Interview with Jacob Rosenberg, Co-Founder of Tajima Direct

by Jerome Knyszewski
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Interview with Jacob Rosenberg, Co-Founder of Tajima Direct

Jacob Rosenberg grew up in sunny, southern California in a sunglass household, where his Dad was a key leader at Oakley and then started his own sunglass brand, Kaenon Polarized. Surrounded by the ocean surfing, sailing, fishing, or kitesurfing, Jacob understood the importance of having high quality polarized lenses and the proper eye protection. Fast forward and Jacob is now a recent Stanford Graduate from the COVID-19 Class of 2020. While at Stanford, he captained the #1 nationally ranked Varsity Sailing Team and studied Management Science and Engineering. During his Junior year, he began incubating the concept for his startup, Tajima Direct, which offers their superior patented polarized lens technology direct to the consumer for replacement or upgrade purposes in any sunglass or eyeglass frame. Including clear or sunglass prescription lenses. When the pandemic hit during the Spring of his Senior Year, he had enough credits to graduate a quarter early and jumped in headfirst to working on Tajima Direct full time as the CEO and Co-Founder and has not looked back since.

Where did the idea for Tajima Direct come from?

Jacob Rosenberg: When I was born, my dad was a key leader at Oakley. When I was two, he left in pursuit of creating his own sunglass brand featuring a better polarized lens technology than the industry and brands were offering. So, I grew up around sunglasses and entrepreneurship as he built his company, Kaenon Polarized. Spending my time surfing, sailing, and constantly on the water, sunglasses were a necessity and I saw firsthand the value of a superior polarized lens. Fast forward and I find myself as an undergraduate at Stanford University, surrounded by a vibrant startup culture, focused on incorporating the latest developments in technology into our increasingly digital first world. All of these factors lead me to wanting to start my own company revolving around eyewear. The pieces all came together as my Dad had sold Kaenon and was now doing the B2B business for this patented lens technology he developed. It all seemed to make sense, why not offer this superior polarized lens technology direct to the consumer, with a lean startup e-commerce model using the vast resources that Stanford had to offer in digital technology as well as know-how and wisdom from professors.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Jacob Rosenberg: In the morning, I wake up, have my coffee and read the news. I then go right into submitting outstanding orders and catching up on email, which ranges from prospective customer inquiries, current customer inquiries, operational issues, marketing opportunities, etc. Then, mid morning I’ll get started on my outstanding to-do list, which is constantly reprioritized to have the most important tasks at the top so I just run from the top as far as I can get, all the while responding to customer service over our chat bot and problem solving any issues that come up during the day. I then cut out the last hour of my work day for PR pitches as Google search is a huge channel for us and backlinks are key to climbing the SEO ladder.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Jacob Rosenberg: We try to balance the process of bringing ideas to life quickly so we can learn and iterate while also taking our time to execute in the best way we can. It all starts with laying out and understanding the details of the idea – what we’re going for, how it will benefit, time and cost analysis to see if it’s a priority. Then once we determine it’s something we want to move forward with, we take our time doing the research to distinguish the different alternatives and ways to go about implementing it followed by an analysis of the benefits and cons to each alternative. Then, we choose / plan how we want to implement and move forward with the idea and try to execute it as well as possible.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Jacob Rosenberg: One trend that excites me is the obvious shift to online and e-commerce that has only been accelerated by the pandemic. Looking beyond that though, the trend that excites me the most that will become apparent in the next few years as COVID-19 clears is the omni channel approach of companies seamlessly integrating and using both retail and digital touch points to create a holistic shopping experience. As Gen Z gets older and becomes the predominant shoppers, we’ll see more and more the rise of a group that is fully comfortable with modern digital technology using their mobile phones with social media as one shopping outlet, while enjoying going to the mall or store to get the retail experience, try things on, see them in person, and then finally using their computer to make the purchase (or some different order or combination of those touch points).

