Roger Hardy is the founder and CEO of Coastal Contacts Inc, the world’s largest online retailer of contact lenses and eyeglasses. While working for a contact lens manufacturer, he became aware of the optical store mark-ups on contact lenses and eyeglasses and recognized an opportunity to serve customers better. As a result he founded Coastal Contacts Inc. in 2000. Roger has been honored with many awards over his years as Coastal Contacts’ leader, including Business in Vancouver’s Top Forty Under Forty in 2002, and The Pacific Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award (Business-to-Consumer) in 2006.
Sramana: Roger, let’s go back to the beginning of your story. Where are you from?
Roger Hardy I grew up in a small town outside of Ottawa, Canada. It was a small commuting community. I was fortunate to have been exposed to Terry Matthews, a great entrepreneur, at a very young age. He started a company called Mitel, which grew quickly and changed the landscape and lives of the community I lived in.
Sramana: How did you get exposed to Terry?
Roger Hardy I grew up playing on the same soccer team as his son. We were family friends. It was an interesting way to get exposed to the impact entrepreneurs have on a community. Our town had 2,000 people before Mitel was there, and today there are close to 100,000 residents there.
Sramana: Is that because of the jobs Mitel has created?
Roger Hardy It is because of the jobs that Terry created via Mitel and another company he created called Newbridge Networks. Both were very successful. The number of other tech companies and spin-offs that those companies created was significant. It remains impressive today.
Sramana: Was he a significant role model growing up?
Roger Hardy He was a real inspiration and a wonderful guy for a lot of us kids growing up there. He was at soccer practice pushing us to be better.
Sramana: Did he ever talk to you personally about his entrepreneurial work?
Roger Hardy I had a number of informal conversations with him over the years. He is a business builder. He has shared many stories with me. I don’t think that he considers himself an entrepreneur today because his businesses have become an empire.
Sramana: What was the result of that influence? What did you do after high school?
Roger Hardy When I was 13, I had a bike with an ice cream freezer on it. I would peddle around town and sell ice cream. I worked hard that summer and maybe broke even because I ate all my profits! That was my first exposure to entrepreneurial ventures. After that I went to Bishops for my college years. While there, I had the inspiration to sell t-shirts to my fellow students. I sold them primarily around school activities. That ended up being fairly successful and funding my social activities. That again gave me the taste of entrepreneurship. It was a lot of fun, and it was a good profitable venture.