Waldo designs contact lenses for optimum comfort and moisture. Each lens is made from ultra-breathable etafilcon A with a high water content of 58%.
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Under The Hood: Ashleigh from WALDO

Insights in business & D2C from the incredible founder of WALDO

Welcome Ashleigh! What's the growth been like since launch on WALDO? 

We started WALDO in 2017 in the UK and then expanded to Europe, becoming the largest subscription contact lens company in both of those markets, and then in 2019, we 10x’d the business with expansion to the US. 

That growth was a result of both targeting a far bigger audience and raising a Series A, which gave us capital to support it. Fast forward to today, the business has grown 20x to become a global e-commerce brand, and we’ve shipped more than 50 million lenses to date.

Over that time period, we’ve achieved milestones that we’re incredibly proud of, such as the launch of our US-first vitamin infused lenses, our continued work with optometrists and eye doctors across the US, and growing our partnership with one of the biggest retailers in the world - Walmart. However, we’ve pushed & pulled between growth & profitability during the past five years. COVID was also particularly difficult for eCommerce brands, and that’s when I made a call to hold back on growth and focus on profitability,  which led to our first break-even year in 2022, and we’re now aiming for year-on-year growth of around 30% in 2023. 

How easy is it to set a growth target & hit it at your stage? 

Over time, we have naturally a really good understanding of the limits of our growth vs. margins vs. CAC. That’s all pretty fine-tuned. But we do have 2 types of health checks to make sure our growth is not too soft or aggressive - we have a weekly check-in where we look at ALL marketing spend vs. new customers, as raw as it gets, and a monthly meeting where we look at performance per channel. 

A lot of the talk around “DTC is dead” comes from businesses like yours who have taken on lots of funding and been far too aggressive on acquisition while overlooking profitability. What’s your take on all that? 

I think it has to be a documented discussion with your investors. Do you all align on wanting more growth or profitability? That must be in writing. 

For us, we took the path of focusing on profitability and investing in innovation while cutting software costs and some headcount. Our innovations in other areas prolong our timeline to assure we stay alive, even if we do run out of money. 

But the honest truth is that while investors like the idea of investing in profitable businesses, many overlook that in pursuit of higher growth businesses. High-growth companies are more exciting to back. So that’s why the discussion around “DTC is dead” is nuanced: what people say they want vs. what they actually back isn’t always aligned. 

Fascinated by your growth, your mindset and ambition. Did you foresee WALDO to become what it is today? And what’s your end-game now? 

With WALDO, I wanted to disrupt the contact lens industry, which has been dominated by a few but very large pharmaceutical companies. I've worn contacts since I was 11 years old and was frustrated by a system that ultimately hurt consumers like myself - everything to do with contact lenses was really poor - the pricing was really high and inconsistent, and the investment in customer experience was non-existent.

At the time, I was very product and brand oriented. While contact lenses were a part of my everyday life, and although I knew that they were a remarkable invention, they were so often taken for granted, so I wanted to create a brand that people feel emotionally engaged with. I was also driven by our mission to make high quality eye care accessible and to that, I am particularly proud of our partnership with Sightsavers. Growing up in South Africa, I was familiar with their work across the continent and in Asia to bring eye care to those in need. Our ‘Buy One, Give Vision’ initiative means each WALDO purchase funds life-changing sight correcting procedure for those living with vision-related disabilities - an initiative developed to further pursue our mission of ending avoidable blindness and championing positive vision.I hope we can continue to advocate alongside them for the nearly 2.2 billion people globally who suffer from poor vision. 

That said, I could never have visualized then what WALDO is becoming now. But as positive customer feedback continues to trickle in alongside sales, my ambition grows for the business. Today, WALDO is a very fundamentally solid business with great sales, low barriers to entry and more - we’re in a good place to generate even more growth. So sure - an exit down the line sounds like a great scenario - but my ideal outcome would be to build a company big enough to IPO. 

Let’s chat about acquisition: What's working on that front?

Our core channels are still Facebook, Instagram and Google search. 

New channels-wise: We want to invest more into SEO & content as well as Outdoor Advertising. You can get great deals in outdoor advertising & it tends to be very effective in the healthcare category. That’s why I’m also bullish on TV as a channel (which we might look at down the line). 

Facebook Ad example from WALDO

Don’t you also partner with doctors? 

Yes, we do have a great referral program in place with doctors and we work with thousands of opticians, ophthalmologists and optometrists across the globe. The goal is twofold: to help doctors capture the half of patients who leave exams and purchase contact lenses elsewhere, and provide  patients with a high quality daily contact lens that they and eyecare professionals can feel good about. With our flexible subscription plans and innovative digital platform, WALDO patients stay compliant and up-to-date on their prescriptions and doctors are involved every step of the way, fitting the lens in-office, reviewing prescription orders placed by their patients and earning revenue for all transactions, whether initiated in their office or online.  

In the past year, this partnership has also grown with our latest partnership with Walmart. As a brand, we’ve never devalued or replaced the role that an eyecare professional has to play in safe-gaurding our customers’ eye health. With features such as our Walmart Vision Center Locator, our customers have access to multiple Walmart Vision Centers when they need to get their eyes tested. 

This program is really exciting because it truly bridges the gap between offline and online / patients and doctors. Other businesses in similar categories to us struggle with building that bridge, and with my passion for improving the lives of those who suffer from poor vision, this has always been important to me.  

Doctor partnerships

Let’s chat about subscriptions & retention: What’s working for you? 

WALDO offers a bespoke subscription service that is more affordable than the big brands and we deliver to customers' doors within 48 hours, in compact, chic and recyclable packaging. 

However, the big needle mover initially was our 30 day trial. We switched that to a 2 week trial, which had a great impact on retention. Essentially, iIn those 2 weeks, we realized the customer is still in the decision making process - and beyond that, they start losing the appetite to commit. 

The other impactful change we made was adding “pausing” to our subscription. Many of our customers canceled when they had too many lenses, so pausing prevents that cancellation. 
And finally, we made great improvements in extending the range of our “pack sizes.” Contact lens usage is actually quite nuanced depending on the patient. Some require them in both eyes daily, while others in only 1 eye on certain occasions. We found that giving more flexibility on the type of packages we offered, was huge in terms of growth and retention. 

Let's talk about the stack. What's powering the business from an e-commerce standpoint?

We started off using Shopify and Recharge for subscriptions. But we’ve moved to a custom eCommerce platform (still leveraging part of Shopify in our backend - especially for delivery and reporting). And our subscription experience is fully custom. 

I personally wouldn’t recommend building custom tech - especially for young businesses, but at the time it was necessary for us to do so - the technology wasn’t quite up to speed with our needs. 

Last question: What would you attribute to most of your success to WALDO?

Two things. 

  1. Brand and tone of voice.

We’ve purposefully kept a very jargon-free, down-to-earth tone of voice with our customers which enables us to build trustworthy relationships with them in a category historically dominated by pharmaceuticals. We have registered opticians in-house and a customer service team waiting to talk to our customers, because we believe eye care should be a fun and enjoyable experience, not a chore.

  1. The ability to innovate

Not being a one-trick-product-pony has given us longevity. This past year, we launched our proprietary vitamin contact lenses, which we’re extremely proud of, and have a lot more in store in terms of innovation and technology up our sleeves. All of these innovations come from speaking with our customers, and that’s played a big part in us still thriving to this day. 

Ashleigh! Thank you! It’s been incredibly insightful. Will be cheering you on!!