The curse of eyeglasses includes wrestling with tiny screws the size of ghost ants when a hinge snaps or a lens falls out, often at the worst time and place.
Cheap repair kits with lilliputian screwdrivers and magnifying glass are sold widely, but often only further frustrate the sight-impaired.
Inspired by her mother jury-rigging an emergency fix with an earring, first-time inventor Nancy Tedeschi stepped up with a solution that removes much of the mind-numbing hassle of amateur eyeglass repair.
She improved a tapered screw design dramatically enough to win her own patent. She has sold 4 million screws to opticians in two years, and 500,000 of her SnapIt repair kits to consumers since June. The SnapIts sell in many Walgreens and Ace Hardware stores at $3.98 or more, a buck more than rival repair kits with old screws.
It's an alternative career for an entrepreneur eager to segue from investing in real estate in upstate New York, where she lost $1 million in equity and $3 million in market value in the crash.
SnapIt, which cost Tedeschi $250,000 to get this far, is surprisingly simple: a 3 millimeter stainless steel optical screw built with a three-quarter inch snap-off extension. The extension lines up the screw with the frame or hinge clasps. A twist sets the screw in the groove, ready for screwdriver tightening. The extension snaps off by hand.
"I have zero mechanical ability but get obsessed figuring out a better way to do something that's hard," said the 55-year-old Tedeschi, who winters in Sand Key. "Inventing SnapIt was far easier than getting it to market. I made every mistake in the book."
Two months after trademarking a name, a company with a similar name sued her. So she changed it from iBob to Eyeego LLC.
Winning a patent took three years. She also forked out $100,000 up front to unfamiliar Chinese manufacturers, who agreed to make her screws for a sixth of what any U.S. supplier quoted, then fretted and badgered them until the shipment arrived. She paid infomercial producers to get her product launched but ended up filming her own spots (starring her mother) and spending $50,000 to air them on cable TV when the pros didn't perform fast enough.
"I cold-called hundreds of retail buying departments that never called back," she said. "I was so frustrated I got physically sick, but my strongest trait is perseverance."
The daughter of a college professor, Tedeschi didn't use her biochemistry degree to go to medical school. Instead, she helped produce shows for NFL Films and the 1988 Seoul Olympics, ran a mortgage brokerage and owned a title company.
In 1998, she appeared on Good Morning America after raising $20,000 for charity by auctioning off most of her Beanie Babies collection.
"It was a Christmas present to my son, Michael, who told me my hoarding Beanie Babies had gotten way out of control," Tedeschi said. "GMA even had on a psychiatrist to explain obsessions. I stopped collecting, but still have thousands left."
For SnapIt, she began each task with Google research and found most contacts at trade shows.
"For people who wear glasses, SnapIt's a 'don't leave home without one' product," said Michael Sommer, a Jacksonville gadget guru on radio and TV. "I have even threaded my glasses back together with a hotel sewing kit."
As for Tedeschi, she's looking for more uses for "my screw" before working up the product her mother first suggested.
"She kept that beaded earring holding her glasses together for a full year, because people kept complimenting her on how fashionable it looked," Tedeschi said. "So I'll develop personalized charms for eyeglasses."
Mark Albright can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8252.