How did Hawkers transform itself from a small sunglasses reseller into a multinational brand? The dynamic growth of the business is largely the result of visionary leadership from investor Alejandro Betancourt Lopez. The well-respected finance expert and entrepreneur made critical financial commitments and used his business instincts and shrewd marketing and sales strategies to propel Hawkers to where it is today, competing against the world's largest eyeglasses makers.

Humble beginnings

Hawkers started in 2013 as the brainchild of brothers Alejandro (Alex) and David Moreno and two friends, Pablo Sánchez Lozano and Iñaki Soriano. The four business partners created a trading website, Saldum, that, like Craigslist, offered up second-hand goods for sale in Spain.

The group began reselling American sunglasses in Spain with a $300 commitment to buy 27 pairs of the Knockaround brand sunglasses. It was then that Hawkers was born.

Soon the company realized it could sell its own sunglasses. A Kickstarter campaign was launched and 9,000 supporters committed just shy of €189,851.

The Hawkers strategy has not varied much from the start: Sell high-quality sunglasses at a lower price point, roughly between $20 and $40, while giving customers choice in their ability to select colors, lenses and frames.

Hawkers has also primarily been an online business, selling its products over the internet. Without the ability to have customers try on specs, Hawkers has relied on strong word of mouth and social media to drive its sales growth.

With growth, however, came challenges. The company struggled with fulfilling orders and managing customer inquiries. There were production issues too. At that point, the founders knew they needed an infusion of cash and outside perspective to be successful.

Betancourt steps into leadership role

Needing help with growing the brand and some of the operational challenges it faced, Hawkers sought outside investors. Betancourt saw an opportunity with the company and formed Saldum Ventures with a small group of other investors. 

The group included two of the founders of Tuenti, a popular social networking app, Félix Ruiz and Hugo Arévalo, the latter of whom soon became Hawkers' executive chairman. The group invested €50 million (approximately $56 million), and Betancourt became company president in November 2016.

Two years later, Betancourt made another major investment, contributing €20 million, which made him the company's largest shareholder.

Betancourt was a natural fit to oversee the Hawkers turnaround. The great-grandson of Hermogenes Lopez, the former president of Venezuela, Betancourt was educated at Suffolk University in Boston. 

He is well known as a business leader and angel investor. His early career was focused on the energy sector, building 11 thermonuclear power plants that created 12,000 new jobs. He later joined O'Hara Administration, an asset management and investment house where Betancourt oversees investment strategy.

Redoubling on internet marketing

Betancourt saw the value that Hawkers had gained from selling online and redoubled efforts there. Under his leadership, the company, which had been relatively obscure, grew to become an international presence.

The two keys were social media and influencer marketing.

Betancourt invested in using Facebook and Instagram advertising, using the former's relatively inexpensive ad buys to fuel growth.

Influencers have come in the form of both locally connected college students and some of the world's most famous people.

The role of influencers is an important aspect of Betancourt's awareness, brand recognition and marketing strategies. Betancourt has helped land major deals with some of the best-known names in pop culture and sports. The company has had endorsement deals in recent years with award-winning singer Usher, DJs Nicky Romero and Steve Aoki, sports stars such as Lionel Messi, Ricky Rubio and Fernando Verdasco, and Spanish model Paula Echevarria.

Using college influencers as a marketing strategy also been critical. Hawkers used Facebook ads to identify and reach out to young influencers with large followings. In exchange for free eyewear, well-connected college students would share Hawkers on their social channels, largely Facebook and Instagram.

The company's campus representative program targets college students with at least 1,000 Instagram followers. By becoming official campus reps for Hawkers, these brand ambassadors throw parties and special events on the company's behalf. In exchange, the representatives, who now number more than 5,000, get great benefits, such as tickets and travel to concerts and festivals around the world.

Another key part of the strategy has been partnerships. As early as 2017, Hawkers leveraged relationships with key partners to drive business. The partnership with Spanish clothier El Ganso became a Facebook case study on using ads to drive business.

The El Ganso partnership was just the start. Some of the world's largest brands have signed on with Hawkers. These corporate connections help to grow Hawkers' reach internationally and put it in good company.

Among the companies with which Hawkers has inked corporate partnerships deals are Kia, Mercedes-Benz, PayPal, PlayStation, Pull&Bear and Smart. The Los Angeles Lakers, who feature arguably the most famous basketball player on the planet, are a sponsorship partner, too.

Hawkers growth and impact

Hawkers today sells in 50 countries around the world and has annual sales above $100 million. The company continues to sell most of its products - 90% - online. It has sold 4.5 million pairs of sunglasses since 2013.

Its social media presence is remarkable. Hawkers has 6.6 million Facebook followers, 1.7 million Instagram followers and 192,000 Twitter followers.

The company is continuing to innovate and consider new markets and products. In 2020, it launched H20, a new line of sunglasses that focuses on environmentally friendly business practices. The line has components and packaging that uses recycled materials, including a large quantity of plastic bottles recycled from across the world's oceans. The sunglasses are made using sustainable manufacturing practices, and all of the packaging, along with the frames and lenses, is biodegradable.

The company also now offers contact lenses and prescription glasses, focusing again on affordability and quality. In addition, Betancourt is aiming at new markets, including more expansion into Europe, Australia and the Americas. Hawkers is also beginning to consider retail locations to add onto its online sales.

Betancourt's investment has transformed the company into one ready to continue its growth trajectory.