Red-eyed consumers criticize Hubble’s less-than-transparent business practices

Consumers and optometrists alike have complained about manipulative marketing at the contact lens startup Hubble.


July 23, 2019

For contact lens customers accustomed to overpaying for optical equipment, Hubble’s splashy social ads were a sight for sore eyes: “Get Hubble – 30 contacts for ONLY $1.”

But The New York Times reports that customers of the contact lens startup have developed eye issues ranging from ulcers to inflammation.

And more than one optometrist is saying ‘eye told you so’ 

Hubble has been criticized by eye doctors for cutting corners in the prescription process since it launched in 2016. 

The business was launched by co-founders Ben Cogan (who worked at Harry’s razors) and Jesse Horwitz, entrepreneurial opportunists looking to sell “anything” they could “raise a seed round for and sort of have investors be stupid alongside.” 

The business was built on a lucrative legal loophole

Normally, sellers need optometrist prescriptions to sell contacts. But the FTC permits “passive verification,” which lets sellers send prescriptions to eye doctors for verification, and, if they don’t hear back within 8 hours, they can sell them anyway.

So, despite warnings about the dangers of a one-size-fits-all approach to selling prescription products, the duo proceeded to raise $73.7m in VC funding to aggressively advertise their lenses across social media.

But was Hubble innovative or careless?

It depends on who you ask: Thanks to its rapid growth — Hubble sold $20m of lenses in its first 13 months — Cogan and Horwitz were praised as farsighted visionaries in Harvard Business School case studies and Forbes’ 30 under 30.

But consumers, optometrists, and the American Optometric Association have criticized the company’s blurry business practices, which include using outdated lens materials and manipulative marketing and sales tactics.

As Hubble’s business model comes into focus, the FTC — which has received 279 complaints about Hubble — is publicly exploring the possibility of changing its lens laws.

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