How do I Kickstart my own watch brand?

How do I Kickstart my own watch brand?

Tick talk

Text: Celine Yap

Let the founders of two crowd-funded Singaporean start-ups give you a tip or two

Believe it or not, as saturated as the watch industry is today, it's still possible for eager entrepreneurs to carve out a niche offering something unique. And you don't have to look too far for inspiration. Right in our own backyard, two Singaporean companies have managed to establish exciting brand identities with refreshing design concepts.

Zelos Watches began in March 2014 with its first Kickstarter project that raised $80,000. Founded and owned by 28-year-old Elshan Tang, Zelos went on to complete another eight more projects after that, raising more than $1 million in funds. Tang's vision was to offer unique timepieces cased in edgy materials like bronze, carbon and even Damascus steel.

Likewise, Schaffen Watches launched on Kickstarter in 2016 after brothers Nicholas and Jonathan Han hit upon the idea to offer classic dress watches that are highly customisable and yet still affordable to the mass market. With more than 400 watches sold since 2016, Schaffen Watches launched its first automatic model in January 2018.

Find out what they have to say about running a watch company through Kickstarter, what it's really like being a young entrepreneur, and the most valuable skill set in the business:

AUDIO EXCLUSIVE: Listen to our full conversation with Elshan Tang (founder, Zelos Watches) and brothers Nicholas and Jonathan Han (co-founders, Schaffen Watches).
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How did the idea to do this come to you and why on Kickstarter?
Elshan Tang (ET): Always loved watches, and always wanted to create designs of my own that other brands didn't have. Kickstarter was the first choice because they allow me to create a design without putting out too much of my own cash, and also it also guarantees confirmed sales before I produce the watches. That helped a lot in mitigating any risk in production or sales, so that's why I picked Kickstarter or crowd-funding in general.

Nicholas Han (NH): We started Schaffen firstly as a project because we wanted to make an exclusive watch for the family. First watch dedicated to our father, and when making our own watch we realised we can put my dad's signature onto the dial which he was delighted with. Word got around and we were commissioned by the Air Force to make a watch for one of the retiring colonels. From there it took off and we began to do this as a business.

The Zelos Helmsman 2

Jonathan, I remember you were saying that it was a little about interest and passion in tinkering with watches too right?
Jonathan Han (JH): It's almost three years back now. What I did was I went online to source for different watch components to assemble my own timepiece. I thought it was a really interesting thing to do. Also because I could really choose the components I like. That was a very captivating thought and idea to me, and I really enjoyed the process as well.

There are so many Kickstarter projects today, some succeed and some don't. What is the secret formula for a brand to launch successfully?
ET: A good story is most important. You have to captivate the audience or whoever you're marketing to. You have to be able to reach out to them. Just being on Kickstarter isn't going to help you reach your audience. You need a solid marketing plan and budget as well. Crucial nowadays for new projects and launches.

NH: Marketing is a very important element. Like Elshan says, if you put it on Kickstarter you notice more failed than succeed. In fact, most failed, only a handful succeed. I think it's about being able to speak to a right audience and say things people are interested in. Only when you have both factors can you actually succeed.

ET: That message has to be done right at the very start before you even start building and designing the watch. You have to have a clear goal, what you want to achieve.

Elshan Tang, founder of Zelos Watches

Best thing about being your own boss at such a young age?
ET: Not needing to wake up early.

JH: Working at your own schedule is something I enjoy doing. You must be a self-motivated individual. Set your own priorities, set your own targets. That might not suit everyone. The good thing about that is you can work at your own schedule, sleep at irregular hours, wake up at irregular hours as long as you meet your targets and goals. That's the best thing about being your own boss, something not many may get to enjoy or experience.

What's the worst?
ET: Obviously the pay check is not secure, always worry about not meeting payment deadlines. Even practical stuff like Singaporeans always want a HDB, applying for loans... As your own boss your salary is not fixed, so you find that these practical things that Singaporeans often aim for is not quite so clear-cut for you. Especially the high cost of living as compared to other countries, you need to hit the minimum wage. That's the added stress of running the business.

NH: Worst thing is the emotional side. It's all on you, whether you succeed or fail, it's all on you.

JH: There's a lot of pressure, the business is entirely yours. If you succeed, great. But every business will have its own failures and challenges. And there are not many people who are able solve your problems for you. You have to face them on your own.

ET: But that could be a bonus as well. You get to rely on yourself. The satisfaction of achieving everything is all yours. There is no worry about anyone coming in to steal your limelight.

The Schaffen A54 dress watch

Do you think this is something everyone should try at least once? Or is this something that only suits certain kinds of people?
JH: Possible for everyone but might not suit certain personalities or aptitudes. With it comes its own rewards and challenges. Definitely can be done but must be willing to sacrifice some things and put hard work in. Accept the results that come.

ET: Not everyone is cut out for running their own business or Kickstarter campaign. Some prefer to be in the background. It really depends on themselves.

Schaffen Watches co-founders, Jonathan (left) and Nicholas Han, photo taken by The Business times

What do you think a person needs to thrive in this?
ET: Self-motivation. Wide range of skills. Can't just be good at marketing or PR. Also need to handle logistics, production, jack-of-all-trades. Need to take the pressure. A lot of that especially when customers are involved.

JH: Adding to that, you definitely need to have a willingness to learn. As a small business owner, you need to wear many hats, whatever comes your way, some things you just have to learn as you go by and must be willing to open to feedback and comments.

Schaffen Watches makes customised designs for everyone

Number one most important skill or ability or talent in starting your own watch brand?
JH: Soft skills. Communication. Technical aspects and designing wise, sometimes you're not the best at it but you can still work on it. As long as you have good communication with your customer base, about what they like, communication also work in the back end of things when you work with factories and supplies, you must be very clear in what you want.

ET: Yes, that's important. I think the willingness to learn, because there's so many skills you need it's impossible for someone to have them all. Keep learning and keep trying, can't give up.

What the future holds for the watch industry?
ET: Main change will be the way watches are sold, instead of retail stores, moving online. Also the way it's promoted to people. Celebrities and sponsorships are still around now but that's losing its relevance. Other influencers or magazines, media, they hold a stronger influence than traditional celebrities.

JH: Nowadays with accessibility of the Internet, customers are becoming more knowledgeable about what they want. Certain brands are becoming more transparent, so I think it's an exciting time where there's better engagement between customer and brands.

Visit Zelos Watches and Schaffen Watches for more information on their offerings.
Read more stories in our Career Special