This blog has long been dedicated to documenting my thoughts and experiences in the world of watches and it’s been roughly a year since my last ‘looking ahead’ piece. For some reason, I’ve decided that the end and beginning of my year is marked by Baselworld. I suppose it has something to do with Baselworld being the first instance of me taking the Watchrant ‘seriously’.
I remember sitting down with my mentor two years ago whilst discussing University prospects and how I was going to deal with A level exams (at this point I knew I was taking a gap year) and I really wasn’t keen on thinking about those topics, so I hurtled the conversation towards watches- something I’ve annoyed many of my friends with – and after a few minutes of rambling, I randomly announced that I would set a goal to attend Baselworld during my gap year.
Up until that point, attending SalonQP for a day was as far as I went when it came to interacting with the watch industry. I would show up at the beginning of the fair and stay until right to the very end trying to meet and talk to as many people as I could. I absolutely enjoyed every moment and going back home with a small stack of business cards and a load of images on a loaned DSLR felt extremely satisfying and rewarding. I suppose for a high school student who should have been focusing on studies, this would have been enough to keep my mind at bay. Soon my final school summer had ended and I suddenly had a vast expanse of free time to do whatever I wanted; focusing on growing the Watchrant was one of those things. The first thing I came to realise was that my existing methods were extremely crude and not as effective as they could be, and that the scope of SalonQP wasn’t anywhere near enough to meet people I really wanted to see, or have access to watches that would probably never come anywhere near such a relatively small fair. I couldn’t wait for some random chance to come by – I had to create my own opportunities by going to the epicentre.
And so I attended Baselworld 2018 – which ended up as a roller-coaster of an experience; poorly planned in every way. When I look back at it all, I’m glad I went through the mess I did, since it paved a number of lessons take on the watch industry in ways I couldn’t have imagined I was capable of. An awful lot has happened in the space of a year and I thought it would be interesting to share some of those things.
The lessons learnt
“Meet as many people as you can and find out what it is that they do”
That was one of the core bits of advice that I was given by a Bruneian entrepreneur by the name of Keeran Janin. That one sentence has been at the heart of all my activities under the Watchrant banner for the last three years.
In my ‘looking ahead’ piece last year, I sat down with three individuals whom I met at Baselworld last year who at the time, had founded watch labels that were less than a year old. Those conversations planted some seeds of thought as to what I should do next.
Robert Punkenhofer, Carl Suchy & Söhne:
Robert was the person who related to my situation at the time: figuring out how to move on with my current work. He talked about how he was extremely passionate in the arts but he still had to figure out a way to sustainably finance his passion. Robert described having a second job to support the rest of his work and affirmed the idea that changing your mind as you go along isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but can be seen as a point of growth. His background in the arts had enabled him to view luxury in a more abstract way compared to those who bided to fixed principles.
Mark Schwarz, Vault Swiss:
Mark’s story is that he wanted to start a watch label but had no idea where to start from or what exactly he should do. A former police officer, Mark realised he needed to build the ‘book smart’ skills and practical experience to push ahead. This was achieved through going to business school and getting his MBA and working in banking.
Leopoldo already had a business background, but his expertise was in the wines and spirits division of LVMH. His challenge was understanding the culture of the watch industry and its finicky marketing and distribution principles.
It might prove to be useful context that I ultimately ended up rejected my Business School offers and am instead working a full-time job in financial services.
One of my takeaways was that I had to figure out a compromise over my knack for not planning for things in the long term. I tend to follow loose plans and am very impulsive in my decision making. I hate the idea of following a fixed step-by-step plan and veer towards an attitude towards ‘winging it’ wherein I make stuff up as I go along. In some ways, this has proven to be a strength; I’m able to adapt to new situations and rely on my creativity to think fast on my feet, as well as be open to taking on more risky propositions. Yet at the same time, this approach has proven to be a weakness, in that it doesn’t work well for much more complex tasks such as planning for education prospects or preparing to take on the world’s largest watch fair. The impulsiveness can lead to poor decision making and often leading me to bite off more than I can chew. As a result, I grossly underestimate the scale of what I’m trying to achieve and miss the delivery of my plans entirely.
