A year into parenthood, my partner Sacha and I were tired. Like many new parents, we weren’t sleeping and spent almost all of our time at home. And after spending long hours staring at screens for my digital marketing job or her post-grad design work, our eyes hurt.
We turned to blue light glasses, which were just beginning to gain popularity and promised to give us relief. The glasses we found online worked great. But they weren’t very stylish. We knew if we put our heads together, we could create something much better. So we founded Ambr Eyewear right then and there.
Here’s how we grew Ambr Eyewear from a bootstrapped idea in our home kitchen in Dublin to a successful eCommerce brand with customers worldwide.
We only had around €3,000 to fund our project when we first had the idea for Ambr Eyewear. To get a brand off the ground with incredibly limited resources, we had to be smart about how we spent our money. So, before we fully committed to our concept, we did our own research to make sure we were investing in something with the potential to succeed.
The first step was evaluating demand. Based on keyword research, I found that the phrase “blue light glasses” was gaining search popularity in Ireland. Despite this, consumers weren’t finding what they were looking for. We knew our glasses concept would be the perfect solution.
To keep our costs low, we did everything we could ourselves. Without prior optical experience, we had to teach ourselves everything about the industry and how to work within it, from how blue light technology works to sourcing optical lenses. Once we became self-proclaimed experts, we created prototypes and found a manufacturer to produce them.
Meanwhile, Sacha relied on her design expertise to build a website while I focused on raising awareness for our new brand. With such a lean budget, our advertising options were limited, and we couldn’t afford to test a strategy only to find out it wouldn’t work. Instead, we needed a cost-free marketing strategy that would result in paying customers. Since I had prior experience working for a digital marketing agency, I drew on my own skills to create an SEO-driven strategy that would boost our website traffic.
The best way to get free, organic traffic to our website was by building the site’s domain authority. And the best way to do that was to get other high-ranking pages to link back to Ambr’s site. So I sent a few pairs of our newly manufactured blue light glasses to journalists in the area.
At that time, blue light technology was still relatively new, and many of the journalists I contacted had never heard of it before. But once they received a pair from Ambr Eyewear, many were hooked. And in addition to loving our great product, a few of those journalists also loved the brand’s origin story so much that they wrote and published articles about it. The links from those articles helped boost the website’s status in the eyes of Google. But more importantly, the media attention put a spotlight on Ambr Eyewear.
Thanks to the attention from major media outlets, our launch was more successful than we could have ever anticipated. We completely sold out of the glasses from our first manufacturing run, and excitement was so high that we also got a wave of pre-orders for our next restock. We used the money from those pre-orders to fund our next run of manufacturing and began to think about growth.
In the fall of 2019, we opened our very first popup shop in the center of Dublin. The brick-and-mortar location helped us reach a new audience of customers and generate even more revenue. But rent for our popup was expensive, and the cost was starting to impact Ambr’s cash flow. With the Christmas shopping rush right around the corner, stocking inventory to meet this upcoming demand for both the popup shop and the online store was a challenge.
At this stage, I had limited knowledge of financing options for an eCommerce business. And my lack of financial expertise made me wary of asking people to invest in Ambr Eyewear. But that changed very quickly when I met an entrepreneur who was launching his own finance business called Wayflyer. This is how I learned about a new type of funding for eCommerce: revenue-based finance.
After looking at our online store and ad account data, Wayflyer approved the funding, and the funds were quickly transferred into our account. This fast access to cash allowed us to fund another manufacturing run. And the product arrived just in time to meet the shopping demand. Looking back, the immediate access to capital that Wayflyer provided was instrumental to our growth. Without the funding, we wouldn't have been able to increase our inventory or maximize sales during the peak of holiday shopping.
Along with a few more successful popups, the brand landed a deal with a major retailer in Dublin called Brown Thomas, which had Ambr Eyewear products on display in the store's men’s and women’s departments. Then in March 2020, everything changed literally overnight. When the world transitioned to full-time remote work, blue light glasses were suddenly at the top of everyone’s mind. Fortunately, we were ready to meet the demand, and Ambr Eyewear’s sales skyrocketed to €5,000 - €6,000 daily.
As sales and profits increased, our competition changed from other small online retailers to internationally known names. To stay competitive, we reinvested our profits back into Ambr, updating our website and investing more heavily in marketing. Rather than relying on our beautiful friends, we hired professional models to pose for product shots. And we expanded our digital marketing strategy to include pay-per-click ads.
As sales and profits increased, our competition changed from other small online retailers to internationally known names. To stay competitive, we reinvested our profits back into Ambr, updating our website and investing more heavily in marketing.
During these first few years of Ambr’s existence, the brand was a definitive success. We made around €800,000 in direct sales and another €100,000 through our partnership with Brown Thomas. But alongside our success, there were also plenty of learning opportunities, especially when we saw a sharp increase in demand. Expanding our offerings to include accessories like eyeglass cases would have generated even more revenue. While they may seem inconsequential, customers often add those small items to their cart, boosting the average order value.
As we move out of the eCommerce boom brought on by the pandemic, things are harder for online retailers like Ambr. For us, the demand for blue light glasses was sparked by the sudden shift toward remote work, so it wasn’t a shock to see a drop-off. From February 2021 to June 2021, we saw a 90% decline in sales. And this decline in sales isn’t unique to blue light glasses. Shoppers are returning to their favorite stores, and they’re abandoning their online shopping carts in the process. Brands have to be innovative and make smart business decisions to stay competitive.
At Ambr, we’ve cut as many costs as possible to keep our margins lean. We’ve also learned from our missteps during the pandemic, and Ambr is now a more well-rounded brand that offers prescription and sunglass lenses in addition to blue light.
Despite keeping operations as lean as possible, there will still be financial challenges that we’ll have to overcome in the coming years. Supply chain issues are still lingering, and, as a result, material, manufacturing, and shipping costs are all on the rise. To navigate this, we’ll need to be adaptable and continue to evolve our operations. And funding like revenue-based financing will help us accomplish this.
The world of eCommerce is still incredibly volatile, which means growth is difficult for a bootstrapped young business. The key to success for online retailers is effective cash flow planning that helps your business scale. Schedule a call to start building a revenue-based financing plan for your business.