Ashleigh Hinde is hoping her start-up Waldo helps break the taboo around contact lenses by bridging the gap between consumer and product - creating an emotionally engaged, personal and exciting customer journey.
Ashleigh Hinde is the founder & CEO of Waldo, a direct-to-consumer contact lens brand and this is her story so far.
Hi Ashleigh, thanks for agreeing to share your story on YHP. Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I’m originally from South Africa, and it was there that I studied organisational psychology, commercial law, media and marketing at the University of Cape Town. After graduating, I took on various marketing and corporate strategy roles in Switzerland and London. I then decided to take a year out of corporate life and did a master’s at Harvard, which is where I developed the idea for Waldo and began working on the initial business plan. I went on to launch Waldo in August 2017.
Tell me about the early days and the types of challenges you initially encountered?
The main challenges to begin with were hiring the team and making those early decisions that ultimately define what kind of culture you want 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 about employees, but in terms of brand partnerships, agencies, distributors and technology platforms.
What is Waldo? And what are you trying to solve with it?
In a nutshell, Waldo is a direct-to-consumer contact lens brand. With Waldo, we’re trying to simplify the process of buying contact lenses, by making them more affordable and providing a better customer experience. We wanted to create a brand that people felt 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 it should be a more exciting category. There is just no other brand that is bringing this side of the industry out. In my experience of buying contact lenses, everything to do with the purchase experience felt very disconnected from the customer.
How have you been able to fund it so far?
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.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs looking to raise funds for their start-ups?
Make sure that your business plan is robust, from start to finish. Get a group of people together who can grill you on what the core questions of the business are, people that you trust who would have a sense of what questions to ask (if you feel you are in the dark yourself).
Really though, if you’ve been through the whole early process you you would have already answered these questions yourself in order to validate whether or not your business idea is worth your time. After this, think very carefully about A) whether or not you need funding and B) if you do need funding, where is the best place to get that? Is it family and friends, VC or even crowdfunding? It’s really important to think about the kinds of funding that are available because they each have pros and cons.
In the first few months, how excited were you? Tell us about how those months felt and what happened?
The first few months were super exciting, because we were taking the idea from 0 to 1 and we were growing so quickly. We moved offices three times in six months because we kept needing more desk space! We had an energetic team too. When you start to grow your customer base, there’s nothing more exciting than putting something new out into the world and gaining positive feedback from customers.
How did you initially gain traction?
We generated a fair amount of PR, alongside actioning quite a robust digital marketing plan. We had spent more than a year researching the market, so we knew that a need in the market existed.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
We’ve been thoughtful about building a community around our business, and that goes hand in hand with building an authentic brand that people can get on board with. Alongside that, we’ve always made sure our business fundamentals are in check – everything from having good technology, a solid supply chain and a strong enough infrastructure to be able to scale.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
In the very early days, a highlight was bringing together the business plan and getting a sense of ‘wow, this could really work’. When all of the pillars began to align in 2016, it was really exciting.
Another highlight was actually launching and getting product into customers’ hands. Then came our first 10,000 customers. This was a great day and we celebrated by having drinks with the team. In terms of recent highlights, the bar keeps on moving.
Breakthrough moments arrive on a daily/weekly basis because things are moving so quickly. For example, we have just launched in Europe and launched Vitamin contact lenses, the first of their kind in the UK.
What should we be expecting from yourself and the Waldo team for the rest of 2018?
We’re continuing to expand into new markets and we’ll keep progressing to offer additional services to our customers, ensuring we’re offering not only great contact lenses but also a service that completely fits in with your life.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
● Make sure that the idea you have is something that you’re deeply passionate about or deeply interested in. Basically, make sure you can be in this for the long haul.
● Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don't underestimate how willing people are to lend a hand where they can.
● Remain focused. Think early on about what kind of company you want to build and the culture you’d like it to have. Use that as a bit of a guidepost for the decisions that you make and then check in with yourself every few months just to make sure you’re on track. Don’t let yourself get swayed or distracted.