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Subscription eyewear company that generated 50,000 subscribers in 2 years, WALDO's Ashleigh Hinde

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

Today on the show we’re learning from Ashleigh Hinde, the Founder of a company called WALDO.

Now let me just tell you, this episode is so. damn. good. We get into some nifty tips on how to look at market research and validate your idea, a super hack for outdoor advertising and things to think about if you’re going down the track of subscriptions.

If you haven’t heard of WALDO yet, they are an innovative and accessible DTC eyecare company that believes in the power of positive vision. WALDO sells high quality daily contact lenses and other eyecare products through a bespoke subscription service that is more affordable than the big brands.

Spearheading industry change and innovation, WALDO is committed to making eye care an essential part of everyday life through accessible, high quality products, trustworthy expert service, and a platform to elevate the vision of their customers.

Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!

So, hi, I'm Ashley. I'm the founder of Waldo. We are a modern day I care company on a mission to make I care more accessible and enjoyable for people across the world.

00:03:44Edit We are underpinned by social mission that's powered through our relationship with sight savers where for every product that you buy, we donate products and services to end avoidable blindness, which we're super passionate about. And so as a whole, I feel that the eye care industry could be doing a lot better to bring consumers in and start the conversation around eye health. And that's something that Waldo wants to be at the forefront of. Oh my God, I love it. I didn't know that you were doing that mission piece and that is just so cool. I mean, you know, I'm a customer, I love what you guys do and I love the experience, like the software and the subscription side of it and we'll get into all of that. But first of all, first question, how on earth did you get into contact lenses? What led you to starting this business? Yeah, I guess it's a it's a strange sort of category. As you say, it's not the, not the sexiest, it's not really sort of top of mind when you're thinking what business to start.

00:04:49Edit But actually it was started out of a personal pain point. So I moved to the US in 2016 and ran out of contact lenses and was really struck by the pricing discrepancy between europe South Africa, where I'm from and the U. S. And as a result, you know, I went I went online, I was looking at what my what my brand was. I really wanted to buy dailies but they were Out of my price range. And I started to think like here's this product that I've been wearing for north of 20 years and I actually have no idea what the ingredients are, why they're so expensive. And so I'm studying at the time and just started to investigate the industry and the big players and got really frustrated as a consumer. And I guess in parallel to my own experience around like contact lens friction. My mom is also blind in one eye.

00:05:51Edit And so vision has played a pretty big roll I'd say in my life or rather lack of vision. But yeah, as a whole, I think, you know, eyes and vision have always been something that have really interested me. And I think as far as sensors go, it's the sense that I a most appreciative of. And as I started to discover how broken the industry was and increasingly getting frustrated as a consumer, I set out to solve it for myself. I didn't actually set out to create a business. I set out to find a way to get to the source of contact lenses so that I could wear high quality lenses for less. And then it sort of snowballed into a brand and idea of business to fundraise and here we are, four years later, all the good things, a question that I have for you in that early piece is around customer like market research because it's one of those things that like you said so many people wear contact lenses.

00:06:59Edit So the obvious thing is to be like, oh there's obviously a huge market because so many people need them. But like how do you actually go about like approaching market research for your idea specifically and then validating that idea to like move forward with it? Yeah. So in it's a great question in our space, there's a lot of public players. So you know if there's a public company in your space, Like look up there? S one look up there filing details like read read the documents that you know about that company. That's a really great place to start and get a sense for what their challenges are. What are they investing in? How have sales trended over time, which regions are they growing in? Like all of that is public information for a public company. So that's a really good place to start. And then you know, the second place I think is like do some testing.

00:08:03Edit It's pretty inexpensive to run a small click campaign to get a sense of whether or not this is something that people might be interested in and you know that can prove as some kind of validation. So whether that's a survey or even a sort of early sign up click campaign on social media. There is a number of pretty cost effective ways just to sense check and validate your idea. And I think that that's a pretty good practice as well if you're thinking, you know, if you're trying to decide between two names or two brands, brand identities want to test to see us. You know, there's some, there's some good ways to go about that. Well, that's so insightful. I've never heard your like, I've never heard that answer before to go and look at the public companies information and that's you know, genius. Obviously, I just want to dig a little deeper when you're actually looking through that information on public companies.

