"Never stop trying. You fall down many times. The important thing is to keep getting up."
That's a favorite saying of Alejandro Betancourt, the president of Hawkers sunglasses brand. In the three years Betancourt has overseen the company, he has used viral marketing, influencers, and an aggressive online advertising strategy.
The work has paid off. Hawkers is challenging the world's largest sunglasses brands by providing affordable, well-built eyewear that comes in multiple styles and colors.
Today, Hawkers sells around the world, largely online. It has annual sales in excess of $100 million and since its founding has sold more than 4.5 million pairs of sunglasses.
Betancourt is at the heart of that growth. He led a group of investors in 2016, who had been struggling with growth issues-specifically order fulfillment and customer service-to commit €50 million (about $56 million). Among the investors were Félix Ruiz and Hugo Arévalo, founders of Tuenti, a social networking app.
As a result of the investment, Betancourt was named the company's president and Arévalo its executive chairman in November 2016.
Two years later, Betancourt redoubled his commitment to Hawkers. He invested another €20 million, making him the company's largest individual shareholder.
Hawkers Takes a Unique Stance in Luxury Sunglasses
Hawkers started when four friends invested $300 in 27 pairs of sunglasses and resold the pairs online. The founders realized they could leverage affordable, high-quality sunglasses and decided to create their own brand.
An early Kickstarter campaign raised about €190,000 from 9,000 investors, allowing Hawkers to make its own glasses.
From its inception to its success today, Hawkers has gone up against the biggest names in eyewear. Today, it competes with leading companies in the industry, including Luxottica, the eyewear behemoth and parent company of notable brands such as Gucci, Ray-Ban, and Prada. At one time, in fact, Hawkers made its sunglasses from the same manufacturing facility as most Luxottica specs.
However, there are several distinct differences. The first is price. Hawkers sunglasses sell for between $20 and $40. That's a stark difference from Ray-Ban, for example, which can set a consumer back $200 easily for a pair of its glasses.
The other major difference is variety. Hawks offer a wide selection of sunglasses, including colors, lens types, frames, and styles. Their sunglasses are also light and rugged.
For cash-conscious consumers, Hawkers provides ultimate flexibility. Buyers can afford to purchase several pairs to mix and match with their wardrobes.
Betancourt Business Background
Betancourt may have been new to the sunglasses business, but he long knew how to identify profitable investments. He graduated from Suffolk University in Boston with a double major in business administration and international economics.
He served as a director of Pacific Exploration & Production Corp., a publicly held natural gas and oil exploration and production company based in Canada and operating throughout Latin America.
He also worked at Guruceaga Group, an international trading company, where he managed new business for their goods, finance, real estate, and farming work.
Today, he also oversees investment strategy for O'Hara Administration, an international investment and asset management firm.
For Hawkers, the infusion of capital and business expertise was critical to its growth. Betancourt realized the company needed a new approach to business.
He emphasized the importance of social media, investing heavily in viral marketing campaigns and Facebook advertising. Today, Hawkers has a large and loyal online presence, with 6.6 million Facebook followers, 1.6 million Instagram followers, and 188,000 Twitter followers.
Betancourt led pioneering strategies across the social media landscape, including leveraging Reddit, Pinterest, and YouTube. Video, for example, is essential to the company's marketing strategy.
"One of the greatest things about the internet is the ability to share videos," he said. "Though it's not strictly true that other forms of media are obsolete, with the death of printed books regularly prophesied, one-third of all online activity is spent watching videos."
The company also needed to elevate its profile, which Betancourt drove through exclusive partnerships and collaborations. The company established advertising deals with DOPE, PayPal, and Saucey and collaborated with other fashion brands, including El Ganso, a Spanish clothing line.
Celebrities in the world of sports and entertainment also played a key role. The company has had endorsement deals with some of the biggest names, including Steve Aoki, Dani Alves, Paula Echevarría, Lewis Hamilton, Jorge Lorenzo, Felipe Massa, Nicky Romero, Ricky Rubio, Luis Suarez, Usher, and Fernando Verdasco.
Betancourt also leveraged college students through a campus ambassador program now numbering 5,000 participants. For those students with more than 1,000 Instagram followers, Hawkers will provide free sunglasses and sponsor parties and events. In return, the students gain valuable marketing skills and access to popular concerts and festivals, with airfare provided.
A Bright Future
The company continues to innovate. It recently purchased Loopas, a subscription contact lens company that will add distribution and logistics expertise to Hawkers.
In 2020, the company also launched H20, an environmentally conscious line of sunglasses made with biodegradable materials, including plastic bottles recovered from the world's oceans. It's all part of Betancourt's commitment to important causes and being a good neighbor as Hawkers looks to grow its footprint in the Americas, Australia, and Europe.
"I am aware of the responsibility that we have in the communities in which we are present," he said. "We simply cannot move forward without contributing toward their progress and development."