I’ve since learned that I have to implement a ‘best of both worlds’ approach. I knew it would be difficult for me to follow a rigid plan, so instead I decided that building a framework is the best approach. I would establish a core set of goals I wanted to achieve and focus on what it would take to achieve those core goals. During this process I would perform due diligence and raise the question of feasibility and make risk assessments. Once those core goals had been accomplished, I could be a lot more relaxed and improvise around the framework I designed.
I can’t make a judgement on every area I work on by myself and I definitely can’t be worried about risk regarding everything that I do. It’s extremely counter-productive to bottle up thoughts in my head seeing as that results in clouded judgement. What I’ve come to appreciate is having a few close individuals I can trust who I can share my thoughts with and get a secondary opinion on any outlandish ventures.
I’ve found that I’m far more active on the Watchrant whilst working full time, than I was during the course of my gap year. I suppose the biggest difference is that unlike last year where I was floating around looking for things to do with no direction, having a job has given me the framework required to stay in a grounded position and think more coherently. I’m also pleased to say that I work in an environment that is constantly keeping me challenged but at the same time has acted as a catalyst towards personal development: I’m required to be accurate and deliver a set of tasks to high standards on a daily basis. Simply put, I’m able to deal with a lot more stuff on my plate. Just as Robert had said, I’m also able to use my day job as a platform to help incubate my additional projects. A good chunk of my first few pay-cheques went towards buying new camera equipment and paying to travel to international trade shows and meetings.
My conversations with Mark and Leopoldo are a bit more difficult to put into fruition. I’ve been self studying project management and digital marketing as tools I can implement in the Watchrant. In fact, I’ve decided that the direction for this blog will be dedicated solely as an experimental platform to put all my ideas and theories to the test.
I’m quite proud of the content I’ve put up so far on this blog – going as far to state that there is nothing else like it on any other platform. From exploring the phenomena of meme culture in the watch industry, to implementing political themes as a marketing tool and why it might be worth looking at your fund manager’s wrist when investing. I enjoy finding niche areas to talk about and ask questions nobody else is asking – along with the challenges of doing so. The watch industry so far is the only thing I’ve had a long term interest in that’s managed to keep my vast energy reserves at bay. I have a very selective focus in that if I’m interested in something, I will go out of my way to learn as much as I can on that topic. If I appear to be disinterested in something, I’ll struggle to make a conscious effort of paying attention. If you asked me to carry out the textbook cliché marketing task of ‘selling you a pen’ I will simply copy the same textbook cliché instructions you can find on a five minute YouTube video on the topic. What you’ll find however, is that I wont have any passion or energy behind my actions – I’m just not interested in pens. I am however, really into watches.
It was suggested that I work for a watch brand in order for me to be able to learn directly at the source. I don’t feel that right now is the best time to break into the industry as for all the glamour and fun there is to be had, this is also a very cut-throat industry that has a corrosive competitiveness which I’m currently not prepared to take on.
I’ve long since understood that the Watchrant’s current mode of operation isn’t sustainable from a commercial aspect, and will require many resources to keep it functioning. From financing projects to time commitment and physically and mentally being around for whatever is thrown at the blog. (I still haven’t earned a single penny off the blog and the most expensive thing I’ve received to date is a Burger for lunch in Schaffhausen) The only thing I can do is take small steps to figure out how I can mitigate the negative impacts of all these variables – refining my strategies wherever possible.
An interest in failure
That leads me onto another area I’ve been focusing on: failure and setbacks. I’m someone who absolutely hates making mistakes – as do most people. In my case, the thought of making a mistake lingers with me longer than it should, and it’s taken an awfully long time to condition myself to be more accepting of things going wrong. I won’t claim to have perfected this, as there are plenty of hitches every now and then, but I want to say that I’ve become better at dealing with messing things up.
A good deal of my mistakes come from a combination of missing out on details, lack of experience and a good old dose of bad luck. I’m sure this is something that everyone can relate to and can only be classed as a perpetual ‘work in progress’. Experience seems to be the only treatment towards dealing with this area, and I find that you just have to take it as it comes before you; so you’re able to lower any negative impacts. If anything, now is the best time to get stuck in and build as much experience as I can. Another thing I have working for me is my age; making mistakes as a teenager seems a lot more forgiving – though this is my final year as a teen before I turn 20 years old.
