ONE ON ONE with Chelsy Pham, inventor of VSP’s otto

One of the reasons it offers all these things? Its creator is an optician herself.
In preparation for the app’s launch this month, Eyecare Business caught up with Chelsy Pham, ABOC, VSP Optics Group product and technology consultant.


EYECARE BUSINESS: What got you started in the opticianry field?
CHELSY PHAM: I have been a practicing optician since 2007, when I started helping out at my family’s private practice. I started my career at VSP in 1995 in customer service. I then moved into the contract lab space where we managed our lab network and products. I was a communication specialist, updating parts of the provider reference and lab manuals.


In 2007, I decided I wanted to learn more about our laboratory and lens manufacturing, so I took a position as the operations supervisor at our lab here in Sacramento (now called VSPOne Sacramento). I learned so much about lenses and the process they go through to become a pair of glasses. This is where my interest in being an optician came about. I wanted to learn about the entire supply chain.
In 2008, I moved back to the corporate offices and began working on special projects, such as the In-Office Finishing Stock Lens Program.


Today, I am a product and technology consultant for the VSP Optics Group. My job is to evaluate new technologies for doctors and patients.


EB: Do you still work as an optician or do you primarily do product development work?
CP: I am still a practicing optician; I fill in when we need additional staffing, but primarily on weekends and at our trunk shows. I enjoy being hands on thinking of ways to improve otto.


EB: How did the idea for otto originate?
CP: I was fortunate enough to work with a team of great industry leaders—one who became my mentor, Warren Meyer, sr. vice president of the VSPOne Optical Technology Centers. He set me on a mission to find a measurement tool. I’ve always loved new technology. When my husband bought me an iPad, we were using it at the practice to demo contact lens prices. So I thought why not put the two together? I took the idea to my leadership team at VSP, and with the support of my team and Dave Delle Donne, vice president of business development for the VSP Optics Group, here we are!


EB: How much have you been involved in otto’s creation?
CP: You can say I was involved with otto from conception through product delivery and everything in between. I am one of the inventors of the concept. The other inventors are Dave Heglund, and Mike Mangelson. Mike on his own also had a concept of an iPad-dispensing tool, he is in our IT division.


EB: What are some of your favorite features in otto?
CP: I have three:


First is measurements; it’s the reason for otto—a simple and easy-to-use measurement tool. I have tried and tried to use other measurement systems in the practice and have found that they take a lot of practice and can make me look silly in front of patients. I love how easy it is to take the measurements on otto; you literally just hold it up.


Second is the frame catalog. I work part time at four different locations. It’s crazy trying to locate the frame catalog. Every office has its special place for it—which is fine—but I can never find it and have to walk away from the patient to do so. I also work on weekends, so I can’t call anyone to ask if a particular frame comes in a certain color or size. So, I love that I can answer those questions for my patients with one or two taps. Plus, a live frame catalog with pricing is just much more convenient for everyone in the practice.


Last, but not least, is creating customized package offerings within otto. This isn’t a new concept; it’s just putting the paper and calculator away and replacing it with real-time prices and visuals so your patients see exactly what their choices are and how much they cost. It’s very streamlined and is more professional than jotting numbers down on a pad of paper.


EB: What, in your opinion, sets otto apart from other optical apps?
CP: I think what sets otto apart is that it is an app that helps enhance the skill sets of the dispensing optician. It makes the dispensary experience more personal, streamlined, and professional for the patient. The patient is also more involved in the process, which is always a good thing for purchase decisions.


EB: Do you ever get feedback from opticians along the lines of “I’ve been waiting for someone to address these issues?”
CP: Yes, all the time. My experiences good and bad are shared experiences. Recommending a product that doesn’t exist or isn’t available yet or miscalculating patient fees are mistakes that all opticians make at some point. The work of an optician is an adventure with each patient, each with different needs. Otto is a tool that will help eliminate a lot of those issues automatically so opticians can spend more time focusing on the patient.


EB: How did you go from optician to app designer? Do you have training in software development?
CP: In college I majored in Management Information Systems. I started taking database classes, and then went on to take some basic programming courses. About three years into it, one of my professors gave us a programming project. He said, “Go develop a software program that would allow me to order hamburgers and charge by the pound.” So, a month later I came back with it and he said it wasn’t like anything he wanted at all and gave “C” to the entire class. Then he said, that’s what development was like in the real world.


So I stopped being a developer and decided that business wasn’t for me. That’s the same time I ended up working at VSP. Since I enjoyed the industry and the people, I stayed, earned my MBA and my ABO.