How hard is it, really, to start a watch company?
For Sujain Krishnan it was as easy as quitting his job one day, and starting a watch company the next.
Four years and 5000 watch sales later, it's fair to say that his former life as an IT consultant is well behind him. He has well and truly made his mark selling introductory-level mechanical watches that, at $500-$1000, are a step-up from many of the fashion watches carried by big retailers.
As easy as that
So how did he go from analysing IT systems to starting Melbourne Watch Company? A successful crowdfunding campaign certainly helped – Krishnan's initial campaign in 2013 raised $30,000 for a collection of watches he named the Flinders.
But the prologue to Krishnan's success was that he is a real watch enthusiast – a watch geek, if you will.
"Prior to starting Melbourne Watch Company I was buying watch parts online and assembling homage style watches [a type of watch that take design cues from highly sought after watches without passing itself off as its equal] for custom orders," he says.
Doing the time
The design nous, knowledge of watch specifications and most importantly the contacts that he made during this time, helped him immensely when it came to sitting down and designing his own watches.
Today, Melbourne Watch Company has released eight collections of classically styled dress pieces, four of which have been crowd funded.
"It grew exponentially. The last crowdfunding campaign we did was for our Portsea collection was in 2015 and that raised six figures, so that really helped," says Krishnan.
As luck would have it
However, as successful as Melbourne Watch Company has been, Krishnan freely admits that just as important to his success as his design skills and bona fides as a genuine watch geek, was a generous dose of good luck that saw him time his run into the world of microbrand watchmaking to the second.
"In 2013 there were very few watch projects seeking crowd funding in existence," he says. "I'm talking less that ten for the entire year, whereas nowadays there is 20 on any given day, so I think I was very fortunate that I started when I did."
A marketable product
Indeed, crowd funding has really seen the microbrand industry take off. In 2012, Kickstarter saw only two successfully funded watch projects for the entire year, which raised just over USD$100,000. In 2015, the number of successfully funded watch projects on the site jumped to 87, which in total raised USD$7.4 million.
"What we're seeing is hundreds and hundreds of projects every year and there's more money being invested in the marketing of those projects," says Chris Vail, who founded two microbrands – NTH and Lew & Huey – out of Philadelphia around the same time as Krishnan and keeps in close contact with him.
"Now there are so many people there it is impossible to standout. You can't just be there, you have to spend money on a slick video, you have to promote and now we're seeing a lot of money being spent on Facebook and Google advertising."
A case in point is a series of watches seeking funding on Kickstarter last year by Italian outfit Filippo Loreti. The video on its funding page – all shimmering bezels and watch faces, rotating in mid-air – is of professional quality; on the whole, indistinguishable from that associated by with the campaigns of major manufacturers. The project went on to raise just shy of $7 million from over 18,000 backers.
In Vail's opinion, large projects, which also often deploy extensive PR campaigns, have changed what crowdfunding's original purpose was.
"Everyone there is looking for a deal and it's not about whether they believe in you as a business, it's just 'I want to buy a cheap product and here's an easy way to do it'. It's a different game now. It's like another shopping site. It's like a pre-production Amazon."
However, for Melbourne Watch Company the days of seeking crowd funding are behind it. Since securing the backing of its Hong Kong-based manufacturing partner, it has released three more collections (Sorrento, Collins and Parkville) that have all been self-funded.
Krishnan says the next big step for the business is to start assembling watches locally this year, so they can customise their watches precisely to their clients' needs. But this watch entrepreneur is striving for more.
"It's always been my long-term goal that we can hopefully start producing components here but that would take an enormous amount of money, so we'll have to show that we can successfully manage our assembly here and then hopefully get some further investment to head to the next phase."