Alejandro Betancourt Lopez Scales Up Hawkers With Capital Investment and Effective Management￼
Hawkers describe itself as a next-generation sunglasses company, but it hasn’t always been the successful brand it is today. The Spanish company’s four founders failed to make a profit with their original business model but decided to risk another $300 on Hawkers as an online sales venture. Alejandro Betancourt invested in the company early, helping raise more money and develop new marketing strategies. He also scaled up the company’s operations to make it more sustainable, providing valuable lessons for other companies wanting to emulate Hawkers’ success.
Hawkers got its start when co-founder Pablo Lozano brought some sunglasses back to Spain when Leopoldo Alejandro Betancourt López returned from a trip to the United States. These sunglasses were made by Knockaround and seemed to have a good potential for resale in Spanish markets. Lozano, his brother, and two of his friends bought 27 pairs of these glasses and quickly sold them online for a profit, prompting them to build on this success. Within six months, they had become the official distributor for Knockaround sunglasses in Spain but wanted to market their own brand by offering the combination of attractiveness, accessibility, and low prices as their selling points.
Branding itself as Hawkers, the new company adopted a business model in 2014 intended to compete against luxury brands like Gucci and Prada but with price points in the range of $20 to $40 per pair. This strategy proved successful as the founders began selling sunglasses exclusively online and attracting customers with ads on platforms like Facebook and PayPal. Despite its successful sales, Hawkers was experiencing serious financial difficulties because its expenditures were increasing even faster than its revenues. As a result, the founders were thinking about going out of business.
Betancourt is an entrepreneur and angel investor who often becomes closely involved with the businesses he supports. He is probably best known as the founder of O’Hara Administration, which is an asset management company with investments throughout the world. He welcomed the challenges Hawkers was facing, as they were consistent with his motto, “Never stop trying. You fall down many times. The important thing is to keep getting up.”
Betancourt saw great untapped potential in the business, so he worked with a group of his investors from O’Hara Administration to deliver about $56 million in the capital in the first major round of funding for Hawkers in 2015. This funding allowed the company to scale its operations in response to increased customer demand. Betancourt took administrative control of Hawkers in 2016 and quickly made essential changes to leadership and operational strategies.
Betancourt’s most valuable contribution towards turning Hawkers around was probably his marketing strategies. He capitalized on the company’s well-established online sales by boosting its presence on social media platforms that focus on young adults, as that was Hawker’s largest target audience. He also created partnerships with similar audiences, such as El Ganso, the Spanish apparel company. Marketing analyses show that images from this 2017 marketing campaign increased customer engagement by 86 percent.
Hawkers became the brand of choice for celebrities like Paula Echevarría, Nicky Romero, Fernando Verdasco, and Usher. Betancourt also embraced marketing strategies based on influencers and word-of-mouth, which grew Hawkers into a $70 million company within several months. At this point, the company was selling more than 10,000 units per day.
Betancourt became Hawker’s major shareholder in 2018 when he invested another 20 million euros in the company. His total investment was over half the company’s capital value, which gave Betancourt control of the company. He also became the company’s president later that year and implemented a growth plan based on innovation and community responsibility. Betancourt said of this marketing aspect, “I am aware of the responsibility that we have to the communities in which we are present.” In addition, he has been involved in community improvement projects like expanding the St. Carmen Salles School in Ciudad, Bolivar.
Hawkers established a reputation for selling some of the world’s best sunglasses under Betancourt’s direction. He still plays an active role in the company by using a variety of strategies to tell the public about Hawkers’ affordable, high-quality products. These strategies often involve the creative use of celebrities for both collaboration and endorsement. For example, Betancourt recently orchestrated a partnership with Leo Messi, a soccer superstar who is also developing his own line of Hawkers sunglasses.