Having successfully expanded to the USA, Ashleigh Hinde talks to BQ about the success of the company to date, her five-year plan to continue expanding into new markets and offers her advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
What is it the company does?
In short, Waldo is a direct-to-consumer contact lens brand. We’re simplifying the process of buying contact lenses, by making them more affordable and providing a better customer experience. By selling directly to our customers online, we take less margin on our products and remove the complex distribution in the industry, so our customers save money while still wearing lenses of premium quality.
More than this though, we want to change the way people feel about buying contact lenses. It’s such a personal product, and such an enabler for so many people (125 million) that we fundamentally believe the experience for the customer should be better.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
As founder and CEO, I’m in charge of ensuring Waldo is constantly being driven forward with enthusiasm and diligence. I’m responsible for building relationships with suppliers, partners and investors, as well as raising finances to support our growth when it’s needed. I also spend a large portion of time catching up with the team in-house. I call regular strategy meetings at the beginning of the week to discuss our forthcoming objectives, as well as an end of the week update meeting to ensure the entire team are aware of where the business currently is, and where we’re trying to get to.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
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 Masters 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 July 2017.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
It’s important to know what drives you, and know your weaknesses and where you need support as a leader. More than this I think it’s very important for leaders to be listeners and to assimilate information quickly but to have the courage to be decisive and steer the company in the right direction. The best leaders in my career have also been people who are direct and clear with their communication.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
There are lots of challenges that I face in my role day-to-day, but that’s what makes it all so exciting and rewarding. Over our first year, my role as a leader has definitely changed. As a result of this rapid growth, I’ve had to adapt quickly and learn how to successfully run a larger, more complex business while putting in the processes to scale. My role now requires me to be incredibly decisive, more process oriented and I must always be thinking about what the future looks like for Waldo. That said, I remain very open as a leader and encourage an all idea culture.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I alleviate stress by taking time to be outdoors which is my reset button.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I grew up in South Africa, so a lot of my childhood was spent outdoors. I particularly enjoyed photography, and actually won the wildlife photographer of the year award’ when I was 12, so I definitely considered going down this career path as a child. My family have always been very entrepreneurial though, so I always loved the idea of following in their footsteps and starting a business myself.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
We have not had this at Waldo, but in other organisations, I have seen how negativity and gossip can seep into culture. When there is any hint of that starting it's important to tackle it head on and openly; otherwise, it can form part of the culture and it's hard to reverse a cycle like that.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
Following our international expansion to the USA, we’re continuing to expand into new markets and plan to bring our product and service to thousands more customers soon. This is always incredibly exciting. In the meantime, 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 their life.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Ensure you feel strongly enough about your idea that you would dedicate every waking hour to making it work. It helps if you’ve had first-hand experience of an issue/problem that you’re trying to solve with your product or service, in order for you to be able to relate to your customer. Also, get feedback. Rally a focus group together and put your idea out there to be critiqued. Find a way to get a read on early traction (digital channels make this very easy) to make sure that what you want to do is an actual, big problem that people need to be solved.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help and don't underestimate how willing people are to lend a hand. Also, know full well that in the beginning things are likely to be tough. There will be major ups and downs, more than in any other job, so take it in your stride.
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