While studying for her Masters a few years ago, Ashleigh Hinde had that “Eureka” moment that all budding entrepreneurs dream of. “I ran out of contacts while I was in the States and I couldn’t understand why they were so expensive,” she says. “So I started to look into it.”
As a finance student, Ashleigh (who is still only 29) had access to all sorts of company information. Her research into the contact lens business revealed huge profit margins for the big pharmaceuticals, pricing inconsistency across markets and — ironically — not much transparency. “I just felt completely ripped off as a customer and quite stupid because I have worn contact lenses since I was 11,” she says. “I’d never questioned the brand, what I'm paying or what's in them.”
Ashleigh, who is originally South African but based in the UK, channelled this righteous indignation into launching her own e-commerce start-up, Waldo. She partnered with a top global contact lens manufacturer to produce high-quality daily lenses (the health benefits of which “far exceed bi-weeklies or monthlies”, says Ashleigh) which are delivered direct to the customer for a fraction of the price charged by the big players.
Waldo offers two types of lenses — Original and Vitamin (for sensitive eyes) costing £12 and £16 respectively for packs of 30. Customers simply select their prescription online and how often they want deliveries — every 4, 6, 8 or 12 weeks. Waldo doesn’t handle aftercare but recommends a network of opticians to its customers.
The consumer response was immediate. Within 3 months of launching in August 2017, Waldo had already gained 10,000 customers. Last summer the company won a $5 million investment which allowed it to launch successfully in the US. Waldo now has over 60,000 customers — and still only 11 employees, all based in London.
It wasn’t only the buying experience that Ashleigh wanted to improve, but the brand experience too. “It always really surprised me that contact lens brands and products look so clinical, as though there's something wrong with you,” she says. “When you buy glasses you’re treated as though you’re buying a luxury item.”
By contrast, the Waldo box that drops through your letterbox is in a stylish Yves Klein blue. The company’s brand voice is fun and informal — “Great to see you” and “For your eyes only” feature on its box and accompanying literature. And why not? “Everybody's got a unique perspective on the world so there's no reason why your contact lens brand shouldn't make you feel positive and optimistic too,” says Ashleigh.
This ethos is echoed in the company name, which Ashleigh derived from Walden University in the States. “I loved the sound of it because I thought it sounded like ‘world’. And I thought contact lenses should be worldly and give the impression of travel and optimism and fun.”
Waldo’s first base was an office space at Workspace’s Clerkenwell Workshops before the company upsized to a bigger office at The Frames in Shoreditch last November. “The building was just beautiful and they had a space that suited us,” she says. “And Shoreditch is also a great area — there are so many other start-ups about.”
Ashleigh was originally attracted to Workspace by the range of buildings on offer. “A lot of companies have a flexibility element, but they tend to have quite boring and clinical office styles,” she says. “Whereas Workspace have some places that look like warehouses and others that are sleeker. I like that.”
Ashleigh has been impressed by the co-working space and networking events but appreciates the room that Workspace tenants are given to develop their own identity. “In other places, the culture can be too pervasive. At Workspace they facilitate it so you can get on with your own business and create your own culture,” she says.
And with a company growing as fast as hers, there’s little time for getting to know the neighbours right now. This year Waldo is planning to open an office in the US and deepen its presence in the UK and EU by expanding its product line.
And beyond that, Ashleigh would like to see Waldo move into markets further afield. “The beauty of it from a business point of view is that this contact lens problem doesn't exist just in a couple of markets,” she says. “It's pretty global.” Now that’s what you call a clear vision.
Waldo’s Original lenses are available on a 10-day trial for only £2.95 (Waldo Vitamin is priced at £4.95). Workspace customers can receive a 20% discount on their first full month’s order by entering the discount code WORKSPACE20.
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