Monday, February 18, 2008

2005-2008: DryEyeTalk (then... and now)


DryEyeTalk was launched on February 19, 2005 as an online support group of sorts with a handful of LASIK dry eye patients migrating from D'Eyealogues, the forum I'd started on years ago.

It took quite awhile to get some momentum going. Making your site visible on the internet without a marketing budget is not exactly a slam dunk. Really it's just all about patience, waiting for traffic to build up so that the site is 'self-sustaining'.


Every time I turn around we seem to hit a new milestone. Here are a few interesting facts about DryEyeTalk:


24,212 as of 5 minutes ago.
That's about the same quantity as the "Eye & Vision" section on the famous Healthboards, which is more than twice as old as DEZ, so I'd say we're doing pretty well for such a specialized topic on a standalone website.

We may have started with LASIK, but LASIK is in the minority amongst the myriad of causes indicated by members in their profiles. Here are some of the causes named:
- Eyelid surgeries
- Menopause & other hormonal causes
- Aging
- Contact lenses
- Autoimmune diseases (Sjogrens, RA, lupus)
- Radiation, chemotherapy and other cancer related treatments
- Blepharitis
- Side effects from medications

Like many forums... the community has seen several 'generations' pass through over the years. I suppose it's a bit like attending "dry eye school" and eventually graduating and moving on. But there have been some noteworthy trends - if indeed it is possible to identify trends in as short a period as three years. One example is a combination of age and imputed cause. Of course, the 40+ crowd was, is and will remain the majority but it's impossible not to notice how many young people have joined the ranks. In the early days, it was very unusual to get a young member (say, in their twenties) with dry eye from anything but LASIK. Now it seems we get more every day. They typically have moderate to severe MGD and in many cases can point to a 'trigger' that set them into a severely dry cycle almost overnight. Kind of worrying, and one of the reasons I want to see more epidemiological studies as I think this new dry eye demographic is flying right under the radar.

Forums always evolve over the years and when they are run by someone with a penchant for re-arranging the furniture, they evolve even more... Once we had built up a biggish archive, I started sorting and filing posts by topic to make browsing easier. I love bulletin boards, but a big drawback is trying to find what you're looking for... it's THERE but it's a needle in a haystack! The "filing system" makes this much more efficient, though it's awfully time-consuming.

Another advancement in the forums is Q&A forums. Dr. Robert Latkany (author of "The Dry Eye Remedy" has been with us for just over a year now, answering patients' questions. DrG did a stint fielding contact lens questions, and we're now starting to get interest from other optometrists as well including Dr. Lange on nutrition and dry eye and Dr. Bazan who is taking general questions. And Frank Holly, PhD has recently joined and is giving us some absolutely fascinating background information on the physiology of the tear film. I've also recently opened up a forum where doctors and industry people can participate and interact with patients without being in a moderated Q&A format.

Then there are various special little forums, from "plug a doc" where people can seek or offer doctor recommendations, to the new Dry Eye Triumphs forum where we try to encourage each other with positive progress reports.

All in all, we've come a long way, thanks to all our wonderful members and the contributions they have been making over the years.

2005-2008: DryEyeShop (then... and now)

The Dry Eye Zone is celebrating its 3-year anniversary this week! Seems like a short time, but an awful lot has happened, so I thought I would take a little time to reflect on some of the changes over these last three years.


The Dry Eye Shop was somewhere between false labor and the real thing back in February of 2005.... And it was all about Dr. Holly's Drops.

The original purpose for The Dry Eye Shop was simply as a way for people to buy Dr. Holly's Drops once again the way they were intended - as a commercially produced, over-the-counter product. Only, of necessity, this time they would at least initially be sold over the VIRTUAL counter. For the whole history of how I got involved with those drops, click here. Suffice to say, taking those drops and re-launching them on a commercial basis was quite a project.

In February 2005... the manufacturer was working on the first production run. I was running around like crazy trying to take care of a thousand things from designing labelling to checking out ecommerce software packages to planning booths at medical meetings. As a total newcomer to this type of business and with little but willpower and wits to help me, it was what I'd call an 'interesting' time.


I'm happy to report that Dr. Holly's Drops are still alive and well despite many challenges and setbacks along the way - and possibly a few yet to come - but I'm doing my darnedst to keep those invaluable tools on the market long-term.

But the Dry Eye Shop is thriving and headed in directions I never conceived of three years ago.

We're nearing 100 products and covering many types of consumer and optical categories including:

- Lid hygiene products
- Night moisture goggles, sleep masks, and tapes to seal the lids shut
- "Moisture chamber" eyewear for daytime
- Warm compresses, cool compresses
- Omega 3 EFA supplements
- Books
- Supplies for Boston Scleral lens users

But what is so unique about The Dry Eye Shop is the concept. I think it can probably best be described as a sort of "personal shopper" for dry eye patients. I keep my eyes open for anything and everything that could help dry eye patients, from mainstream products like Tranquileyes that have proven valuable to so many types of patients to obscure items like a pink hairstyling tape that just so happens to work very nicely for taping lids shut without ripping off your eyelashes. A great deal of the products you see in the Shop are things that our community members at DryEyeTalk have mentioned now and then, or that people calling in have told me about. So it's a real community effort. And this is vital because no two dry eye patients are alike!

So, just as important as the products themselves is the collection of information about who they are useful for and how to use them. When I first started the shop, I at least attempted to use something akin to the usual somewhat generic descriptions on the items we stock. This gradually evolved into a more personalized description over the years and the response to that was so positive that now that's the approach I take with almost all products: What was it like for me to use? What do I like best about it? What do I DISlike (honestly) about it? What are its strengths and limitations? What kind of people are most likely to benefit - and for those that it might not suit, what other options do they have?

Another major change I've gone through over the years with the Shop is how I've related to "The Shop" vs. "The Zone".

When I first got started, I wanted to make sure DryEyeZone was an information center - PERIOD - and in no danger of being considered an infomercial for Dr. Holly's drops. In retrospect, this was part backlash against manufacturer websites (I always thought it was an interesting coincidence that Allergan's "Chronic dry eye" website was launched within a few months of The Dry Eye Zone) and part paranoia: Would people really be willing to believe that my passion is for helping, not selling?

I can think of three distinct things that have changed my attitude about this over the years.

One, the sad reality that I need to sell stuff to keep the company and the websites going. I think observers could probably get a good chuckle over how the product links on DEZ' home page... once relegated to the bottom... have gradually crept higher.

Two, something I've been very slow to both realize and embrace: People really WANT "stuff" and tucking away in a corner is not doing them any favors. Goop and gear... these are so often the things that can improve quality of life for us. Why be shy about it?

Three, I suppose I've just gained confidence that people can figure out for themselves whether I'm here to help or exploit. It stands to reason, anyway. If I wanted to make money, I could think of many far smarter, more efficient ways to do it (grin).

In short, it's been an exciting transformation and is ongoing. Someday, perhaps, The Dry Eye Company will stumble into actual profitability, and in the meantime, I'm learning a lot and enjoying it tremendously. Always open to YOUR suggestions for products to consider, so don't hesitate to send suggestions.