Young Social Impact Heroes: Why and How Chris Ratterman of Shady Rays Decided To Change Our World

Posted on

JAN 15, 2021

Young Social Impact Heroes:

Why and How Chris Ratterman of Shady Rays Decided To Change Our World

Go full force towards your dream when it begins to have momentum — I am by nature a risk-averse person, which some people may not think. When we found success, I kept dipping my toe in more and more rather than just taking the plunge. It worked out, but sometimes you have already felt the temperature of the pool… so it’s time to jump.

JUNE 2019 – The Concept

As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Ratterman.

Chris Ratterman is the Founder and CEO of Shady Rays. He holds a BSBA in Marketing and Finance from Xavier University and an MBA from Indiana University Southeast.

Chris bootstrapped Shady Rays from a side bedroom in 2012 before enlisting the help of his father to ship all orders from his living room in the early days. From its humble beginnings, Shady Rays has now become the fastest growing eyewear brand in the U.S. according to the 2020 INC. 5,000 list.

Chris has maintained the company’s independence through its eight years in existence and continues its commitment to fight hunger in America with every order.

The company now has over a million customers and has donated more than 15 million meals to fight hunger in America since inception.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?


I grew up in Louisville, KY and founded Shady Rays out of a side bedroom in 2012. My brother, Dan Ratterman, currently holds the position of COO at Shady Rays. Since inception, we have maintained the company’s independence and continue our commitment to fight hunger in America with every order.

The company now has over a million customers and has donated more than 15 million meals to fight hunger in America since inception.

You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?


We are an independent, direct-to-consumer sunglasses company with a mission to give back by fighting hunger in America with every pair of sunglasses sold. I am proud that we donate meals to fight hunger every hour of every day through each order and have donated over 15 million meals to date. As we have expanded to selling worldwide, we have partnered with the Global FoodBanking Network to provide the same per-order donations to fight hunger internationally.

I was not interested in building a company that simply sold products for money. Every day I wake up excited because of the fact that we are building a meaningful brand that does good in the world. Our team finds a lot of purpose in the fact that we are donating meals through Feeding America. In Australia, conservation is heavily backed by our customers. To support this cause, we have partnered with Verdn, whose mission is to clean oceans worldwide. For each pair purchased by Australian customers, 2 kilograms of plastic waste will be removed from the ocean. We also engage in charitable causes across the spectrum through sales of special edition shades including Autism Awareness and Breast Cancer Awareness, and plan to expand this charitable giving program to even more causes in the future.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?


In the early days of Shady Rays, I was working to find a cause that we could contribute to meaningfully — one that really needed urgent action. Of course, there are many, but as I was thinking, I ran across an article which said that 1 out of 7 people do not know where their next meal is coming from. That was devastating to me, and that set us on our path.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?


Such a great question. Just doing it, acting on an idea, really is the “x factor” in giving people a chance to make it as an entrepreneur. For me, it was the pure excitement and curiosity that I had in seeing a product that I envisioned come to life for the first time. When I sat down and laid out only the essential costs to get started and realized that I (barely) had enough to try it, that is when I felt that hit of adrenaline and had to give it a shot.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?


Well, first of all, I really didn’t. There is not a clear roadmap. You start by taking a stab at prioritizing only the most crucial pieces of the business needed to test product market fit, and then learn and pivot as you go. When I started, after coming up with the name, I reached out to every manufacturer that I could find online to get their costs and MOQ’s (Minimum Order Quantity). I purchased the very lowest quantity of products that I could, simply to see what would happen. Second, I set up a website on Shopify and developed a logo, along with social media accounts. That gave me a platform to test various selling methods. Fail fast, fail cheap, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you make a misstep. Get back up…and do it quickly.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?


Shady Rays are all about solving the problem of losing and breaking sunglasses. My initial marketing idea was to search social media and find people talking about losing and breaking sunglasses and then respond to them with the fact that we sell sunglasses that have lost and broken protection. Genius, I thought.

My very first day working on the brand after the website was live, I had 4 hours blocked to sit in a coffee shop and just fire off messages to people that were mad about losing their sunglasses.

I did it for 45 minutes nonstop before Twitter suspended @shadyrays for spam. At that moment, my workday came to a screeching half. I packed up and went home to my then girlfriend (now wife). She asked, “how did it go?” I said, “Not good, in fact I think it might be over already.”
An hour later, my phone dinged and order number one came through.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?


Absolutely. It takes a team, even as a solo founder. My father was the single greatest reason why Shady Rays is where it is today. My dad was retired when Shady Rays began, and while I worked a full-time job he helped me by fulfilling every order out of his and my mom’s formal living room. The room had boxes of sunglasses from floor to ceiling, packing materials, and a computer and label printer. My dad would pack the orders, put them in garbage bags, and drive them to the post office.

The help of my parents was crucial during that phase of the company to help it get off the ground.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?


What comes to mind for me through the various charitable initiatives that we engage in are the people that comment on our social media accounts about those close to them that they are able to support with our products and donations. For example, we sell Limited Edition Autism Awareness and Breast Cancer Awareness styles during specific months of the year. People are so excited to buy a pair for their family member or friend who has survived breast cancer for example with a special pair that includes a donation to the cause. I love that our team is able to do good with our customers in this way.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?


Feeding America has food banks and pantries that serve every zip code in America. There are many organizations that are working to do this great work and I think where people are able to donate money, food, or their time is extremely impactful in addressing the core issue of hunger.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.


1.

Be patient — I always tend to set ambitious goals…and push to meet them. They say, however, that it takes 10 years to become an overnight success.

2.

Celebrate the wins — for a fast-paced startup, it is easy to get caught in always just moving to the next thing. Celebrate the journey, because the journey is where the fun is at, not the destination.

3.

Don’t sweat the small stuff — keep it moving, small issues are just distractions.

4.

Go full force towards your dream when it begins to have momentum — I am by nature a risk-averse person, which some people may not think. When we found success, I kept dipping my toe in more and more rather than just taking the plunge. It worked out, but sometimes you have already felt the temperature of the pool…so it’s time to jump.

5.

Always be grateful — I practice this every day, it is the surest way to achieve happiness.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?


I am early in my journey. I am not “there” yet — but talk to anyone that has had all of the materials things they can want. Someone that has worldly success. They will tell you that there is no better feeling than giving back, to having a true purpose.

I think about when I am old and sitting in my rocking chair, the show is almost over. What will make me proud of my life? I think that answer is self-explanatory, it is not a Ferrari in the garage.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)


Gary Vaynerchuk. He is a brilliant business mind, as high energy as they come, and disproportionately focused on giving to others. It is truly rare.

How can our readers follow you online?


I keep a fairly low profile online but follow @shadyrays on Instagram and Twitter. You can also find me on LinkedIn.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!