Dubai-headquartered eyewear startup Eyewa has raised $21 million in a Series B co-led by Kingsway Capital and Nuwa Capital, it announced in a statement today. The deal was also joined by French Partners, Endeavor Catalyst, Derayah Ventures, Palm Drive, and Hardy Capital, and takes Eyewa’s total capital raised to date to about $30 million. It had previously raised $7.5 million Series A in 2019 and $1.1 million in a seed round in 2018.
Mehdi Oudghiri and Anass Boumediene who previously led Foodpanda in the Middle East started Eyewa in 2017 with the aim to build the largest tech-enabled eyewear company in the region. It started as an online retailer selling sunglasses, contact lenses, and prescription glasses in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and has now evolved into an omnichannel player that also features in-house brands. Its ecommerce platform now also sells to customers in Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and Kuwait. The startup told MENAbytes that it has doubled its year-over-year revenue in the ongoing quarter.
Eyewa kicked off its retail expansion earlier this year by opening its first brick-and-mortar store in Dahran, Saudi Arabia. It has since opened two more stores in Jeddah and plans to add many more across all the major cities in Saudi and UAE in the next few months.
The move may have come as a surprise for many in the region as it’s very rare to see online players here expand to offline. For Eyewa, however, it was the plan from the very beginning, “It has always been part of our vision to eventually become an omnichannel retailer,” its co-founder and CEO Mehdi Oudghiri told MENAbytes. Explaining why they’ve been interested in going offline, he said, “We want to be as close as possible to our customers. We started as an ecommerce company because that is where the biggest market gap was, as no one was offering high-quality and affordable eyewear products online with a good customer experience. Expanding our reach to offline will complement our strong online presence and cement our position as a leading player in the eyewear industry.”
The omnichannel model has worked very well for different eyewear startups across the world. Warby Parker, an American direct-to-consumer eyewear brand was valued at $3 billion in its most recent financing, and India-based Lenskart that started in 2010 as an ecommerce platform for eyewear and now also operates over 500 retail stores across the country, raised funds at a reported valuation of $1.5 billion, in 2019.
So Eyewa’s move into retail makes a lot of sense but it means that it is going head-to-head with many established offline players with a large retail presence across the region. Its co-founder and co-CEO Anass Boumediene argues that their store concept is different (from the traditional retailers) at multiple levels, “We offer an omnichannel experience, and integrate virtual try-on in the stores for trying out products not displayed in the store and products that generally cannot be tried (color contact lenses). Eyewa also has exclusive in-house brands and collections that are made to fit the needs and wants of our local audiences. It allows us to offer high-quality products at a significantly lower price point than comparable products.”
The in-house brands that the startup has built include lifestyle eyewear line 30Sundays, fast fashion collection Blackout, and natural color contact lenses range Layala. Each of them fulfills the untapped needs of the local market, noted the startup in a statement.
In addition to expanding further into its existing markets, Eyewas is currently also exploring the opportunity in other markets of the Middle East & North Africa. It plans to use the latest funds to execute these expansion plans, and invest in “top-tier technology and product teams, as well as best in class retail and omnichannel technology.”
Khaled Talhouni, Managing Partner of Nuwa Capital, commenting on the progress Eyewa has made so far, said, “We’ve been working with Anass and Mehdi since the beginning of their journey and it is such a privilege to have a front-row seat to the development of a company as remarkable as Eyewa. A big part of our thesis at Nuwa Capital is to focus on the next evolution of retail. The confluence of offline, online, and private label-driven commerce is at the heart of this thesis, and we would be hard-pressed to find a team that has executed as well as Eyewa has on this concept in the region. Joining this latest round of financing is a testament to our strong belief in the company and the team to deliver on building a unique regional champion for direct-to-consumer commerce.”