The Entrepreneur: Ashleigh Hinde, Waldo
The business story behind flying to success with contact lens subscription
Founder: Ashleigh Hinde
Description in one line: Waldo is a global e-commerce brand that delivers high quality daily contact lenses at an affordable price straight to the consumer via an innovative digital platform.
Ashleigh Hinde, founder and MD of the successful contact lens subscription company, Waldo, talks business breakthroughs, the numbers that really matter and her mission to change the way people feel about buying contact lenses.
Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:
Waldo is a direct-to-consumer contact lens brand with a difference. We’ve simplified the process of buying contact lenses, by delivering directly to customers from our world class manufacturers. In doing this, we’re making contacts more affordable and providing a better experience for our customers. We fundamentally believe vision should be personal and exciting, so it’s our mission to change the way people feel about buying contact lenses.
We officially launched Waldo in London on the 1st August 2017 and have since expanded throughout the UK, EU and most recently into the USA.
What is your greatest business achievement to date?
Definitely bringing Waldo to launch. The idea to fruition phase is super exciting and seeing my idea come to life is a really rewarding experience. Another highlight was actually launching and getting the product into customers’ hands. Soon after that, we launched Vitamin contact lenses – the first of their kind in the UK.
In terms of recent highlights, the bar keeps on moving. Breakthrough moments arrive on a daily and weekly basis because things are moving so quickly. We have now launched Waldo in the USA and Europe which is probably our biggest achievement to date.
What numbers do you look at every day in your business?
I would say subscription retention rates and the number of inbound organic sign-ups are the most important for a brand like ours. In the early days, our focus was to ensure traction and a full understanding of our target audience. These two metrics show that we have a great product that people continue to want to tell their friends about, which proves we have a place in the market.
To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?
We now trade in the UK, USA and EU. There is clear demand for our product and service further afield, so we have further growth plans in the pipeline. Saying this, we’re conscious that as a business we have experienced rapid growth over the last year, so it’s important to ensure our fundamentals are tight and aligned before venturing into new markets to make sure we can deliver on our promises to customers.
Describe your growth funding path:
From the beginning, I’ve approached funding with a lot of thought and preparation, so I will continue to implement this as Waldo grows. We raised a seed round of funding from Angels and Institutions last year, but prior to that, the development of the brand and setting up of the company was all bootstrapped. One year on, we’ve now raised a total of £5.7m in two funding rounds.
What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?
Building our own subscription system. It’s given us greater flexibility over our customer journey and allowed us to build a service we’re really proud of.
Where would you like your business to be in three years?
We’re continuing to expand into new markets, so I see Waldo as being a truly global brand that not only provides great contact lenses but also a service that completely fits in with your life.
What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?
With regards to Waldo, the main challenges to begin with were hiring the team and making those early decisions that ultimately define what kind of culture I wanted to build. It’s difficult because there is nothing to base it on except a vision and an idea. I knew that at this stage making the right decision was incredibly important, not just when considering which team members would be the best fit, but in terms of brand partnerships, agencies, distributors and technology platforms.
Early on, I made the decision to set time aside and find the right people who were going to feel passionate about pushing the company to succeed. This was an extremely important part of the growth process.
What was your biggest business mistake?
There are always things we should have done but we have learnt fast from them, so I don’t see them as mistakes. A mistake would be finding we did something wrong and not fixing it.
Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:
Red Tape does exist in our industry, but we have tackled each issue with integrity, honesty and determination. We have to be very careful when talking about the qualities and features of our lenses, as they are a medical product. There are a lot of industry regulations for contact lenses and it’s imperative that we adhere to them as we disrupt the industry and move towards a more customer-centric model.
In the USA, every contact lens wearer must have confirmation from their eye doctor that their lens order is approved upon checking their prescription. As a result, we’ve had to spend time and money building that into our customer journey. I wouldn’t necessarily say this has hampered our growth though. When we set out on our expansion, we always understood that there would be country-specific regulations we’d need to respect so it’s simply a matter of executing these as efficiently as possible.
What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?
Assuming there is a market for a product that they love without doing any testing. It’s imperative that you carry out extensive market research before launching any kind of product, regardless of how certain you are that there will be demand for it.
Also, entrepreneurs who wait too long to start up often miss opportunities – it’s important to work fast and hard in the early days. If you have a good idea, you need to act quickly. Chances are it’s only a matter of time before somebody else thinks of a similar or identical product/service as yours.
How will your market look in three years?
The market is changing quickly, more and more companies are switching to online and customers are starting to demand products and services tailored for them. The market will be significantly bigger in three years’ time. The contact lens market industry has remained the same for years and years, with the big players becoming stagnant and not customer-focused enough.
Things are shifting due to technology and customers generally demanding more from their products. The industry disruption that is now happening around the word solidifies the notion that consumers are ready for change. It proves that there is substantial demand for our product and service.
At Waldo, we want to create a brand that people feel emotionally engaged with, because we feel that vision is something that can be personal and exciting. Somebody once said to me that buying contact lenses made them feel like “something was wrong with them”, and they almost felt like they had a disability. There is so much to talk about when it comes to vision and people’s perspectives, so we fundamentally believe that, in three years’ time, it should become a more exciting category.
What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?
Know full-well that there will be major ups and downs, more than in any other job so take it in your stride and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don't underestimate how willing people are to lend a hand.
Massages. I’m often tied to my desk all day, so they really help me to de-stress.
Executive education or learn it on the job?
It’s not necessarily either/or but I prefer learning on the job as long as you do your job with purpose and conviction so that the learning is valuable. Too many people go to work without asking why they are working in that job. Executive education is a great pause and reflection time for exactly that.
What would make you a better leader?
I am more of an introvert than an extrovert so sometimes I speak my mind less than I should.
What one thing do you wish you’d known when you started?
I don’t have any wishes. I’ve learnt so much already through customer feedback and growth, it’s been a case of starting and moving forward, so I don’t think much about what I wish I had known beforehand. It’s not a great use of time.
One business app and one personal app you can’t do without:
Asana and WhatsApp.
The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. It’s an absolute must read for any entrepreneur or budding entrepreneur.