How I Thrived After Business Failure

By Jessica Steinhoff | Photography by Hillary Schave

Figure skating taught me how to recover from failure,” says Natasha Vora, CEO of the Madison-based eyewear company Optical X. By the time she turned pro at age 16, she’d fallen — and gotten up — thousands of times. This served her well when she was denied acceptance to UW–Madison’s business school.

“An academic advisor told me I wasn’t good enough at math to succeed in business,” she says. “I was devastated, but not ready to give up.”

Hoping to network her way to a business career, Vora took a job at University Ridge Golf Course, where she met Rayovac’s CEO. Impressed by her ambition and ability to speak several languages, he hired her for the company’s Latin America division. She learned about supply chain and importing as she traveled to Chile, Venezuela and other countries. This knowledge helped her launch Indocara, a Madison retail store that sold modern Asian furniture and textiles, in 2005.

Before long, she attracted a devoted following of globetrotters and tastemakers.

“We had customers flying in from big cities to shop there,” she recalls. But Indocara’s national reputation couldn’t stop the Great Recession, which forced its closure in 2010. Vora lost her home, which she’d used as business-loan collateral, and filed for bankruptcy.

“I kept telling myself that another opportunity would come along, and soon an eyewear maker asked me to help get his brand off the ground,” she says.

That blazed Vora’s trail to founding Iristocracy, an e-commerce startup that carried luxury eyewear brands from around the world. As Iristocracy grew, so did its need for capital.

“I wasn’t in the right mindset to keep raising more money,” she says.

Instead of continuing to seek investors, Vora shuttered it in 2015, after three years. Letting that door close allowed another to open: She was hired by Rev360, an optical industry software company, to develop twelve84®, a private label eyewear brand.

Vora formed the entity Optical X and acquired twelve84® from Rev360 in January 2020. Today, it’s a profitable eyewear brand that provides independent eye doctors a quality, affordable package of frames, prescription lenses and anti-reflective coating for their patients.

With two business closures and a bankruptcy behind her, it’s reminded Vora that no matter what obstacles she faces, she can handle them: “When a door closes, it forces me to get creative, and I’m good at that.”

More from Jessica Steinhoff
Karen Laing: The Caregiving Changemaker
Karen Laing didn’t set out to become a midwife, lactation consultant or...
Read More
0 replies on “How I Thrived After Business Failure”