00:09:06Edit Like what were you actually looking for? Like what was what was saying to you? Like, it's a good idea. And like were you looking for things they weren't doing or are you looking for things like, oh, they are doing this. So I should do the same thing or like, what do you mean specifically? So Waldo was really born out of like a personal pain points. I knew that the problem existed. I didn't really use like public company research as a validator for the problem necessarily, but I used it for a validator of the scale. So you know, when I looked at johnson, johnson's revenue from contact lenses, I was absolutely blown away. And so that's what I was looking at. So like size of the market kind of thing. Exactly size of the market. Exactly, wow, That's so interesting. Okay, so still in that early piece, something you mentioned before we started recording is that there can be, you know, Hundreds of skews that you need to develop these kind of products, I think you said 800 skews for one particular kind of contact lens, which blew my mind because obviously that makes so much sense because so many people have different I prescriptions, but I just didn't think of it that way.

00:10:20Edit How did you approach your kind of like funding path and what, what were you thinking when it came to bootstrapping investing your own capital, funding it that way? Or were you thinking, hey, I need to raise from day one, this is a huge project. So I think this is, this is something I've learned along the way. Um it's not something that I knew in the beginning at all. And actually I wish that it was something that I had a better grasp of when I started Waldo. I wanted to bootstrap it because I come from a family of entrepreneurs and that's kind of the only way, sort of been taught to build a business? The whole fundraising thing was very new to me. And so for me, it was actually like, okay, what are the minimum order quantities? What is the cost of that first order? Let me add a percentage on top of that to give myself a little bit of headroom and that's the number I'm going to rise, arrive at, obviously like a very rudimentary approach to, you know, funding a company.

00:11:23Edit But anyway, I sent that business plan around to a couple of friends in the finance space after, you know, asking for feedback on the plan And essentially ended up raising like six times what I initially wanted to raise. And in hindsight, honestly, we should have raised more, but that is particular to my industry. So contact lenses are, it's a very regulatory heavy industry or it's a product where you need significant cash outlay. Like the minimum order quantities are high and it's also a huge space. Like the players in this space are multi, multibillion dollar global behemoths. And so when you're operating in that space, capital can be a moat and you know, it can be a way for you to build protections around the business quite a lot faster.

00:12:28Edit So for my industry absolutely was the right call to go after external capital early on and in hindsight we probably should have raised more. But that said in a different category, if I was starting another business where it wasn't so regulatory heavy, the minimum order quantities weren't so big and you know, I was looking to maybe run a good lifestyle business for instance, I wouldn't take external capital, I'd um if there is no rush, like bootstrap it yourself get as many customer learnings as you can in those early days and own as much of the businesses as you can. Are you able to share kind of what were the minimum orders and kind of ballpark pricing you did need to get started. And I have a follow up question why, why I'm asking you, it's in relation to myself because basically, like I'm in this position where I'm asking people's opinion, who have a better idea because I obviously am new to this, but for example, my minimum order, Which is 6000 bottles, is about 42,000 per skew.

00:13:39Edit And where in that point of being like, you know, we want to make this a big business, we know there are big players that, you know, to get market share, it's going to be, it's going to cost capital, we need working capital, but is that an amount that's actually low enough to try and bootstrap, try and grow slowly or should we be looking at raising, you know, it depends on your personal circumstances. I had spent at the time. So for Waldo, that number was in the hundreds of thousands of pounds and I had spent the year studying. So I had literally taken savings out of every last little Pockets available. And I was at ground zero of like my own sort of financial situation. So there was no way that that was an option for me if I was you and obviously, you know, I'm not, I don't have all the information if it's an amount that you, I would fund it myself if I could, you know, at least just in the beginning, Get the learnings and then be really thoughtful about who you want to bring on board.

