Alejandro Betancourt López is a Venezuelan businessman and entrepreneur with significant interests in several companies. He started in the energy sector before moving into international trade and finance. Since then, he has started his own firms and is now heavily invested in a variety of categories. Betancourt routinely serves in top executive roles within his portfolio companies, which is unusual for an investor.
Betancourt graduated from Boston’s Suffolk University in 2002 with a double major in international economics and business administration. He started his career at a company that conducts the exploration, production, and trade of petroleum and derivative products. The company has a global presence, and Betancourt worked in South American locations. His next position was with Guruceaga Group, which trades in real estate, finance, agricultural products, and manufactured goods. Additional employers in Betancourt’s early career included BGB Energy, which was involved in a joint venture between Gesca Corp. and Kawasaki Heavy Industries.
Betancourt also led O’Hara Financial to invest in Pacific Exploration & Production Corporation in 2015, resulting in him controlling 19.95% of the oil and gas company’s shares. In 2016, O’Hara also provided 50 million euros (about $55 million) in funding to Hawkers, a Spanish sunglasses startup. The founders of Hawkers subsequently appointed Alejandro Betancourt as their company’s president.
How did you get started in this business?
I was looking to do something new and modern after my experience in traditional sectors like energy and finance. A friend asked me if I wanted to invest in Hawkers, which only sold sunglasses through a webpage at that time. However, it was also the first Spanish company to do marketing with social media and its influencers. I got excited about the marketing strategy and invested in Hawkers through O’Hara, my investment firm. Today, Hawkers is the leading company for sunglasses in Spain.
How do you make money?
I use the social media advertising that was already in place for Hawkers, allowing us to sell high-end sunglasses at an affordable price. We use guru-style marketing through platforms like Facebook, Pinterest, Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube. Ray-Ban sunglasses cost about $200 a pair, but all our sunglasses were in the range of $20 to $40. We targeted the average customer while still providing the quality of high-end brands. We have since become one of the top 10 fashion companies in the world on value and are well known for selling quality products at a fair price.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
We were selling about 90% of our sunglasses online in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Our strong online presence was an advantage because our sales weren’t significantly affected by the loss of physical sales that caused nonessential brick-and-mortar stores to struggle. As of 2020, we have sold over 4.5 million pairs of sunglasses in over 50 countries.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
Hawkers’ financial status was quite poor when I first considered investing in it. It wasn’t producing a profit yet, nor did it have the funds needed to maintain production. The brand itself was a positive factor, as many people associated it with quality products. I believed that hiring the right people to support my vision would be the key to making the company financially successful.
We needed to expand quickly to ensure we could produce sunglasses at a cost that would allow us to remain competitive. We already had competitors in our local market, so we needed to find a business model to help us succeed. The primary challenges at this point were the unusually high barriers to entry, both in terms of manufacturing cost and product quality.
How did you get your first customer?
We market Hawkers’ products through social media and influencers. I highly recommend these channels for achieving organic brand growth, along with celebrity endorsements and associating your products with other top brands.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
My goal as an entrepreneur is also to continue learning about new marketing techniques, which helps me achieve a willing attitude and remain humble. I take advantage of learning opportunities from online sources, trade publications, and networking events whenever I can.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
Convincing the founders of Hawkers to outsource their manufacturing was one of my biggest early decisions with this company. They wanted to keep it in-house, but my business connections would have allowed us to get the work done without sacrificing our control over the manufacturing process.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
My success largely comes from my ability to identify trends that will transform markets and adapt to those trends. My ride-sharing business has particularly benefited from this because it’s based on emerging technology that affects culture and customer desire. These things are changing so fast that it’s essential to anticipate what they mean for consumers and markets.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Hawkers was founded in 2013 after a $300 investment. Today. the company is worth $60 million as of 2021.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
We’re doing quite well in Spain, but we plan to expand to additional markets in other countries. We will also form more partnerships with other brands for clothing, shoes, and jewelry. These strategies will help both us and our partners sell more products. Additional plans for the future include making more environmentally friendly sunglasses without sacrificing fashion.
What business books have inspired you?
“Do Hard Things: Why We Get Resilience Wrong and the Surprising Science of Real Toughness” by Steve Magness
What advice would you give to your younger self?
If I had to do this over again, I would advise my younger self to immediately implement customer service policies that were more transparent. Today, we notify customers right away whenever there’s a problem with their order, no matter what stage that order is in. This wasn’t always the case, but making the change has resulted in greater customer loyalty and goodwill.
Are you willing to be a mentor? If so, how should someone contact you?
Please find my contact information on my personal website: http://www.alejandro-betancourt.com/