, and they’re now working on shipping to Europe between December to February.

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