00:14:48Edit Because capital is like, you know, I wouldn't say it's like a marriage. But it's definitely on that path when it comes to relationships and you're partnering with people who give you money for the lifespan of the company and so you want to be making those decisions really thoughtfully. Mm hmm. Yeah. That comes up a lot on the show that it's really like a marriage and just stuck with them forever. So very clear about the kind of people you want to talk to on the phone every single day. Exactly. Exactly. Let's talk about those first couple of years for you building Waldo. Like in the early days I read that you had something crazy like 50,000 subscribers within two years. How did you actually do that? Like when you actually break down acquiring those customers at that scale, what does that look like? All the key moments in those two years? Yeah. So key moments I think, you know, for me, the key moments always come down to like one customer like, so it's like the first customer, it's the first like in those early days I was on customer service on weekends and the evenings.

00:16:01Edit Like speaking to customers like trying to understand the pain points give you an example. We made the shipping boxes slightly higher than they needed to be. So that if we wanted to put any gifts or like marketing materials in there, it would fit in the box sounds like a reasonable, you know, thing to decide. And then I'm sitting on chat with a customer and they're like, it doesn't fit in the mailbox and we go through this like, like it does fit in the mailbox but anyway, we basically, it was like 0.2 back millimeters, whatever it was. This tiny difference between fitting in the mailbox and not. And so we got the breakdown of like what are the different sizes of mailboxes in the UK And it's like 60% of mailboxes are excised 10% or why like and you know in hindsight like we should have checked that but that for me is like when you say like what are the steps that to me is like okay, step one.

00:17:17Edit Like The first learning that actually the packaging is wrong. Like step to like the first few positive reviews like making sure we built in a feedback loop like from day one. So with the customer's order, they would always get like how was your experience today? And we really like listen to those and over index on those and that's been a practice since the beginning of time, which I think is a, is a really good one. I saw you have like a kid Gillian reviews as well, you've obviously got a good system in place, it's like 15,000 on trust pilot. I was like, wow my God, we run a tight little review ship, which I would highly recommend doing but really getting close to that feedback and getting very granular on that feedback is critical. And then also listening to the kind of language that consumers are using to talk about your products and then feeding that back into marketing. So you know, very early on like quality.

00:18:18Edit So although while there is a cheaper product actually it's like quality and convenience that customers value most above price. And so as a result our, you know, we changed our marketing to not be so price led like free trial 10 days of contacts for 2:95 we still have those kinds of ads for sure. But we amended our marketing to be a lot more like you know, high quality contact delivered when you need them addressing the pain points around delivery and convenience which through reviews and through customer feedback seemed to be like a product pain point that was actually more important than price. And so just getting like very granular on the listening front, I think it's super important. And then actually like when it comes to the tangible acquisition of customers most of that for us has been social media. So google facebook, you know, s EO like all of that's been really important to us but we brought in an agency to help with that in the early days now we run that in house and then and then we sort of ran the analysis on like how much does it cost to acquire a customer, how long are they staying, how many purchases do we need to make in order to break even on that customer acquisition cost.

00:19:41Edit And I think that that's a like those numbers you've got to be running from day one, otherwise you're just potentially going to be bleeding cash and especially if that you know if you've taken money from other people or if it's your own. But either way you've just got to be really keep a close eye on that Doing here as we get deeper into the holiday season. You might be thinking about ways to keep your business connected through the madness with things like employee holiday travel by our behavior changes and Q4 wrap ups, staying connected has never been more important from marketing to sales and operations. A hubspot crm platform is ready to connect all of the touch points of your business, whether you're just getting started or scaling to what's next hubspot is consistently working to make its platform more connected than ever, improved forecasting tools, give you a bird's eye view of your entire pipeline to see what's around the corner, see how your quarter is going inspect new deals and use customizable data driven reports to improve team performance as you grow with custom behavioral events, you can get into the details of what makes your customers tick track site behavior and understand your customers buying habits or within the platform, learn more about how a hubspot crm platform can help connect the dots of your business at hubspot dot com.