I’ve also been taking more time to review my core competencies and strategies to see what works and what doesn’t. I was able to attend a combined total of over 50 meetings at both Baselworld and SIHH this year; something I’ve only been able to do by reviewing everything that went wrong with my mistakes at Baselworld last year.
It’s not just my own failures I’m interested, but also the failures of others. My work around the Watchrant focuses almost exclusively on boutique independent watch labels and microbrands. I’m absolutely fascinated by the potential lessons I have to learn from the stories of others, especially those who have just started new companies. I highlighted three conversations from last year, but I make extra effort to quiz away at the founders of other new and small brands. Success stories are great to listen to and all, but the reality is that they don’t do much for me. Failure stories however, are invaluable as it’s a pool of information that can’t be sourced anywhere. It’s bloody difficult to even remotely try and replicate the success of others, but it’s surprisingly easy to make the same mistakes as a predecessor. As someone who is trying to make a mark in the watch industry, making observations against the experiences of others is a brilliant way to figure out how to move forward. I use the Watchrant as a means of sharing my thoughts on what’s gone wrong and I ask myself the question “What should have happened, and how would I have done it differently?”. At some point, I’m going to be facing obstacles that someone else has already faced, and it’s through the lessons of failure will I have any way of figuring out how to overcome any future barriers.
One of the biggest things that draws me to the watch industry is the people who are part of it. On a relative scale, the watch industry is quite tiny, but the spread and network of the people involved and the global influences that industry has is something that can’t be compared to any other industry on the planet. The sheer diversity of creative ideas, critical thinking and perspectives is overwhelming – and I absolutely love it.
Last year, I set myself a challenge that I would meet 150 people and try to have a conversation about the Watchrant in some way or another. I knew I had spoken to 150 people as I had a stack of 150 business cards which I needed to deplete. The idea was that I try to create as many new leads as I could possibly achieve, which resulted hundreds ‘elevator pitches’ to people from all walks of life. Not everyone would take a business card and some would turn their backs on me within a few seconds of me trying to start a conversation. Even among the 150 cards distributed, a small fraction of those cards actually resulted in retention – and that’s fine.
The business cards in question were co-designed in the space of 15 minutes with the Director of Fear watch label, Nicholas Bowman-Scargill – during an impromptu lunch we had set up.
I’m able to remember fondly of my interactions with the first two individuals in the watch industry to take me seriously: Jane Burton of Czapek and Nicholas Hoffman from Moser & Cie. They’ve been at the core for a lot my stints in the watch industry – from accessing press release information to trying to sneak into events. Building a small handful of entrenched relationships is worth far more to me than having a few hundred bots boost my social media followers.
You also never know what to expect with each interaction. Last year at Baselworld I randomly walked into the presentation room of Manufacture Royale after having just recovered my wallet and passport and also having no proper food or sleep. My mind was out-of-focus and I was a bumbling mess and somehow thought it was a good idea to show up to their room in the Hyperion without an appointment. They seemed quite amused by the weird set of circumstances that had led me to turning up to their showcase uninvited and were more than happy to show me their timepieces all whilst offering me a load of candies as emergency nutrition.
Later on in the year, I received an email from Manufacture Royale’s PR co-ordinator Esthel Brunschwick inviting me to visit them at Beau-Rivage hotel during SIHH. This took me by surprise as it was the first time I had ever received an invite to visit a brand in the watch industry – it’s usually me begging to receive whatever slots are available. Esthel even made a light remark to my Baselworld misadventure in the email which was a solid sign she remembered who I was. Whatever it was that I did, I must’ve made a positive impact in order to be properly invited to another event. I was even introduced to the Marketing Manager of Louis Moinet, Aurelie Jordi which was another plus. I remember talking to Aurelie in Basel this year and saying how weird it was that three months ago, we both had no idea who each of us were.
I won’t ever claim that everything I’ve achieved is down solely to my own individual efforts – that is simply untrue. The Watchrant thus far is the culmination of the support of dozens of people. I can’t really think of any other way of showing my appreciation to said people, apart from trying to succeed and grow in as many ways as I can and showing that this is what your support has lead to. I was once described as a “stubborn little bas***d with an annoyingly infectious amount of enthusiasm” and that will still continue to be the case. I have a whole load of ideas in store for the rest of 2019 and I look forward to sharing and showcasing all that I have in mind and learning as much as I can – watch this space