The first full weekend in March, life was about as good as it can get for Stanford senior Jacob Rosenberg—a regional collegiate-team race-regatta victory in his rearview mirror, his coursework finished with a semester to spare, the spring college sailing season just ahead, and plans for a unique business opportunity incubating, one that sells high-quality sunglasses lenses directly to customers.
Then, it all changed. “We were at our first team race of the season, at St. Mary’s, when we heard the rest of our winter-quarter classes were going online. At that point, we didn’t really expect it to go past spring break. The next week, things progressed, and everything shut down. It was really a bummer losing the last quarter of sailing and having the end of my senior year slip away.”
Undaunted, he regrouped and moved in the goal posts for his business timeline. The company he had soft-launched in the fall, Tajima Direct, fit perfectly with new government guidelines—it was a completely online, e-commerce ordering platform. All he needed to do was kick it into full gear.
The idea germinated two summers ago, on a drive back down to school. He and his father, Steve Rosenberg, a former leader at Oakley and founder of Kaenon, which he sold four years ago, were discussing the sunglasses industry. “We knew we had a lens technology superior to other lenses out there, and the question was, ‘Why are we restricting that to certain brands?’” Jacob says.
“Growing up, some of my friends liked the Kaenon lens best but really liked their other frames better.” So, the initial idea was to stop thinking of sunglasses as just one package but instead as two main elements—the frame and the lens. The frame is mostly adapting to your lifestyle and what you need. The lens is for functionality: giving you the best view possible, keeping your eyes protected and reducing the glare. So, why not deliver this lens technology directly to consumers, letting them use the frame they want?”
The answers led to the creation of Tajima Direct, a company that allows customers to buy replacement lenses for sunglasses, including prescription lenses, saving the expense and hassle of buying entirely new sunglasses. The lenses are Tajima Urethane polarized lenses that Steve developed through his long time partnership with a family owned Japanese lens maker, which Steve initially worked with to create the technology used while he was preparing to launch and build his brand Kaenon.
Father and son continued to noodle with the idea, and during the school year, Jacob tapped into the business resources at Stanford to fine-tune it. “I really tried to make the most of the resources and professors at Stanford, who know so much, and would give me some of the tools that would help me build the business,” Jacob says. “I’m still getting advice and help from some of the professors there.”
In August 2019, Tajima Direct, named after the Osaka prefecture that was the birthplace of the Japanese optics industry, as well as home of Talex, was launched.
The idea was to keep it low-key until Jacob graduated, but when everything collapsed, it was game on. Suddenly, a company that provided an inexpensive alternative and required no face-to-face interaction became a new-world-order poster child. The timing couldn’t have been better.
“The biggest challenge so far has been how to best and effectively get the word out,” Jacob says. “At first, it was just word of mouth and social media, and all the customers have given us great feedback. So now the biggest challenge is, how do we cast a bigger net?”
What are Jacob’s recommendations for the best lens for sailing—to allow you to easily see contrast on the water, making it easier to detect puffs, and at the same time provide plenty of eye protection? “Two main combos. For really bright conditions, like you encounter when offshore sailing, I recommend a gray tint with a blue mirror. The blue mirror [makes] it a little less true to the actual color, but it provides more contrast.” For lower-light conditions, his go-to lens is a brown tint with green mirror. “The brown tint provides more contrast than the gray tint, and matched with the green mirror, it pushes it to another level.”
Tajima Direct lenses are available in nine colors and five mirror tints, with a flat price of $95 for regular lenses and $295 for prescription lenses. The process is simple: Once you select a lens on the site tajima-direct.com, you’ll receive a postage-paid box to send your frames to the company for lens installation, or they will send the lenses directly to you so you can install them yourself.