00:21:02Edit Were you someone before you started the business that was like super numbers driven and you're able to build your own financial model or did you need to learn on the go find a consultant kind of thing. So a little bit of both. I'd say I could get by like I had an idea on and I learned the language and the sort of structure, so that was more sort of self taught, but I had enough sort of background on it to be able to do it. You know, I meet a lot of founders that say that's just like not my area and that's fine, but honestly like make it your area like business is business, you need to know the numbers. Like even if it's not something that excites you, a business is built in the financial model. Yeah, like, you know, even if somebody else builds the financial model for you, that's great, That's fine. But sit with them and understand line by line how those numbers interact because actually numbers of storytelling, like, so even if you're looking at the public companies, you know, financials through where they're putting their money, it tells you a story about their strategy and around the way that they're thinking about the industry and I think that that's a really important concept to wrap your head around as a business, you know, and as a founder, even if you can't build the model, you need to be able to tell the story and why and so you can't get excited about the numbers.

00:22:39Edit Think about them as letters in a story. I love that. That's so cool. Thank you before I switch topics. I love the kind of thing that you're doing on Tiktok now as your channel, probably an acquisition tool over there. It's very cool in line with the modern brand techniques working well for us. I must be honest, like I find it quite a hard platform to use. So I go on there to try and see like some of the stuff that we're doing and it makes me feel so ancient. Yeah, I know it's such a tough one when I feel like in the beginning I've gotten a lot better with understanding to talk, but in the beginning when it was early days I was like, oh mama, this is A tough one. I'm not going to be on there doing dancing, I want to talk about subscriptions and models. Obviously this is a huge part of your business. It's a subscription offering. I mean maybe you can buy just individual packs, but for me, my understanding is that it's a subscription model. For those listening who have a product suited to subscriptions, what are some of the key like insights or lessons you can share around making them successful and like, you know how to improve customer attention, all that kind of stuff.

00:23:54Edit Yeah. So I will say that not every product should be a subscription like subscription fatigue is real and increasing honestly. Like I don't think customers really want or like subscriptions as much as maybe they used to in the beginning. So just try and take an unbiased view. Like is your product actually a replenishment subscription product or not? If it is a subscription, the things that you need to sort of way up is, you know, what's good about subscription is obviously you've got those follow on orders and so you can make more defined decisions around acquisition costs because you have an idea of how customers behave through attention and there's like some sort of stability on follow on revenue there. But the flip side of subscriptions is that, you know, conversion rates on site are generally like a lot lower than they are on one of product businesses.

00:24:58Edit So honestly I would test it like, you know, if you're not sure whether your product is subscription or not like either give customers the option to do both and try and sort of wait subscription heavier on site or incentivize it through pricing but test it and see how customers behave and then you know through the two cohorts of customers, the ones that comes through retention and then the ones that buy one off and make sure you're just running the analysis on what is a more valuable customer and like what are the drop off points for subscribers and then what are the repeat purchase points for one time purchase customers and then seeing how you can prevent drop off and increase, you know, repeat purchases. But also ask customers like try and get a sense of when they're making those purchases. Like maybe it's on a, I don't know, saturday morning or monday night or whatever.

00:25:58Edit Like try and just get a sense of when customers need to buy your product and then try and sort of over index your marketing activities on those. But on the subscription versus not peace. Like I mean contact lenses truly are a subscription product because people wear them like every day they need to be replenished. But I'm not even sure necessarily that raises are like an ideal subscription product. Like, you know, add choice if you can and then just try to incentivize behavior with pricing. That's what I would do. And I feel like one of the worst things you can do if you're going to introduce subscription model is like not offer flexibility. My biggest pain point from the consumer perspective is having a subscription that I can't pause change the day change. But you know, those kinds of things that like if you're traveling for three months and they're like, sorry, nothing we can do. And you're like, okay, well obviously I want to cancel because this sucks exactly.

