DIY-approach pays off for early career optometrist-business owners

Locked down in separate states, not even closed borders could prevent early career optometrist Dr Alisha Shastri and Dr Ebru Efrem from pursuing their plan to open their own practice.

As their careers progressed and experience grew, it sparked an idea: what would it be like to manage their own practice?

After graduating from Deakin University in mid-2020, optometrist Dr Alisha Shastri returned to her home state of South Australia and joined a corporate practice while her classmate Dr Ebru Efem worked in an independent practice in Melbourne.

Two Deakin graduates opened greenfield practice iOptical in Melbourne in May 2022

“We started thinking about what we wanted to bring in terms of patient care and eye health, and fashion in eyewear. We wanted to make sure both elements were shown through the branding of the business. We were aware this was something we needed to get right from the beginning,” Shastri says

The duo began considering their options, including buying an existing business, or establishing a greenfield practice, with support from independent optometry network ProVision. Shastri says.

ProVision Associate Program

The pair joined ProVision as part of the free ProVision Associate Program which pairs optometrists launching their own independent practice with an experienced professional who can share valuable first-hand industry knowledge, act as a sounding board and a trusted advisor and ultimately enhance new business owner’s chances of success.

“We went through the process of evaluating what’s out there, and we looked at a couple of practices that were selling. That pathway does come with a lot of pros, including an established patient database,” Shastri says.

“But we thought for us to really implement our ideas, starting fresh was the way to go. We put in the time and effort – there’s a lot that goes into something like this. But it was one of the best journeys we could have gone on and I would do it again in a heartbeat because there was plenty of fun and learnings along the way.”

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Optometrists Ebru Efem and Alisha Shastri in front of their new practice, iOptical.
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Dr Alisha Shastri and her business partner gave a lot of consideration to their frame’s selection.

“We went back and forth on that idea, weighing up which was going to be best. We thought Melbourne provided the greatest opportunity for growth of a new practice. It became obvious both of us knew we wanted to be there,” Shastri says.

Getting started

Once they decided to open a greenfield practice, choosing a location presented the next hurdle. Shastri was based in Adelaide; Efem, also a qualified orthoptist, was in Melbourne. Which city should they choose?

With Shastri stuck in Adelaide due to lockdowns, Efem, in locked down Melbourne, started investigating commercial properties within a 5km radius of her home.

The pair found their preferred location in Greenvale Shopping Centre in Melbourne’s north.

“The area we’ve selected has never had an optometry practice,” Efem explains. “Greenvale is expanding with new housing and development of schools and infrastructure, and there’s lots of new families coming into the area. We thought there was a great opportunity for us to be part of the community and provide a service that didn’t exist here.”

But the main thing they’ve taken from their Associate Membership is confidence in their abilities to succeed..

“That advice alone effectively helped us from both a business and clinical perspective as it informed us of the equipment we’d need to service our community, as well as the most appropriate frames, lenses, communication strategies etc.,” Ms Efem said.

“In the end, we can do as much planning as we like, but what we’ve learnt from people at ProVision is that it’s OK to make mistakes – as long as we maintain an open mind to change. They’ve given us the confidence to adapt and make changes as we take our business on this incredibly exciting journey.”

Negotiating the lease, choosing the business name, finance and design

Shastri and Efem negotiated a lease directly with Greenvale Shopping Centre management.

“We went to them with the idea of opening an optometry practice, and they loved it. They were supportive and encouraging – and agreed it was what the area needed,” Efem says.

They then created a list of more than 200 potential business names and whittled it down to one – iOptical.


Next, they turned their attention to securing finance and acquiring equipment, which had to be conducted online because of COVID restrictions.

“We spoke to a range of suppliers on Zoom, so we couldn’t see the equipment properly or even have a play around with it, but we trusted ourselves and our suppliers,” Shastri says

“We also spoke to banks, created a business plan and estimated cash flow, but sought advice to ensure it was up to standard.”

Their practice fit-out was organised through the connections of the shopping centre’s management.

“Our interior designer was fantastic and worked well with us even though they had never done an optometry practice fit-out. They had designed several other retail stores, including a few in Chadstone Shopping Centre,” Efem says.