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Jacob Rosenberg: One habit of mine that makes me more productive as an entrepreneur is my need for a balance in all aspects of life. It makes me more productive when I do work as a result of my work life balance with avoiding burnout / overworking myself while allowing me to take the time to de-stress or remove myself for a few hours. It also makes me more productive by seeking a balance in our company and how I allocate my time working. As an entrepreneur, it’s all about seeing the full picture and constantly re-prioritizing the most important tasks that will maximize revenue and profits while balancing time and costs for implementation. Therefore, being able and wanting to strike a balance helps the constant reprioritization and shift of where our time and energy is best spent.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Jacob Rosenberg: I would give my younger self these two main pieces of advice. The first would be the importance of setting yourself up to collect all sorts of data because without data, there’s nothing to analyze to support decisions. Even when it all feels so small scale and it might not be helpful in the moment, later down the line it becomes so helpful and relevant to have kept records and data to be able to compare later on. Going off that, but a little different, my next piece of advice would be to take everything as a learning moment instead of focusing so much on the outcomes. I would find myself being so focused on the number of orders each day or getting people through the funnel that I think I missed opportunities to slow down and reflect on takeaways and learnings that would have sped up our growth more down the line.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Jacob Rosenberg: Everything in life is a spectrum, where there are extremes and we all fall somewhere in between.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Jacob Rosenberg: As an entrepreneur, the one thing I do over and over again that I would recommend everyone else do would be to take the time once a week to go through your tasks, to-do list, whatever you want to call it and re-assess the. By that, I mean going through your Work in Progress and moving tasks around bringing the most important ones to get done to the top. It’s important to constantly be re-assessing and re-prioritizing because as a startup, there is always more you can be doing and your job as an entrepreneur is to decide what will maximize impact that is easiest to get done. However, it’s a moving target and every week so much is (and should be) changing and you’re gathering more information and data that makes your priorities change so it would be naïve to neglect that need to re-assess.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Jacob Rosenberg: One strategy that has really helped to grow our business has been our full focus on the customer experience. We try to provide the best customer service and overall experience for our customer because we know our product will back it up. Therefore, if we can do everything else in our control to make it a great experience, they are much more likely to share their experience with their friends and family and expand word of mouth, which will be the most profitable and best channel of revenue.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Jacob Rosenberg: At the beginning when we were trying to find product / market fit and test demand, we had tons of failures! However, we expected to because our goal was to fail fast to iterate and learn quickly. We’d run all sorts of Facebook Ads experiments testing different messaging and landing page copy to see what resonated with the customer we were targeting. Ultimately, we had many that lead to no conversions that seemed like failures and wastes of money, but at the end of the day, we overcame it by taking it as a learning opportunity and continually experimenting and testing new hypothesis. We stuck with it and have now found product./ market fit, but would not be where we are today had we not had those failures back then.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Jacob Rosenberg: Fully waterproof headphones so you can listen to music while on or in the water – surfing, sailing, paddleboarding, etc.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Jacob Rosenberg: The best $100 we recently spent was on upgrading our reviews platform. This was the best investment we’ve made recently because it allows us to show off our customer reviews in a more professional, high quality, and elegant way, which is the best form of social proof and convincing new prospective customers on why they should choose us over our competitors.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Jacob Rosenberg: One web service that helps me be productive is Trello. I use it for my to-do lists / Work in Progress because it’s a digital task service that allows you to organize your tasks very well. I prioritize the most important tasks using it, while detailing the steps of each task with deadlines to keep myself accountable and even separating tasks by groupings.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Jacob Rosenberg: I recommend the Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell for any aspiring entrepreneurs. It really goes into the psychology, case studies, and explains the reasoning on why / when an idea crosses the threshold from small and undiscovered to becoming a trend or spreading like wildfire. What I found most interesting was hearing about the types of people such as the spreader or the trusted source and how each plays an important role in crossing that threshold.

What is your favorite quote?

Jacob Rosenberg: “It is not a failure to readjust my sails to fit the waters I find myself in.” -MacKenzi Lee

Key Learnings:

Jacob Rosenberg:

  • Fail Fast to Iterate and Learn Quickly.
  • Adapt to the circumstances you’re given because things won’t always go the way you expect.
  • Do everything you can to learn as much as possible about your customer, what drives them, and how you can message your solution to them.

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