00:27:01Edit So we've spent a lot of time building that honestly, there's still like a lot of work for us to do on that front. Like, but you can pause, you can push out the next month, You can change the date, You can change the plan probably, you can change too many things. Like we've probably gone, you know, almost too far on on giving customers options. Like I was on my account the other day changing my plan actually trying to pull it forward because believe it or not, I changed addresses in the, I ran out of contact lenses and so I was trying to change my date. But then it was like, you know, do you want to change your plan? How often do you want them delivered on what date? And I was like, I don't know like, and so you need to offer like maximum flexibility but also make it simple. Like don't give the customer work to sort of figure that out. But yeah, flexibility is key. And what I also love here is it's like, you know, go through and test all of your own stuff.

00:28:07Edit Like go through and by go through and figure out. Like if you're enjoying the experience because it will be the same for everyone else. I love that? Go through the steps, go through the journey and then there's a platform called hot jar that allows you to, like, it does screen recordings of how people are using the site and so it's a little tedious, but you can go into a hot shower and like watch those recordings and actually get a sense for where are people fumbling on your site? Like where do they seem to be getting confused? Where are the pauses and just try and address those? Wow, that's so interesting. Haven't heard of that before. Thanks. Love it. What do you think is your top piece of advice for entrepreneurs coming into 2022? What do we need to know? You know, entrepreneurship is a, is a wild ride, like focus on the details it's important. You know, I think a lot of people say like, don't sweat the small stuff, actually my sweat, the small stuff like the small stuff becomes big stuff, so that's my sort of first piece of advice.

00:29:13Edit And I think also just something that I've had to do on and I guess this is why I'm, you know, while I'll give the advice, but something that I really had to do is like take a bit of a breath around, like stress and, you know, allowing entrepreneurship to be totally all consuming and, you know, to the point where it actually like affects your health. So I really think especially coming into 22, like on the back end of, of covid and so many global changes, like make sure that you're taking care of yourself and just try and be pragmatic. I think because being an entrepreneur can be quite emotional. Mhm very true. Lots of ups, lots of downs daily. Yeah, lots of ups, lots of downs, but that's the road. So just accept it and buckle up, you know, accepted and buckle up will do.

00:30:20Edit Thank you. At the end of every episode, I asked a series of six quick questions, some of which we might have covered, some of which we might not have, but I asked them all the same question. Number one is, what's your, why? Why are you doing what you're doing? My why is like, I, I really love putting something tangible out into the world and with scale, we can really make a difference in people's lives through this partnership with sight savers and nothing excites me more than that. Like Waldo feels like a form of communication to me. Like if we can have a I remember for instance when we launched in Italy and a customer sent through a photo of a box of Waldo's on there, like fiat like dashboard and for me, I was like, wow! Like here's this person in Italy that I have no relationship with, but it feels like I have a micro relationship with them because they are using my product and so baldo feels like sort of a little bit of communication for me here, out into the world and then the impact that we can have through charity partnerships like site centers makes me really excited.

00:31:41Edit Yeah, I mean totally, you're literally changing people's lives. That's crazy stuff. Impact driven. Mission driven. I feel like having, making sure that your business has that impact part to it. So you can truly feel fulfillment in what you're doing and knowing that versus just doing it without that piece of the puzzle. I think so like and I also think that the world is in a place where like companies that aren't doing that companies that aren't being thoughtful about the entire mission and the whole purpose for existing. Like I just think that that's it's changing. There's not really space for companies that aunt being broader in the way that they're thinking about impact. Mm hmm. Absolutely. Question number two, what has been the number one marketing moment that made the business pop? We haven't had one. Honestly like it's been fairly like steady state. We haven't had like one viral moment or one.

