Leopoldo Alejandro Betancourt Lopez’s Hawkers Sunglasses Featured on HypeBeast
Angel investor Leopoldo Alejandro Betancourt Lopez is becoming known as the man with the Midas touch after investing in several successful ventures, one of the most recent of which is Hawkers sunglasses — an iconic Spanish brand that’s becoming known around the world for its eco-friendly designs and affordable prices.
Ramping Up from an Initial Investment of $300
Betancourt Lopez invested in the company in early 2016, leading a funding round worth approximately $56 million — including investments from social networking app entrepreneurs Félix Ruiz and Hugo Arévalo — all of which helped to rapidly scale the company up.
The four founders of the firm — Alex Moreno, David Moreno, Pablo Sanchez Lozano, and Iñaki Soriano — started the business with just $300 in 2013 after Alex had gone to the U.S. to study and had brought back an intriguing pair of sunglasses made by the American brand Knockaround. The two then worked as Spanish brand ambassadors for Knockaround before joining Lozano and Soriano to form Hawkers.
Hawkers did so well marketing its sunglasses directly to consumers through Facebook (accumulating 2.6 million “Likes” and coming in second in its industry only to competitor Ray-Ban) that the social media company brought Hawkers in to talk about its marketing strategies with other entrepreneurs. Twitter used Hawkers as a case study of how a company was able to grow rapidly by leveraging the features of its service.
The colors and styles of Hawkers appeal to a young demographic. The company focuses intensely on product quality and a reasonable price point (typically between $20 and $40), giving buyers excellent value for their purchases. Initially, Hawkers was making its own sunglasses at a factory owned by dominant industry player Luxottica, but this, in combination with other factors, such as back-ordering and customer service policies that were less than transparent, created financial difficulties.
With the investment funding coming in at an opportune time, Lozano, Soriano, and the Moreno brothers soon asked Betancourt Lopez to be the new president of Hawkers, and Betancourt Lopez in turn brought in branding and strategic planning expert Nacho Puig to serve as the firm’s CEO overseeing operations.
Refining the Social Media Strategy
Betancourt Lopez worked with Alex, David, Pablo, and Iñaki to revamp the business’ marketing strategy. The company began a renewed push to concentrate on college student social media influencers. (The company’s target millennial demographic is typically a bit older, but still in their mid-to-late twenties.)
Unlike other influencers who are paid by sponsoring companies, Hawkers chose students who were already passionate about the Hawkers brand, tempting them with extra incentives like concert and festival tickets, plane tickets, and other items, instead of cash. Hawkers focused on influencers with social media followings of more than 1,000 people. It gave each influencer a free pair of sunglasses to be photographed with, along with a promo code for that person’s followers enabling special discounts and other rewards for purchases. These influencers (now numbering some 5,000) promote the brand, but they also feedback ideas to the company.
“Ideas are the result of an ongoing process of creativity and productivity,” says Betancourt. “I like to speak to people and ask their experiences and then rethink, re-ask, and go through strategic themes several times.”
These tactics, which tend to emphasize the fashion cachet of the brand over its functionality, have been wildly successful, leading to positive word-of-mouth and allowing Hawkers to expand its sales from its original market of Spain to all of Europe, Asia, and North America. They also allowed Hawkers to increase its advertising on Facebook, where the company now has more than 6.6 million followers. Instagram (where the company has 1.6 million followers), YouTube, Pinterest, and Reddit have also brought the company fame and fortune. Today, 90% of the company’s sales are online (the firm has barely been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic), although the venture’s products are in at least 40 global brick-and-mortar locations as well.
Additional Marketing Efforts
In 2018, Betancourt Lopez increased his investment in Hawkers by another $21.7 million, making him the biggest shareholder, with a greater-than-50% stake in the enterprise. That year, Hawkers was named one of Spain’s Top 10 startup companies. Betancourt Lopez also convinced the firm’s founders to outsource production of the company’s sunglasses, leveraging his business connections to allow the company to make its products more affordably, without losing control over the manufacturing process. Additionally, Betancourt Lopez coordinated partnerships with Spanish apparel label El Ganso and brands such as KIA, PayPal, Sony, Smart, and Mercedes-Benz, helping Hawkers to be perceived as more of a fashion concern.
Celebrities seen wearing Hawkers have included singer Usher, model Paula Echevarria, auto racer Felipe Massa, DJs Steve Aoki and Nicky Romero, and sports stars Ricky Rubio, Dani Alves, and Fernando Verdasco. Renowned football player Leo Messi has his own set of signature sunglasses within the larger Hawkers line; the company has also inked a sponsorship agreement with the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team.
The Future for Hawkers
Betancourt Lopez foresees the company expanding further to even more countries (it currently sells in at least 50) and forming additional partnerships with shoe, clothing, and jewelry brands. He feels that new celebrity endorsements will also be beneficial. Hawkers now has a line of environmentally friendly sunglasses that utilize recycled materials, including plastic bottles scoured from the world’s oceans, and biodegradable components, including the lenses, frames, and packaging.
To date, Hawkers has sold 4.5 million pairs of sunglasses. Today, it’s launching scores of new products, including prescription eyewear and contact lenses. Revenue is over $100 million annually, and the company has more than 200 employees, with offices in Barcelona, Mexico City, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and Elche, Spain. In the eyewear industry, Hawkers is now given the same respect and consideration accorded to long-established market leaders Oakley and Ray-Ban.
As for Betancourt, Hawkers is just one successful venture of many, with others bearing fruit in the energy, banking, and asset management sectors. Betancourt Lopez credits Hawkers’ success to resilience and persistence. “Never stop trying,” he declares. “You fall down many times; the important thing is to keep getting up.”
Originally published at https://fault-magazine.com on December 16, 2021.