Following your passion will take you places but expertise will help you put down roots establishing yourself in your target market. Lead experts Rafael Clérigo and Luis Lopes, a power duo from Portugal, have joined forces and talent to devise and build CLAIRE. An AI solution that meets the clients’ needs and vision. Currently looking at a €100K investment led by Think Bigger Capital, CLAIRE has been rocketed by the Demium Team who extended to these two entrepreneurs every assistance needed to scale and pivot.
Q: Tell us about CLAIRE
Luis: Both Raphael and myself have experience in the sector. I’m a partner in a contact lens distribution company here in Portugal. Raphael was the head of the technical support department of a contact lens manufacturer based in Madrid.
Rafael: The CLAIRE idea was born because of the difficulties that I was facing when I was dealing with my team. We were wasting a lot of time in contact lens support. From Luis’ side, being a contact lens distributor, implies that his customers sometimes did not want specialty lenses prescribed to them because it was time-consuming; besides, for Luis’ team, increasing sales in this context was truly challenging. You could say that we have both experienced the pains we are trying to solve with our solution.
Luis: CLAIRE is an Artificial Intelligence platform hosting top clinical eyecare apps to help professionals find the contact lenses that match the prescription and suit the patients’ needs. Our platform works with contact lens brands featuring their apps and making their services available to our clients. Our solution targets two main issues: On the one hand, the fact that Eye Care Professionals can spend up to one hour fitting each lens and contacting the manufacturer technical support. And on the other hand, 50% of prescribed contact lenses must be remade due to wrong settings and specifications. Adding to that, contact lenses manufacturers usually have to deal with excessively high costs related to technical support.
What we do is to aggregate all contact lenses search tools, calculators and virtual assistants into a standardized solution so that eyecare professionals can increase productivity and number of patients; for their part, contact lens manufacturers increase profitability by using less technical support resources and by selling more expensive lenses, as patients have better compliance with the product, without needing to change their lens brand time and again.
Q: What are the key milestones that led you to close your first financing round?
Luis: Raphael has already developed our MVP, which we have been testing in Portugal for two years now. We managed to decrease by 60% the lens exchange ratio and we got great satisfaction from our customers testing the MVP. Because of this, Rafael concluded it’s best to build more applications.
After the tests, we contacted Demium and asked for their support in expanding our startup and achieving our milestones. We wanted to look for funding in order to increase our app portfolio. We started conversations with Demium in June 2020 and thanks to their help we closed the financing round in January 2021. We went through a long process to have all the documentation needed to close our pre-seed financing round with Think Bigger Capital, Demium’s partner fund.
Q: How does it feel to raise money for the first time?
Luis: From my point of view, there’s a bittersweet feeling about it. For one thing, it’s a good feeling and a great accomplishment. It has brought great satisfaction and motivated us to continue developing our project. Still, it entails a lot of responsibility because it’s about getting investors to trust and fund our project. It hasn’t been easy to explain our idea to them because it’s a really technical product. It’s been a real challenge; one we chose to accept and meet boldly.
Rafael: It’s seriously rewarding to accomplish what we did. It all started with an excel spreadsheet and a peculiar guy like me working on something like that. I was not really sure about what I would wind up with. Raising this first round shows that the idea is solid and somebody else apart from the team believes in the project. With Demium we have been able to work in a very very technical issue and turn it into a verified business model. We have learned to transmit our mission and vision and that’s what led us where we are right now. Having raised the money brings us great satisfaction but I would say the ability Demium has given to us to do this storytelling is an even greater skill, being CLAIRE a very complex project to understand.
Q: What will you use the funds for?
Luis: We are using the funds in the areas that we have less experience in. We have hired an IT consultant company to work together with our web developer. Also, we have invested in digital marketing. We are focusing our efforts and knowledge on the development of the product and the business itself.
Q: How has Demium helped you in raising money?
Rafael: They have helped us a lot. It’s hard to mention only one thing. It is thanks to them our project took flight. Before Demium we had an idea and a lot of experience in the market. But even though Luis had previous experience in the business management field, creating a startup is a totally different story. Being in the startup world, building relationships with investors is not something easy to do on your own. I was surprised how important storytelling can be. You may know what you want to do and accomplish but you’re still far from transforming that into something meaningful. Demium helped us by a long shot to become readily understood, structure our project and delineate our selling strengths. Cashflow, forecasting, financial predictions – we learned all that with Demium.
Luis: When we first spoke with Demium we already had a pitch but it was not good at all. It was very technical and difficult to understand for somebody who was not familiar with the eye care sector. Our approach was definitely not suiting the startup world. We have standard experience in conventional pharmaceutical and eyecare industries. Demium helped us shape our project into a startup, forging a newborn business in so many different aspects. The mentorship and financial sessions we attended were helpful and gave us the insight we lacked as we clearly had little to no experience in the field.
Q: What would be your advice for somebody raising funds for the first time?
Luis: I would tell them to keep things simple and appealing for investors and the market. To transmit your story in a very simple way for projects that can be very technical and complex to understand is a challenge. Try to understand the startup world and the investors, and try to adapt to both. Make your story as straightforward and meaningful as possible.
Rafael: To put it simply: Try not to get too tangled up in your project because you’ll lose objectiveness. A friend of mine contacted me a month ago to let me know he was looking to start his own business. He asked me if Demium would be the place to go. I had zero doubts in respect. I told him that every single entrepreneur should have somebody asking the right questions, doubting the project and raising issues only to make you realize that you don’t have everything under control. In this sense, Demium will always come highly recommended.