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Interview with a Successful Startup Founder

​​Turning a $300 Investment into a $60M Sunglasses Empire

Alejandro Betancourt
Alejandro Betancourt
August 10, 2021
Category of startup
e-Commerce
Country of startup
Spain
Revenue of startups
+$500k/mo
Interview with a Failed Startup Founder

​​Turning a $300 Investment into a $60M Sunglasses Empire

Alejandro Betancourt
Alejandro Betancourt
August 10, 2021
Category of startup
e-Commerce
Country of startup
Spain
Cause of failure of the startup

Alejandro is the president of Hawkers, a fashion sunglasses e-commerce. Thanks to an influencer marketing strategy, they have been wildly successful and raised +€70M in funding while generating €6M revenue per month.

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Hi Alejandro! Who are you and what are you currently working on?

My name is Alejandro Betancourt Lopez, and I am a business professional from Venezuela who has launched or funded several businesses. I have served as President of Hawkers Sunglasses since October 2016. I learned of the Spanish start-up company when its founders contacted me to lead a financing round worth approximately 50M euros in early 2016. Hawkers immediately began to scale with my support, and the four founders offered me the role of company president a few months later.

The biggest element of Hawkers’ success has been our investment in influencer marketing. The company’s founders, Alex Moreno, David Moreno, Pablo Sanchez Lozano, and Iñaki Soriano had achieved success with influencer marketing before I came on board. Unfortunately, they were dealing with financial struggles that threatened the future of the young company by 2016.

We worked together to revamp Hawkers’ influencer marketing strategy by forming partnerships with people who had a large social media following. Hawkers provides them with a free pair of sunglasses and a promo code for their followers. The strategy has been wildly successful, and we have expanded the Hawkers brand throughout Europe, North America, and Asia even as we increase our Facebook advertising.

Hawkers Landing Page

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I have long been a believer in contributing to the greater good. I knew after I graduated from Suffolk University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and economics that I wanted to support projects that would benefit my country. I worked for a bank, an Internet company, and an oil company before co-founding an energy company that brought thermonuclear power to my country’s citizens.

Before becoming the leader of Hawkers, I oversaw investments in several business sectors that helped companies achieve their financial goals while providing employment opportunities for citizens. Since I led Hawkers’ first funding round as an angel investor, the founders saw that I could help them with brand expansion, building strategic business relationships, and creating more fundraising opportunities.


How did you go from idea to product?

I cannot claim credit for the idea of Hawkers’ sunglasses since Alex, David, Pablo, and Iñaki had already developed them a few years before I came along in 2016. Pablo originally got the idea from his brother, who returned to Spain after studying in the United States with a unique pair of fashion sunglasses from the Knockarounds brand. They worked as brand ambassadors for that company before launching Hawkers.

Although I did not create the original idea for Hawkers’ sunglasses, I have been instrumental in its branding and explosive sales growth via social media influencer marketing. For example, I reached out to clothing brands in Spain to create partnerships between our sunglasses and their fashion outfits and promoted the partnerships online.

Hawkers caters to a younger demographic with the colors and style choices we have chosen for our sunglasses. We have paid close attention to product quality and consumer price along the way, ensuring that customers receive top value from their purchases. Any company can produce a pair of functional sunglasses, but Hawkers focuses more on creating a designer-style product popular among young adults.

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Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?

I would say that our most successful strategy was to invest heavily in Facebook and Instagram and partner with influencers who look attractive wearing our sunglasses. Word-of-mouth advertising has allowed us to expand our business to three continents, something that brings all of us great pride. The focus on fashion versus functionality has also been instrumental. Hawkers conducts most transactions online to cut down on overhead costs associated with brick-and-mortar locations.


How are you doing today and what are your goals for the future?

When you consider that the co-founders launched Hawkers with a $300 investment and we are worth $60 million today in United States currency, I would say we are doing quite well. A few of our plans include expanding to additional countries and continents and forming more partnerships with clothing, shoe, and jewelry brands to help both our company and theirs sell more products. We also plan to start producing more environmentally friendly sunglasses without sacrificing fashion.

Hawkers Sunglasses


Since starting Hawkers, what have been your main lessons?

I think the biggest thing I have learned personally and that I share with our staff is to never give up. Hawkers set out to disrupt the sunglasses industry, and they have accomplished that under my leadership. If they had given up at the first sign of financial difficulty, Hawkers would not be the international multi-million-dollar company it is today. When obstacles look insurmountable, we simply find another way and press on.

What were the biggest obstacles you overcame? What were your worst mistakes?

One of my biggest early challenges with Hawkers was convincing the co-founders to outsource the manufacturing of sunglasses. They wanted to keep it in-house, but I had business connections that offered an affordable way to get the work done without losing control over the process.

If I were starting again today, I would have insisted on more transparent customer service policies right away. Today we update customers immediately if there is a problem with their order at any stage of the supply chain, but that was not always the case. Making this change has led to greater brand loyalty and customer goodwill.


What tools & resources do you recommend?

I highly recommend the use of social media and influencer marketing to achieve organic brand growth. Celebrity endorsements and associations with other top brands are also useful. As an entrepreneur, my goal is to never stop learning. I feel that an attitude of willingness and remaining humble can lead to even greater success. I take advantage of online learning opportunities, read trade publications, and attend networking events as often as I can.


Where can we go to learn more?

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