With the coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic spreading across the United States and thousands of US healthcare workers committed to fighting the disease, entrepreneurs are also stepping up to the plate, creating solutions aimed at providing medical personnel in the trenches with critical assistance.
In New York City, where the pandemic has established its US epicenter, the Danish-founded swimming goggle company TheMagic5 is doing just that: transforming its swimming goggles into much-needed protective gear for workers on the front lines.
Denmark In New York caught up with Rasmus Barfred, cofounder of TheMagic5, via email to discuss the story behind his company’s latest effort to make a positive difference amid the global coronavirus crisis and the GoFundMe campaign he hopes will rally support for his initiative.
Denmark In New York: Hi Rasmus, thank you for participating in this interview. Tell us a little bit about yourself and the story behind Magic5.
Rasmus Barfred: My wife and I moved to New York City two and a half years ago and we now have a one-year-old child, Elisa. We have settled in well, love the city’s vibe and the amazing people as well as the endless opportunities and ambitions the city offers.
I launched my first start-up 12 years ago and, in 2017, along with my two cofounders, we embarked on the journey that is TheMagic5. And it’s still going strong! We are all heavily involved in sports. Two of us are triathletes and our other cofounder, Niklas Hedegaard, is a professional swimmer who competed at the European Championship level and has spent a fair share of his life in the pool.
A few years ago we were complaining to each other about our own swimming goggles and decided to do something about it. We quickly realized that we would need to develop some new technologies in order to achieve our goal — the creation of a product that was custom-made to fit the exact curvature of the user’s eye socket while also keeping the product at an accessible price point level. As a result TheMagic5 now produced the world’s first (and only) custom-fit swimming goggles. The goggles are customized so that they create a more comfortable fit and a better seal compared to the normal “one size fits all” goggles that are widely available on the market.
We spent the first year developing the scanning, fitting and production technology we needed to be able to create the product the way we wanted and, as soon as we saw that we could succeed in that, we launched a Kickstarter Campaign to get an initial boost. The Kickstarter was a success and we ended up being one of the top 1% biggest campaigns ever! So, the day the Kickstarter ended my wife and I moved to NYC.
After the move, we built our production facility in Charlotte, North Carolina and began fulfilling the orders from the Kickstarter campaign. Since then, the focus has been on growing the business day by day. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, our monthly growth-rate was at 20%. As of today, we have customers in more than 100 countries worldwide, customers in all states of the US and we are currently working with Olympic athletes in both swimming and triathlon.
What compelled you to launch this initiative for healthcare workers during the COVID-19 crisis?
RB: I read an article that my mom sent me explaining how the Region of Southern Denmark had started sourcing swimming goggles as alternative PPE [personal protective equipment]. I gave it a quick thought and my initial idea was that our goggles, being custom-fit, would ultimately be much more comfortable for the healthcare workers than normal one-size-fits-all goggles.
To make sure this was not just theory, we started out by sending 50 goggles to health care workers where we took on all costs. And based on that, we decided to evaluate whether the response from the frontline workers was positive or not. The feedback was great! Therefore, we decided to ramp up production and allocate all our most appropriate stock towards supplying healthcare workers. For obvious reasons, the goggles we have with the lightest glass, or dark glass and mirror options are not the most viable for this specific need.
What reactions have you received from healthcare workers?
RB: The feedback has been really good. We’ve heard from medical personnel that the goggles are comfortable and secure when working in the field. They are a great alternative to the typical safety goggles that apply pressure and leave marks on the face. Because the seal is custom made, it provides protection for the eyes so no particulate matter gets through. The best part is that the wearers don’t have to worry about fogging or clouded vision while treating patients. While swimming goggles may not have been designed to isolate the eyes from a virus, they are effective.
Since we have launched our current fundraiser, we have shipped hundreds of goggles to healthcare workers and at the current rate of demand we are exceeding our funding level. It would be terrible to say that we can’t help the healthcare workers as we need additional funding!
On the demand side we have been approached by nurses, doctors, paramedics, and hospitals and demand is coming in from a lot of different states on both coasts.
What has been the main challenge in setting up this initiative?
RB: The two main challenges have been tied to facilitation and funding. We were surprised that there is no real centralized healthcare authority that we could reach out to. As the healthcare system is not centralized no such thing really exists. Therefore, we decided to go for the bottom-up approach, driving awareness at ground level and through our own networks. That’s obviously a hard and very time-consuming thing to do. Luckily, we have been covered by some media, including the New York Times. But we need more help to spread the message and receive more funding through our GoFundMe fundraiser.
What is your best advice to other entrepreneurs who want to contribute in the effort against COVID-19?
RB: Find out what you can do realistically and make sure that you don’t do it as a PR stunt. I think PR stunts can — and should — backfire big time. Right now, entrepreneurs are struggling to stay afloat while the crisis lasts and make sure that they have enough cash to survive. For your community, the best thing you can do is keep your company alive to make sure that you maintain jobs. I therefore honestly don’t think that entrepreneurs should focus on helping right now, that responsibility lies with bigger corporations and private individuals with deep pockets.
If you are one of the start-ups that clearly has something of value to contribute in this crisis, then mobilize what you can, engage your existing customer-base and be honest and what you can contribute with and at what cost.
For our part, we have been transparent from the start: we can’t afford to make a full donation of our product. That would deplete some of our stock and leave us without the cash to rebuild it, putting our business in a vulnerable position on the other side of the crisis. That way, if we can continue to fund our efforts, we’ll be able to cover our costs and we can continue to help healthcare workers in need.
Sofus Goldschmidt Pedersen is the Politics, Culture and Public Diplomacy intern at Denmark In New York.