MARK DE LANGE, FOUNDER ACE & TATE
Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, Mark de Lange always knew that one day he would start his own business. The product of Mark's entrepreneurial background and unique perspective is Ace & Tate, a disruptive pioneer in the optical market.
Accompanied by a notebook full of ideas and driven by the urge to be independent, Mark made his way from law school dropout to building a successful brand. We sat down with him to talk about his days before Ace & Tate, his drive, and his ideas about the future.
Childhood memories: The boy from Laren
Born and raised in Laren, I had an outdoorsy kind of childhood and lots of friends. The first school I ever went to was the Montessori school. They provide a lot of freedom to develop yourself as an individual and are very supportive of creative endeavors.
My first high school was basically a lot of fun for me but terrible for my parents. The school was very supportive of creativity with lots of plays and the arts. Unfortunately, I wasn’t exactly a model student and ended up moving to another school after a year or so.
I don’t really perceive myself to be very creative. But I’m a pretty independent thinker and I believe that was stimulated by my education. I like figuring out how to do things my way and I think I developed that there. I learned how to define a problem and then break it down, solving it piece by piece.
“John Grisham made me believe I wanted to be a lawyer”
I moved to Amsterdam when I had just turned 18. I started studying and went to law school. Turned out I absolutely detested that. The John Grisham novels I'd read growing up made it sound like law was so much fun! Turned out that law school was terrible for me because I have zero attention span. Reading through law texts all day is my idea of a nightmare. So, I turned to communications science and followed that with a masters in Marketing and Business
I had a lot of jobs growing up, from working in my family’s shoe store to working in kitchens. I come from a family of hard working entrepreneurs. I liked the freedom of making my own money because I could do with it whatever I wanted.
From helping young businesses to becoming a young business
I’d always wanted to start my own company for as long as I can remember. At the same time, I knew I didn’t want to start something for the sake of starting something. That’s just not who I am. I figured if I don’t have my own idea yet then I should work at a company that works with young businesses. After I finished university I started working for a small investment firm.
I got to see a lot of common mistakes that get made in a small company. I was also able to see that the value of an idea is very limited and that it’s as much about the person your investing in as it is in anything else. It’s all about the execution. It really boils down to the hours you put in, how focused you can stay and keep your eye on the ball.
I used to get frustrated sitting across the table from these young creative entrepreneurs. I wanted to be in their shoes. Now I realize I might have romanticized certain things. But, I’m totally glad I eventually took the plunge and went for it.
A simple solution: The concept of Ace & Tate
It started when I was on holiday with my girlfriend in New York. We would pass this store selling really cool glasses every day. On our last day, temped by the sale sign outside, I wandered in and bought a pair. We got back to Holland and I had to get lenses fitted but it was such an unfriendly and expensive process. It left me puzzled, wondering why I was paying over €200 for a pair of plastic lenses with the most average prescription you can get. It triggered the light bulb in my head.
I began asking myself why there wasn’t a Suitsupply or Everlane style company in the optical market. I could see that eyewear was shifting from this medical necessity item to an accessory item. My ambition was really to be the COS of eyewear. My family comes from the shoe business. That’s what gave me ambition to make a physical product. I was lucky that I could turn to my parents for advice on business related questions, like how to work with Italian suppliers.
I researched the market and ended up booking a ticket to a big optical fair in Milan. I literally wandered all over the fair by myself and eventually ran into this family owned manufacturing company from Italy. That meeting was the birth of Ace & Tate. We’re still working with those guys today.
Offline, Online and On Point
Service is an integral part of the idea behind Ace & Tate. As a customer you don’t want to pay someone and then get terrible service. Providing service should be an honorable job and it’s one of the most important things within our company. Ultimately, for Ace & Tate, it’s all about providing the best possible experience for our customers. For some, this means an offline experience while others prefer to shop online. The challenge is to integrate these channels in the best possible way.
We’re looking to do things that traditional competitors can’t. By having a strong base both online and offline. Because of the nature of the product, an offline touch point was always on the roadmap for us. Ace & Tate is essentially an online-first brand and our flagship stores are an extension of our identity. Online we are able to reach our customers easily and directly. We provide in-store pick ups but can also have orders sent to our customer’s homes. Whether you’re buying frames in-store or online, we want our encounter to run as smoothly as possible, so we’re committed to combining and aligning both channels.
The industry seemed to hate us at first. Over time that’s changed. People can see that this is the way forward. I think they also sense that we’re very serious about what we do. We’re not just hacks making cheap products. We spend hours getting the product right. We don’t cut corners, we put in the work. Our service is way better than standard in the optical industry.
“We’re all on a certain path that leads us to where we are now”
I wanted to prove myself to others but that’s changed over the years. Now I want to show myself what I’m capable of. We’re all on a certain path that leads us to where we are now. For me, I couldn’t have recognized or capitalized on the opportunity of starting Ace & Tate without the experiences I’d had before.
These days I’m becoming more of the conscience of our company. Sometimes that means reining in the enthusiasm when I think it’s too far off what it should be. There should always be someone who is protecting the vibe that makes us unique. Being the conscience also means finding ways to improve as an employer, both for the people working for the company and sustainability-wise for the sake of the planet.
I’d love to see Ace & Tate become a true European player. But, I want to retain the sense that anything is possible, that nothing is off limits. Maybe that means putting ‘Fancy Motherfucker’ up as a headline or doing an Ass and Titties calendar up for Christmas. I want to keep it fun and interesting.
I’d like to personally become less important to the day-to-day operations of the business. Which I think would be a good thing for the company, it not being reliant on me. Perhaps in the future I’d like to start a new adventure. Oh yeah, and at some point I’d like to take a couple of months off and travel the world with my soon-to-be wife Eva.