“They knew what they were doing but there are extra things to consider when creating a healthcare and retail space, such as the right lighting. So, it was a collaborative journey.”

“We had a geographic report given to us by Greenvale Shopping Centre management, so we know who is in the area, their occupation, and median income,” Efem says.

Shastri and Efem were confident in selecting a range of frames for iOptical, but found it was difficult not to overspend in this area.

“Frames selection was one area that we knew we shouldn’t sacrifice. We knew we needed to stock the major eyewear brands because people in the area were purchasing big-name eyewear brands from optometry practices in the surrounding suburbs. We wanted to make sure we catered to them. We had to be careful which brands we brought in and be mindful of our budget.”

“It’s the one area we were concerned we went over-budget with, but it’s paid off,” Shastri adds. “We also didn’t work too far from this area in our previous jobs. We would see people from this area come in. We were able to observe, to see what they were wanting and what they were buying. We took that into consideration when opening in the area, too.”

Being familiar with some local faces has helped build a patient database, and their location in the shopping centre has attracted several walk-ins.

“I think people are very open to supporting their locals. We had one guy come in and say, ‘I want to support local, I want to give you a go’. We didn’t even have the shelves up yet, but he booked an appointment with us. I think it’s that sense of community.”

“We literally started from zero. Even when we were building and the hoarding was still up, people would come in and talk to us if we were around, or occasionally sit at the cafe across from the practice, and people got to know us,” Efem says.

Branding and relationships

“Right now, we’re getting people walking in, they’re curious to see what’s around,” Shastri adds. “They’re wanting to get their eyes tested or know that it’s time for them to get it done and they would prefer to drive three minutes rather than 15 minutes, so it’s a convenient spot for a lot of people in the area.”

While the practice’s bright frontage draws in passing foot traffic, the pair have also invested in an online marketing presence, with their branding, website and social media managed by a Melbourne digital marketing agency.

Being the only optometry practice in the area, Shastri and Efem made a point of meeting local GPs and ophthalmologists.

“We’re very lucky because we have a GP clinic just outside where we are. We went in and introduced ourselves, similarly to other local GP clinics. We met a lot of the doctors in the clinic too. It was nice to introduce ourselves in person, so they know who they’re referring their patients to and vice versa,” Efem says.

“We also met with local specialists. We wanted to explain what we do, what service we can offer, what technology we have, so they know they can refer to us. We might be new, but we’re here to stay, and we’re here to help as well,” Shastri adds..

Committing time and effort

Shastri and Efem began planning iOptical in the beginning of 2021 – while both working as fulltime optometrists in other practices – with the intention of opening in November the same year, but COVID delayed their plans. They opened in May 2022.

“But it gave us those extra few months, which helped us in the planning,” Efem says.

“We would go to work then come home and then work until midnight on iOptical, essentially having two jobs at that point. But you’ve got to be willing to put in the time and effort because not everything comes easily. We really worked hard to get to where we are,” Shastri adds.

Dr Ebru Efem (left) says purchasing equipment was made more challenging by COVID restrictions.

They both transitioned out of their employee positions only a few weeks before opening iOptical. They both now work in iOptical five to six days a week (Efem also works one day a week in ophthalmology at The Royal Children’s Hospital) and employ two dispensing staff; one part-time and one casual.

“At a time when there weren’t a lot of dispensers looking for new jobs or wanting to move, we were lucky in getting two people who had over 10 years’ experience in the industry,” Shastri says.

Six months into practice ownership, Shastri and Efem put their early success down to commitment and ongoing support.

“It’s all about having the right people around you, people who also believe in you, especially during those hard times of starting your own business during COVID,” Efem says

Engaging a ProVision Business Coach

“And even now, every day we feel like there’s always something new to learn, or there’s always something new to grow with. I think that’s the beauty of it too – we’re both very open to growth and innovation in the business, wanting to make sure that we’re keeping up-to-date,” Shastri says.

“Now, we have to think about the future of the business. We’ve engaged a business coach through ProVision to make sure that we’re ticking all the boxes, and we’re on the right path when it comes to not just thinking about now, but what the business is going to look like in the next five years,” Efem says.

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This article first appeared in Insight Magazine and has been republished with permission.