Industry Spotlight: Dr. Alan Glazier and ODs on Facebook
Somewhere on the internet right now there are 30,000 people from every corner of the US, all different ages, ideologies, and walks of life, brought together with one interest in common, and one man in common. The conversations range from recommendations for Crystalens vs Toric IOL for a 39 year old male patient in need of cataract surgeryto “name the worst movie you’ve ever seen”. Imagine a medical journal with a comics section at the back. It’s serious and fun and oddly beautiful to see people who may have had no business talking to each other get along…on the internet of all places. Dr. Alan Glazier is the founder of ODs on Facebook, an enormous digital gathering of optical professionals ranging from Optometrists to eyewear designers to lab technicians. We sat down with Dr Glazier recently at Vision West to talk about becoming a thought-leader of the optical industry, why strict rules are important to creating a space on the web conducive to fostering real conversation, and where he sees the independent optical community heading in the future.
I read on your website that your dad was an optometrist - did that spur your career?
Dr. Glazier: I wanted to be a vascular surgeon because I thought there was no higher calling then saving someone’s life every time you went to work. .. I took a year off after undergrad to figure out if it was really what I wanted to do, part of me wanted to get a job because I was tired of sucking wind financially and then when I found out how long it was going to take to make any money being a surgeon, I would have been 35 or 36 and I was 22 at the time, I thought maybe I should consider other options. At the time I was living at home with my folks and I guess you never pay attention to how happy your parents are unless they are mad, right? I happened to notice my father would come home from work so happy every day. My friends parents weren’t like that. I started realizing that if optometry could make me half as happy as my dad, and it is a medical career, then it sounds good. That was that!
After getting into optometry, you ended up partnering with your dad right?
Dr. Glazier: So we didn't exactly partner, he had worked his whole career, 6 days a week for 30 years and when I came out of school I went to work for him 2 days a week. Finally giving him Saturdays off. I hustled, working retail, then started my own practice in an ophthalmologist’s practice. He was in surgery 2 days a week and his office was open and fully staffed without anybody seeing patients, so I went to him and I said “look in that little room over there I’ll open an optical if you give me medical license to treat your patients and those two days I’ll bring in revenue and we’ll split that revenue 50/50” he was really excited about it until I started killing it and then he started wanting it to be 60/40. I said goodbye. Most of the patients who were with me followed. That is when I began working at my dad’s practice full time, which was sometime in 1995. Then, just a couple months later, my dad unexpectedly passed away. I was able to buy the practice from my father’s estate, and that practice was the beginnings of our current practice today.
Before ODS on Facebook you were writing a lot about SEO and digital marketing and you also have multiple patents on vision technology. You obviously have a lot of side projects outside of optometry, how are you able to juggle that?
Dr. Glazier: I guess its maddening to some people, but if I do not having something going on every second of the day then I start to, you know, think about things…and I don't like to think about things. I’ve had a lot of different entrepreneurial projects throughout the years, some of them have been great and others have failed and each one is a learning opportunity. I have followed this path to end up doing something that is fun and brings me a lot of personal enjoyment and value. The ODs on FB project was the one thing that I didn't plan on.
Can you tell us how that started?
Dr. Glazier: In the late 90s - moving forward up until social media - there were doctor forums online, like old list serve type of things, where doctors got to share ideas. I was an active participant. But it was a very frustrating experience because there were no guidelines. People would frequently use the disguise of the internet to act in ways they would never act to your face and I’m not about that. I want to share and receive great info and have a little fun, but not at anyone’s expense. Getting into an argument with someone you’ve never met is just not me and it’s a waste of time. So in 2006/7 I steered away from those forums and I started seeing people in our industry billing themselves as “social media gurus”, and I was listening to all of these people thinking, “this is really bad advice”. So I decided that I really wanted to establish myself as a thought leader in that space, in order to steer other practices and my colleagues in the right direction. I decided I would never take a dime for consulting doctors and that I would teach people from my experience and knowledge about using the internet to drive new business. So out of those two things, wanting a great place to share and wanting a place to steer people in the right direction, came the Facebook group.
It was originally sort of a back of a napkin idea to haveguidelines and enforce them. The concept I'm most proud of is that all the other forums were doctor to doctor only, they didn't let anyone else in. I would watch ODscomplain about problems in our industry, and they would go around and around and nothing would get done because it was OD to OD. I thought, “why are people not making much progress when there are 10k doctors in this community” and I came up with the idea that the online forum has to mirror your real life. In my practice I have 4 docs, 3 docs on at any one time, but in the office we smile at one another in the hallway or sometimes have lunch but I'm not with them during the day. I am engaging with my opticians, my office manager, my reps much more. If they could have an ear to the ground in an OD conversation that conversation would be able to actually influence the industry and change things. So I made it the first community to invite everyone who is an eye care professional.
How many people are active?
Dr. Glazier: Every day we have between 4 and 6 thousand people active, depending on the day. and there are 32,500 in the group.
