Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do
Marc Levinson: I am an Industrial Designer by trade and I am passionate about creating innovative, well designed products and the businesses around them.
John Mauriello: I am a product designer. I am in charge of designing the eyewear frames, ensuring that the quality of our products are of a high fit and finish, and ensuring that the values of Protos Eyewear are communicated through the designs. I have worked for design consultancies in the past and worked with the smallest start-ups and the largest corporations doing industrial/product design. I am currently the chief design officer at Protos.
Novedge: Why 3D printed glasses?
Marc Levinson: Protos' mission is to use this new technology to solve meaningful problems. With traditional methods of manufacturing, companies need to mass produce tens of thousands of the same exact product. With 3D printing we are not constrained by the same rules or properties so each product can be unique. 3D printing is also much more flexible when it comes to the actual design, as a result, we can make striking designs and shapes that couldn't exist through other means.
We decided eyewear is the perfect application to start with. Eyewear is integral to every day life, It's the only product that we wear on our faces every day. A pair of glasses majorly impacts the way we see but also the way people see us. Slight changes in the fit of a frame, even by a fraction of a millimeter, can drastically change the way a person looks. Instead of searching through a sea of poorly made, mass produced eyewear frames for a pair that almost fits. Protos Eyewear creates one of a kind pairs of glasses that fit you perfectly.
John Mauriello: When I was still in college, I had an internship at a design consultancy that did a lot of eyewear frames/sunglasses. I fell in love with the idea of designing sunglasses because even a seemingly tiny change of one or two millimeters can completely change the character of a design. Glasses are very expressive and fun. The style of glasses that a person wears says a lot about their personality and what they're trying to convey to the world. Eyewear also requires a high level of technical understanding and precise attention to detail when it comes to fit and finish. The frame has to be ergonomic, comfortable, and functional. This combination of emotional expression and attention to technical detail is very appealing to me.
My friend Doug Ponciano had been messing around with software algorithms to make rapid changes to 3D models in CAD. Marc Levinson had been working in the 3D printing/rapid prototyping studio in our school and was interested in experimenting with new manufacturing processes. I was interested in designing eyewear at the time, but never really gave it much thought. One day we were trying to figure out how to combine our talents. Doug was fidgeting with the glasses he was wearing and kept pushing them back up onto the bridge of his nose. That's when it hit us. The problem that we needed to tackle was literally right in front our faces. We realized that there was a really major need for custom-fit eyewear. It turned out that 3D printing offers rapid customizability since you are not restricted by a mold or having to produce large volumes of products (often 10,000+ frames at a time), so it's a perfect platform to offer custom products. Our friend Richart Ruddie joined us to develop a website and help us work through sales/marketing.
About two years later, James Peo joined our team. He has over 15 years of experience in the eyewear industry. He has designed frames for high end eyewear companies. He has personally styled countless people with eyewear, many of whom are high profile celebrities. His knowledge of eyewear and the industry has been game-changing for us.
Novedge: Can you talk about what makes Protos Eyewear unique?
Marc Levinson: The most unique thing about Protos is our team, we are a team of experts in a range of disciplines. We have worked together for years on developing a very unique product. Our software makes it possible to quickly and effectively customize a pair of frames to a persons face. Beyond the ergonomics, it also uses information based on years of experience from our teams optician and celebrity stylist so the frames also look amazing. Our designers have worked closely with manufacturers to develop a proprietary material and process that allows us to create products that are truly consumer grade. The last part is design, we spend a lot of energy making sure our products are outstanding from an industrial design perspective.
John Mauriello: Once we release our crowd funding campaign, we will be offering a service that allows us to custom fit a pair of frames to a user's facial dimensions and personal style.
We have built James' 15 years of experience on how to properly fit eyewear into the algorithm. We have developed a robust software that is able to analyze the metrics and dimensions of a user's face based on two pictures. The user also takes a survey that gives us an idea of what style/fashion sense they most identify with. We then offer the user three potential options for frames based on their facial structure and how they answered the survey questions. The user picks the frame(s) that they like, and we send the file to get printed. We have developed a proprietary material that is extremely durable. You can literally bend the temples past 180 degrees and they won't crack or break. We will be offering 24 beautiful designs that are sure to fit your style. We can make adjustments to any of these frames so they fit you both stylistically and functionally.
Novedge: What 3D printers do you use for your glasses?
Marc Levinson: We use a few different printers but one of the main process is called Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). It's a lot more expensive and has more capabilities than a desktop 3D printer or other cheaper "FDM" machines. Even still there is a huge difference between prototypes that come off of a common SLS printer and the high fidelity products that we ship.
Novedge: What are some of the rewards and challenges of founding and being part of a start-up company?
Marc Levinson: It's exciting to be building a new business, we have a lot of flexibility and we're able to move a lot more quickly than larger companies. Being so small also puts a lot of pressure on us, we don't have room to spend time on projects that might not be viable or don't create immediate value. This is usually a blessing in disguise because it pushes us to come up with truly disruptive ideas that add real value to people's lives.
John Mauriello: I am very passionate about what I do, and so are all of the guys at Protos. Not only are these guys great business partners, but they're great people and great friends. I couldn't ask for a more highly motivated and qualified team. We've dedicated tens of thousands of hours to developing this product to be of a high consumer grade quality, and it required a lot of collaboration and patience.Coming up with a good idea is easy. That's just the beginning. Following through with that idea and cultivating it to be a real, viable solution is a major challenge, but it's also incredibly rewarding. There's nothing more exciting than seeing your creation physically manifest itself after years of development. Pushing these technologies to the absolute limit to create a great product is an amazing experience.
Being so passionate and motivated about our craft naturally leads to strong opinions on how things ought to be done. There is often a lot of deliberation over what direction/decisions are in the best interest of the company. Just like any strong relationship, working through decisions and making compromises is a definite challenge, but it makes the company stronger each time we resolve an issue.
Marc Levinson: There are a lot of facets to 3D printing and a lot of very revolutionary things happening already. From 3D printing trinkets at home to the production of aerospace parts, costs are coming down and the innovation is exploding. There is huge potential in world of end user products, we can change entire industries with the use of 3D printing. There are still a lot of factors that are keeping people from creating things that users would take seriously as actual products so this industry is very much in its infancy. With the assets Protos has in place, we are very excited to be leading the revolution on this front.
John Mauriello: Yes. The technology is just beginning to blossom and it has required years of research and development to get to where we are now. For most 3D printing processes (there's many different types of 3D printing), there's no waste material, there are no tooling costs, you can simply send a file anywhere and get it printed which could drastically cut down on the need for shipping someday, the products can be rapidly edited and customized, etc.