eyebobs founder is constantly redefining success
We spent our first minutes with some formalities and before long, we were laughing in the throw-your-head-back-roaring way, punctuated by eyebobs Founder and President Julie Allinson’s unmistakable cackle. Julie’s signature style and sense of humor are the cornerstones of eyebobs, an eyeglasses company that caters to the “irreverent and slightly jaded,” which embodies Julie’s approach to life. She and her husband Paul founded the company in 2001 and they’ve nurtured it through growth, popularity and partial sale to private equity investors. Now that she is no longer CEO, Julie is learning to let go while imagining a bigger vision for eyebobs (pun intended). When asked to name her favorite business book, Julie recommends Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big by Bo Burlingham. The title also describes Julie’s leadership style, and she is now focused on maintaining that greatness while also growing into something big.
Dumb enough to do it
Julie says the greatest lesson she’s learned in business is simply “you can do it.” Growing up on a small farm in Iowa gave Julie the opportunity to do many things and provided her with a confidence she never questioned, which led to success as an entrepreneur. “There were 52 students in my class,” remembers Julie. “Hell, why not be the homecoming queen? Growing up that way, you don’t think those things aren’t possible.” Julie’s mom reinforced this mentality, instilling in Julie a glass-half-full sense of optimism. “Anyone can be an entrepreneur,” Julie says, “but I think it is fear that holds people back. You just have to be dumb enough to do it and not know or ignore the possibility that you can fail.”
This belief in herself, and a need for stylish reading glasses, were the catalyst for Julie to start eyebobs. During the early stages of her business, Julie focused on creating a wonderful place to work and profitability; she wasn’t trying to grow a huge company. “I grew up on a farm and always missed being with my friends. What is more isolating than being on a farm?” she asks. “I think some of that is coming back now through eyebobs. I created the small town that I always wanted.” Julie values this small community immensely, and takes great pride and responsibility in giving her employees a paycheck and career. Julie attributes the growth of eyebobs to her staff, saying “I would be there on Sunday and somebody was always working. If I asked, ‘Can you stay late tonight?’ never would they say no.” She’s created community throughout the culture she describes as “two heads are better than one.”
Following is harder than leading
As eyebobs matured, Julie and Paul began to explore options for sale. The process took over a year, but they never wavered on selling. “By the time you have reached out to an investment banker, you’ve mentally already decided to let go of some of it,” shares Julie. What Julie didn’t expect was how fun the process would be. “It was really exciting because we were learning something new every day. When you’re putting the pitch together, all you’re doing is talking about your company over and over again. In hindsight it’s really quite glorious.”
Post-sale, Julie is getting used to new ownership and a new CEO — one who isn’t her. “I suffer from founder-ism,” admits Julie. “I’m still in a bootstrapping mindset. Counting every rubber band, every paper clip — it was all reused or recycled, and that’s not a bad thing. But I ended up running the business to be sure we would stay in business and be profitable, not for opportunity or growth.” Julie is enjoying watching the new leadership run the company for growth and opportunity as well as learning new ways to think about the business. Julie does admit that “following is harder than leading.” She no longer thinks of eyebobs as her baby —“That baby is a teenager!” — and Julie is working on letting go. What’s proving most challenging is learning to let go of the eyebobs brand, because it’s such an extension of her “irreverent and slightly jaded” personality. She does trust, however, that her staff and the customers themselves will keep the brand alive, and looks forward to expanding eyebobs to even more “independent thinkers and smart-alecks.”
Where is there?
Many people would say selling one’s company is the definition of success, but Julie disagrees. Her definition of success? “The bar keeps moving. It’s unbelievable to me. I used to think, “It’s the first hundred orders. No it’s the first year. No, it’s when I hire my first employee. It’s when I sell. No. You just keep redefining what success is.” While others may believe this leads to a feeling of never “arriving” or “getting there,” Julie poses a wonderful question: “Where is there?” She then follows up with another quip, “When it’s enough, we’ll be at the funeral home.” Although she is still focused on growth at eyebobs, Julie does look forward to spending time in the home she and Paul just purchased in Stockholm, Wis. They have many friends in the area and “are going to be big into junking again.” According to Julie, “This is time really well spent together.”
Since the inception of eyebobs, Julie Allinson continues to raise the bar. When founding the company she focused on growing eyebobs to be both profitable and culturally connected. Now that she’s part of a new leadership team with a bigger vision for the future, Julie is learning to let go, follow and run the business for growth and opportunity. Her role is changing as the company changes, but that doesn’t worry her. Julie draws on the confidence and “you can do it” attitude she learned growing up, to continue evolving and embracing her place in the not-so-small community called eyebobs. As for what’s next, Julie answers in her typical fashion. “Besides the nice home in Wisconsin? I’ll let you know when I get there.”
More about Julie
What is your greatest asset? “My fear of failure and my impatience.”
Who inspires you? “My best friend Tim Foster. He has a wonderful sense of humor, he’s creative, he’s dependable, hardworking and just such a great friend to so many people.”
What inspires you? “Traveling with my design partner Jason Engelman. The food, the shopping, the local habits, the scenery — everything all the locals take for granted.”
Product you love: “Porto clothing because I never have to iron it. If you really want to get down to it, I’m happy I have a washer and dryer because I really don’t want to go down to the river and slop my laundry against the rocks.”
Is there balance? “No. One word answer. Well, two words: Hell no.”
Advice to your 20-year-old self: “Don’t marry him. Start your own business. Invest in Berkshire Hathaway.”
Advice to women in business: “You’re a businessperson, not a businesswoman. Don’t look for the biases, because you’ll find them. It’s just a distraction from the business at hand.”
Favorite part of eyebobs: “Working with my husband, Paul. To have both of us committed to the success of eyebobs has been so much fun. It wouldn’t be the same without him!”
Sue Hawkes, CEO of YESS!, is a Certified EOS Implementer, Certified Business Coach, WPO Chapter Chair, bestselling author and award-winning entrepreneur. She has been helping entrepreneurs and leadership teams succeed for the past 20+ years.