We are members even though we aren't optometrists and like you said it been extremely helpful for us because there are conversations happening in an industry we are a part of that we would have never seen otherwise.
Dr. Glazier: That was my goal.
This group honestly inspired us to change up our model in a way that would support optometrists and the whole industry rather than just creating another beautiful eyewear brand.
Dr. Glazier: Thats very meaningful to me because I wanted to influence the whole industry in a positive direction for the profession of Optometry.
Right, and now we are able to see what the pain points in the industry are in a way we would have never been able to before.
One thing we’ve noticed is that political discussions creep in from time to time, and I know thats against the guidelines. How have you worked to moderate those interactions.
Dr. Glazier: What I've done subtly in the group over the years is build a sense of community, I want people to feel a sense of ownership of this community and feel it’stheir place, not just mine. You’ll never hear me refer to it as a group, always a community. And in doing that it very much self-polices. I don't have to look at it all the time and if something is happening a member will private message me because they care. And that means a lot to me too. I also have an executive admin who watches the group. We always want to be professional. If someone violates the guidelines, they may not have known the rules, so I will first private message them to let them know the guidelines. I give them one more chance. If someone posts something racist or discriminatory, there are no second chances. That’s BS and I have no tolerance for discrimination whatsoever.
You’ve created and fostered something really special - people talking with each other rather than at each other which is often the case in other online forums or comment sections. It feels much more like a discussion, questions being asked of peers. Do you think this is now the go-to online community for ODS?
Dr. Glazier: There are a lot of great specialty communities online, so there are go-tos for people who are passionate about a certain topic. But I think ODs on Facebook is a general forum for people looking for fun, camaraderie, and news in the industry. So I wouldn't say we are the go-to, but I would say we are the granddaddy. The hot granddaddy.
What are your hopes and dreams for ODs on Facebook - where do you see it going and evolving.
Dr. Glazier: Its never been about the number of members. I started with 40 thought leaders and I thought it would stay around 100 people. It has always been about the quality of the conversation, which why I put those guidelines in place. So I'm happy if I'm able to stay the path, people respect the guidelines, the conversation is rich and influences the industry. I’m always trying to think about what will bring value to the community, and about 4 months ago we spun off our website, which is called ODsonFB.com. The idea for the site being that you might see a topic that really strikes you on ODs on Facebook and it has a bunch of great insights from other professionals, that information is very valuable. But then the post sinks further down the feed and eventually is gone from sight even though it still exists. So unless you know exactly what to search for you won’t find it. What I wanted to do is find a way to redirect people to the greatest threads ever .That was the initial idea. It is content curation, not a social media forum. It allows those discussions to live on. Plus I wanted to find people in the community who had an interesting angle on stuff and maybe were a little younger and might bring something new, so there is also an element of creating new content there as well.
A digital magazine version of ODs on FB. Very cool.
The big question: where do you see the industry going in the next 10-20 years. In my mind there is a bright future and then there is a dystopian future, it just depends on which side wins out.
Dr. Glazier: There are some obvious things happening in the industry. There is a big effort to consolidate practices into verticals by investment bankers. They see the industry as a great place to do what they do, so that will change the face of things. On one hand I think it’s going to be scary for people to think about getting involved with private equity when they can or get the best deal they can and give up some of their ownership. And as things go towards that model people may feel that they have to participate. It may give people an opportunity for an exit that they want rather than what they have to take. It is common for a lower-end retail chain to be the only option as an exit when you are ready for that, and then that doctor’s legacy is gone. So I'm looking into getting involved with a company that is buying practices, but they aren't changing the name, they aren't making you go into a strip mall, and they are focusing on high-quality medical optometry. And what they are going to do with that is give doctors the opportunity to really have a legacy exit, and remain as part of the company. So I think you will see creative little verticals pop up that will help save the independent, but it will be a different definition of independent.
We are concerned with frame and contact selling online. We want to pull Warby Parker customers back to independent optical. How can you see the industry combating against online refraction and direct to customer contact and frame selling.
Dr. Glazier: You can only compete on service. Exceeding people’s expectations. I’m a huge promoter of marketing and I think the most important thing you can do is sit down and figure out how to reach and retain independent loyalists, because they are out there. I’ll tell you a story: In 2003, I think, the first MyEyeDr opened up within walking distance to my office. The founder is a brilliant guy, a global thinker, and what he does is amazing - a proven success. I was younger and more naive and I was scared to death of how his chain would impact my practice. His model was to buy existing ODs out and move them into a retail location and build his chain. I thought this would significantly impact my business in a negative way. But what happened was really interesting. He created a vacuum of independents. Everyone was selling to him and disappearing around me, so I was one of the few choices around for independent loyalists, and I grew dramatically as a result. What I learned from that is sometimes these disruptions can do things you wouldn't predict would help you, and you can work to focus on the things that will make you stand out to the people who don't want the alternative. Some people will never want to go to Warby Parker or online, and you have to be ready for them.