00:32:48Edit You know, one sort of something. But what I will say is we got a really good deal on outdoor advertising in the UK and we got those huge posters on the underground and that really did an amazing job with traffic and there is a hack around outdoor media because generally, you know, it's like super expensive. But if you get the artwork ready and build a relationship with those outdoor media companies and just say to them, look if somebody's outwork isn't ready and they can't fill the space, I'll take like a last minute because then they really cut prices. Like if you can get your artwork ready for them by like monday and so that's one yeah, if we did have a marketing moment it would be that, that's amazing by like what percentage do they drop the fee from A lot? Like probably I'd say 30%,, wow, that's crazy. Great hack. If any of them are listening, they're probably like, well it's been told the secrets out.

00:33:55Edit The secret has been filled now, Question # three is where do you hang out to get smarter? What are you reading or listening to or subscribing to? That's good stuff. There's a lot of like great business books out there and you know, I spend a decent amount of time reading, reading business books I have since added a mentor like to the mix and so I have a Hour or two sessions with her on a weekly basis and she's like absolutely unbelievable. So trying to find mentors that have been through similar journeys before and can sort of add another perspective on some of the things that you're going through is, is really important. So I'd say that's actually my focus right now more on like mentorship and coaching also doing a coaching sort of course. Mhm great thanks. Question number four is how do you win the day, what are your am or PM rituals and habits that keep you feeling happy and successful and motivated.

00:35:04Edit So I'm sure everybody says this, but meditation is an absolute game changer. So I'm meditate, meditate about twice a day. So gen generally before bed and then sometimes like a short meditation in the middle of the day, which really helps. And then another sort of tactic is, so I don't read email when I wake up. I actually look at my calendar, get a sense for what the activities for the day are. And then what's actually pretty helpful is to come up with three words or three sort of attributes that I need to embody in order to be successful in that day. So whether it's, you know, today I'm going to be a great listener, empathetic and courageous or depending on what's needed from you out of the day. Like that's been quite a good way for me to like anchor around how I need to be in show up.

00:36:09Edit Mm I love that. I'm so bad at the moment with my phone in the mornings. I need to get back to starting my day with meditation. I go through like ebbs and flows of being in like a really good rhythm and feeling it and then being in a terrible rhythm and not feeling it. Yeah, for sure. I completely agree. I think one of the challenges with starting your day on social media or email is that you're allowing like external content to dictate the mood that you start your day and, and yeah, it's just sucks. Yeah, it literally sucks motion Number five is if you were given $1000 of no strings attached grant money, where would you spend that in the business? Obviously it's not a lot of money, but what's the most important spend of a dollar for you spend requiring customers any particular channel at the moment, it would probably still be like direct response.

00:37:12Edit It was earlier. You know, probably I do 500 sort of test budget and then 500 after that test sort of knowing which ads and messaging resonates. Mhm Great. And last question question number six, how do you deal with failure? What's your mindset and approach when things inevitably don't go to plan? Like pause dusted off. Like giving a bit of a moment depending on how big the failure was. Like, you know, some sometimes it's big like if you get a big investor rejection for instance that you've been working on multiple meetings, you know, you're like semi invested in the relationship or whatever like that can that can hurt. So take a moment like give it a bit of space and then brush it off. What could we have done better and how do we fix it? Like don't create some room for it and get out. Don't like then get into solution mode. I think there's something that I've tried to be quite conscious of is allowing too much, you know, whether it's failure or something that just didn't go according to plan or whatever, like carrying too many of those things with you, it just gets like burdensome.

00:38:31Edit So give them the space to acknowledge them, but then resolve them and clear them off as quickly as you can. Mhm. I hear it's not personal. Yes. You have to really separate self from business and with that clear line down there. Yeah. Ashley, thank you so much for taking the time to be on Female Startup club and shared so many great tips. So many. Great inside. I feel like this was a really tactical episode. I learned things that I did not know and I love that. So thank you so much. I'm really grateful. So nice to meet you and thanks for having me on the show. I love it.

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