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The Founder of a Booming Eyewear Retailer Reveals His Best Business Advice: Find a Mentor

Tom Broughton admits he was “very naïve” when he started his eyewear company, Cubitts. He didn’t do much research and only organized one focus group.

Instead, he built the business in his spare time while working as a freelance consultant, pooling his money, and developing Cubitts alongside a partner.

He had spent five years as a full-time consultant, and despite having no experience in the eyewear industry, Cubitts was inspired by Broughton’s battle to find a pair he liked.

“I felt like most opticians were for people who didn’t want to wear glasses,” Broughton told Insider. “My feeling was that I wanted to have an eyewear company that was unapologetically an eyewear company.”

However, his trading partner gave up and his reserves began to dwindle. Buying out his former partner for about $65,000 ($80,000) and starting the business “completely rid me financially,” Broughton said.

He also couldn’t give up consulting because “the company couldn’t afford to pay me.”

Juggling two jobs was pretty awful, Broughton said: “All I did was work. There’s always more you can do. It took a good few years to get by.”

He eventually quit consulting after the first investor injected 100,000 ($124,000) into Cubitts in July 2014, two years after the company was incorporated in October 2012. The money helped fund the first store and has allowed Broughton to collect a salary.

Once Cubitts launched, the goal was simply to survive. “It was very, very difficult to be honest that first year. We came close to going bankrupt a couple of times,” he said.

Broughton has one top piece of advice for founders struggling with the pressure of making big decisions: find a mentor.

“When you’re alone, you feel very, very alone. You just make these decisions in isolation — you don’t know if you’re making the right one,” he recalls.

Broughton’s mentor was Nick Wheeler, the founder of men’s shirt retailer Charles Tyrwhitt, which has around 25 stores in the UK as well as stores in the US and Paris. Other mentors included Cubitts investors Gary Clarke and Jonathan Heilbron.

Having a mentor “gives you an escape and a sense of perspective,” Broughton said.

Cubitts has grown steadily and now has 13 stores and approximately 120 employees, selling some 7,000 pairs of glasses per month. Clients have included Madonna, Stanley Tucci, Emma Thompson and Idris Elba, Broughton said.

Broughton said the pandemic was terrible for the company, given that 80% of sales had been made in its stores, but more and more people are now willing to buy glasses online.

Cubitts reported sales of $4.6 million ($5.7 million) for the year to April 2021, which rose to $9.7 million ($12.1 million) for next 12 months.

Broughton is still struggling with the demands of running the business, but he is gradually learning to let go.

“I’m not even trying to control my work-life balance,” he told Insider. “But what I would say now is that my relationship was much healthier than it was in the past… now I can have a life.”