How They Built It: Alejandro Betancourt, President of Hawkers, Co.
Alejandro Betancourt, president of Hawkers, the popular Spanish sunglasses purveyor, is a charismatic leader who sets a clear vision for the future of the companies he leads. He recently sat down with Company Leaders to talk about Hawkers, how he came to be involved with the company and what we can expect from Hawkers in the future.
Hawkers was founded in southern Spain in 2013 with just $300 in cash, a good idea and a passion for digital marketing. Explains Betancourt, “Online marketing through social media was extremely cheap and not expensive (at that time). It was something that was not yet utilized by the big corporations. So, you could exploit that in the sense that you could reach customers in a very efficient way and convert that into real sales — if the product was right. The founders realized after trying several different products, that sunglasses were an item that can easily be the right price, and with the right targeting on social media, could convert into sales efficiently.” The formula was extremely successful and the company that would become Hawkers, Co. boomed. Today, Hawkers sells about five million pairs of sunglasses each year, both online and in more than 100 stores located throughout Europe. The company has become one of the “biggest players in the world of eyewear”.
Betancourt became interested in Hawkers through his association with Felix Ruiz, the founder of Tuenti, one of the biggest social media platforms in Europe during the early 2000s. According to Betancourt, “(Ruiz) introduced me to the Hawkers founders. We decided to invest in Hawkers after meeting with them and analyzing what they did. I was amazed by the potential that the company and sunglasses could have, and that’s when we decided to jump in. And today we’re the biggest shareholder of Hawkers. I’m the President of the board and we’re happy where we are and we’re ready to take it to the next level.”
When asked what his best moments so far with Hawkers have been, Betancourt responded, “our best moments have been when we transitioned and saw that the brand performed better than any of our competitors, especially when we went through different sectors like retail. When we opened the first store and it was a big success. It was such a moment that we realized Hawkers was different. People wanted to be part of the Hawker’s experience, wanted to see the stores, wanted to get in and be part of it. And that was one of the biggest satisfactory moments that we had at the company. We became a true brand at that time.”
Hawkers made the transition from exclusively online sales to selling in retail stores about three years ago. The first store was in Madrid. Says Betancourt about that first store opening, “We reserved the room in a hotel and held a contest of different designers and different architects. We spent all day analyzing proposals and we decided which one to go with, and that was the birth of the first store on Carretas Street in Madrid.”
Asked whether he could give any advice to aspiring company founders who might want to follow in his footsteps, Betancourt answered, “I think that success here is to understand the projection and the horizon. To establish something that is sustainable and to create a brand, sometimes you have to burn through revenues and sacrifice profits, but as long as you have a goal and a projection that you know you can achieve in the horizon, you’re going to sustain and not going to fail when they’re taking into account all the characteristics. Even the market needs to be with you. You need to understand the different variables that can happen through the market and need to understand what your cash position is, what your projected revenues are, and that you need to be realistic and when you’re doing this analysis. And that’s what will make you sustain over time and what you need to achieve to become an accomplished brand, and not just a startup or an idea.”
Betancourt followed up by saying that leadership is a crucial element to making a company a success. “It comes down to leadership. If you’re a weak leader, you won’t have any followers. So, what happens if you are a weak leader? You have divisions within the company, which always will be, but they will be dividing themselves, instead of following your lead. So, make prompt decisions that everybody has to stick to that, no matter what. And I think that’s the key to success — to have something that goes into harmony to get your company where you want to go.”
Betancourt says for young, aspiring leaders to “be open to ideas, find something that works, stick to it and be consistent. Don’t lose faith, because one day it might not work, but the next day it will. So, keep at it and be confident of what you do.”
When asked about the future of Hawkers and what consumers can expect to see in the coming months, Betancourt responded, “ We are doing many things, for example, we’re launching this month, contact lenses. So, we’re going to a new product line. We have the best manufacturing partners, and we are doing a huge marketing campaign. We’re pretty excited because we’re entering a new sector in the market of eyewear. We want to cover the entire iris and make it part of the Hawkers experience. You can buy your subscription, you can be part of a club, you can get it every month, you’ll get your 30 day contact lenses package. You don’t have to do anything; it’ll be that easy and convenient. And it will be extremely competitive, better quality than most of the competition and you’ll be part of the Hawkers brand.”
About Alejandro Betancourt
Alejandro Betancourt is the son of a musician and the great-grandson of former Venezuelan president Hermogenes Lopez, Leadership and the entrepreneurial spirit is in his blood. He graduated from Suffolk University in Boston with degrees in business administration and economics and started his business career at Guruceaga Group, ICC-OEOC and BGB Energy. He founded his own business in 2007, engineering and building thermonuclear plants in his home country of Venezuela. He took that success and founded the O’Hara Administration, an asset management fund in 2014.
With Betancourt at the helm of Hawkers, the company has grown to have five offices around the globe, more than 200 employees and more than $100 million in annual sales. His other investments include an interest in the BDK group, the company that founded the Bank of Dakar, and Pacific Exploration and Production Corporation, a Canadian oil company that operates in Latin America. Betancourt sits on their board of directors.
Betancourt is passionate about giving back to the community and he supports a variety of charities, primarily focused on improving access to education for disadvantaged children.
Originally published at http://companyleaders.org on October 27, 2020.