Hans Jørgen Wiberg of Be My Eyes
Be My Eyes was created by Hans Jørgen Wiberg in Denmark in 2015. Hans, who is visually impaired himself, saw an opportunity to create an app that could help blind people with everyday tasks. After the launch of Be My Eyes, the iOS app gained more than 10,000 users over just a 24-hour period
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See the world together.
Be My Eyes connects people needing sighted support with volunteers and companies through live video around the world.
What was the driving force in starting your own business in the rare disease space? Was there an unmet need you were responding to?
The driving force was being visually impaired myself. I was working for the Danish Blind Federation at the time and met a lot of people who were blind or had low vision.
I could see that the iPhone was becoming popular in the blindness community. Friends were using FaceTime and Skype to make calls to family and loved ones when assistance was needed. I came up with the idea of creating a group that people could call instead of relying on family and friends.
How does your business benefit the rare disease community?
We provide a solution where people who are blind or have low vision don’t have to rely on familiar people and can get assistance without asking. There is no need to call a person, help is there with the click of a button. This is a very powerful way to make people feel more independent. Allowing users to do things on their own is very important.
What advice, if any, did you get when setting up your business? Has there been anyone in particular who has been pivotal in supporting your business?
A long list of people! But I think that the most important thing has been to have a team around me. I would never have been able to do this on my own. The fact that so many people have been willing to become team members has been extremely valuable. As a founder, when you have one bright idea, you think all your ideas are bright and when you get a team, you realise that’s not the case.
How do you manage the demands of running a business with your own health needs, those of someone you care for, or those of your employees?
Living in Denmark, it’s different from disability to disability. In my situation, however, I can get 12 hours a week of support that is paid for by my municipality. It helps me a great deal because I can ask for help from my colleagues without being a burden. I have one person who is dedicated to helping me search the internet, for example, and when I’m out and about I have my assistants with me, which has made me more confident. It makes it possible for me to travel to other countries and join conferences.
What advice do you have for someone starting their own business?
The number one thing is to have a team. I really believe that we have made better decisions by having a team who can be frank about their opinions.
What are the most rewarding aspects of establishing and running your own business?
We receive so many emails from our users who are grateful for the service, but also from the volunteers who are very excited about this new way of volunteering. Our users really feel a part of something and so that is extremely rewarding. Also, to see a volunteer and a blind person using the Be My Eyes platform to help each other in Japan, in a language I don’t speak, that is also incredibly rewarding for me.
What would you consider to be the greatest achievements of your business thus far?
The greatest achievement is that we are close to making Be My Eyes a sustainable business. We have decided that Be My Eyes should be free for the users. We have partnered with companies like Google and Microsoft, who pay us, and our blind users can call their support line via Be My Eyes, which makes it easier for those companies to support their blind customers. It is our revenue stream. I think that’s a really great way to make something that is free, a sustainable business. We’re almost there!
What advice would you give someone considering working in the rare disease space?
Make sure your family also thinks it’s a great idea as you are going to spend a lot of time on it! And surround yourself with a team who believe in your idea. It will be more fun and increase your chances of being successful.
What are your hopes for the future of your business?
One of my biggest dreams is that we can make Be My Eyes into a learning platform and not just an assistance platform, where our users can teach each other. If you are a blind person, the most important thing is you need to learn from other blind people, and I believe that Be My Eyes can be the platform for that kind of learning.
If you hadn’t founded Be My Eyes, what was Plan B? What did your 10-year-old self want to be?
I set out to become a farmer, which I would have enjoyed very much, but then I became partially sighted, and had to do something else. But I am extremely proud of where I am today, and also a little surprised by how successful Be My Eyes has been. I never expected that! I’m not sure my younger self would even believe what I’ve become today.
To find out more about the work of Be My Eyes please visit: