Image Credit: Yotpo Studio
Aimee Millwood
Director of Content at Yotpo
November 19th, 2017

How 2 College Dropouts Disrupted the Watch Industry

Since MVMT Watches came on the scene, it’s quickly become the must-have watch brand among the hip and stylish. What’s their secret?

Table Of Contents

Within just four years of launching, MVMT Watches has been written about in The New York Times, Complex, Playboy, GQ, Hypebeast, and countless other blogs and magazines dedicated to covering the biggest trends. The newcomer watch brand skyrocketed to popularity because of their cool, minimalist designs matched by a super-reasonable price tag. They sold over 100,000 watches in the first 3 years since starting their eCommerce business, and they cornered the Millennial market with the perfect product and unbeatable Instagram marketing.

So who are the masterminds behind the eCommerce brand sweeping the web?

26-year-old college dropouts Jake Kassan and Kramer LaPlante. Both recently earned a spot in the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 List.

Planting The Seeds for Success

Jake and Kramer met in Santa Barbara as college roommates and quickly bonded because of their entrepreneurial spirits.

As a teenager, Jake made and sold t-shirts. Soon after, he launched an online store and shop in a local mall to sell the shirts — and later, grew the business into an electronic dance festival store, selling glow sticks and tickets to events like EDC and Tomorrowland. At 19, Jake dropped out of school to pursue the project, but it went out of business about 8 months later.

It was time for him to think up his next idea. Kramer and Jake saw fellow students successfully launching startups on crowdfunding platforms, so Kramer took to Kickstarter to try out his own idea. It was a success: the wallet he sold raised over $100K.

The boys saw opportunity in starting an eCommerce business and began to think about how they could combine Jake’s online retail experience with Kramer’s crowdfunding experience.

Finding a Niche They Could Conquer

Their brainstorming took them to the watch industry. They honed in on the Millennial approach to fashion and their generation’s need for an affordable watch that could act more as a statement piece than a traditional time piece.

Recognizing that direct-to-consumer retail models had already proven successful in other industries, they saw it presented a great opportunity to sell high-end watches at an affordable price.

The majority of nice watches on the market were about $300, but if they sold directly to the consumer from the manufacturer, they could slash that price by 2/3rd simply by getting rid of the mark-up from wholesalers, distributors, and the traditional retail model.

“By going straight to the customer, we could cut down the price without sacrificing the quality,” Jake explains. This also feeds into the idea of a beautiful watch as a fashion accessory: with this reasonable price point, customers could afford to buy a few different styles.

how are mvmt watches so cheap

Crowdfunding Their Idea

There hadn’t yet been a successfully funded watch campaign, so they started getting to work. They applied twice to launch on Kickstarter, but were denied both times.

So, they turned to IndieGoGo. While they were not as experienced in the structure of IndieGoGo as they were in Kickstarter, they still managed to reach their initial goal of $15,000 in just twenty days.

MVMT’s Tips for Crowdfunding:

  • Reach out to family and friends from the start. Don’t be afraid to talk to your great aunt’s dentist — even the most far-reaching contacts are often willing to help, whether by donating or sharing the project.
  • Start with a small goal so you can achieve it quickly. Seeing a goal that is complete or almost complete gives social proof to others considering donating because they can see that many others believed in the project.
  • Understand the landscape of the platform (whether Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, or another). Each varies and it’s important to understand the structure so you can maximize your campaign.

“On Kickstarter, you make the most of your money in the first few days, but on IndieGoGo, you actually make the most at the end of your campaign, so go for longer campaigns and extend if possible,” Jake says.

Once they realized their idea was working, they decided to extend their end date.

“Reaching the first goal was OK, but then we wanted to finish with a huge number,” Jake says.

During the campaign, they decided to come out with a website so they could ride out the momentum from the crowdfunding. Working with an agency, they produced a site that was not amazing, but it did the job of taking orders. They managed to raise almost $300,000 in 50 days on IndieGoGo, and their site received four orders the day after the campaign closed.

For more details on how they succeeded on IndieGoGo, check out their interview below:

From Idea to Product

Now that Jake and Kramer had succeeded in raising funds, they needed to find a producer to really start their eCommerce business. So, they did what many online retail entrepreneurs do: they turned to Alibaba.

“In the beginning, you have to be pretty scrappy,” Jake says.

They circled through twenty to thirty manufacturers before they found one they wanted to work with. “Once you do find a manufacturer that works and you gain momentum, other manufacturers will reach out to you.”

MVMT’s Tips for Finding Manufacturers:

  • Make sure to look out for red flags, like poor communication. Make sure you can communicate clearly via email and Skype, otherwise you’ll have problems down the line.
  • Check how long the manufacturer has been in business, and ask for pictures and samples.
  • Look through many manufacturers to find the one that’s right for you.

Now that they were ready to mass-produce their crowdfunded project, it was time to step up their website’s game.

Finding An Agency to Help

Jake and Kramer have succeeded in starting a strong eCommerce business in large part because they realized something important early on: do what you’re good at, and find professionals to help you with what you’re not. (Almost every entrepreneur we talk to mentions figuring this out sooner or later.)

And one thing they’re definitely talented at is knowing how to brand for the Millennial market. Like other eCommerce branding masters, MVMT nailed Millennial marketing on the head. They knew what their audience wanted: cool designs for an affordable price — and they set to work finding out how they could give them this.

“Because Kramer and I both had different businesses in the past, we understand the typical obstacles: growing a business, sourcing product, spending money on agencies you shouldn’t spend money with.”

But although they had business experience, Jake and Kramer hadn’t launched a website like this before. While their initial platform, Shopify, offered plenty of ways for them to create their own online shop, their business began getting so big that they needed professional help.

After getting quoted $25,000 by an outsourced developer for a custom Shopify website, they began considering working with an agency so they could get help and coaching from experts who understood technical aspects of running a website.

“We worked with other agencies in the past, but I typically try to go through referrals because they are the best way to really know what you’ll get,” Jake says.

Shopify recommended the agency BVAccel to them, and they began to use BVAccel for all their design and development needs — including a website overhaul.

“They made the process of creating a custom website super simple. They’ve helped us speed up the site, restructure our code and script, build custom widgets, A/B test for conversion, and so much more.”

MVMT won Shopify’s Build-A-Business contest in 2014, and as their success grew, they switched to Shopify Plus to accommodate what had become an enterprise business seemingly overnight. Shopify Plus gives them the functionality to easily manage all aspects of their eCommerce site, while continuing to scale.

Taking Instagram by Storm

Closing in on a million followers, MVMT’s Instagram account is a Millennial hotspot.

The brand has had several celebrity endorsements, but the posts that garner the most attention are from more relatable Instagrammers. For example, videographer Sam Kolder, who wears MVMT watches as he travels the world creating aspirational content that connects with the Millennial audience. When shoppers see him wearing sleek watches in exotic locales, they want a part of that lifestyle experience.

MVMT's founders share their tips for starting an eCommerce business

As MVMT’s founders recently told The New York Times, the brand’s ethos is “Dress with intent, live with purpose,” and it’s clear that the content they create, curate from customers, and share reflects that.

What’s Next for MVMT Watches?

Now that they’ve got a name for themselves, Jake and Kramer are looking at how to scale. They’re currently at about 25 employees, and are planning to continue adding to that number over the next year.

“We’ve figured out eCommerce pretty well so far, but to get to the next levels  and continue to grow, it’s about really bringing on the best people and scaling smartly.”

They’re proud to be an inspiration to others in the Santa Barbara area who saw their success and are pursuing their own dreams.

“When we started MVMT, I was $20,000 in debt and working as a valet. Looking back at that and seeing how far we’ve come, I really hope our story inspires other people to go out and try their own thing.”

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