How I Built A Booming Watch Brand From Nothing
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey guys, my name is Ronnie Teja and I am the Founder and CEO of Branzio Watches.
I work with a 100% remote team of over 10 people, and my main base so to say would be Vancouver, Canada. I started Branzio with an inspiration to provide men and women quality watches for a good price with the best service possible.
My focus is primarily men's fashion watches, which are made with the best quality materials which we source to China to assemble the watches. Our watches are designed here in Vancouver, BC and manufactured in China.
My customers are young men who are entering the workforce and young professionals who live a healthy active and versatile lifestyle, our goal has been to create a brand that allows you to go from the city to the mountains with the versatility of having your timepiece change with your surroundings or whatever activity you’re doing. It could mean Ronnie can go from Yoga to hiking the grouse grind in 60 mins or less with an adaptive timepiece, which allows me to tell the time to be on my next appointment or call or whatever is on your schedule.
Our flagship watch is the “trooper black” which is a versatile and unique design form our Outdoorsy collection which is primarily focused on the core demographic I have mentioned above. I found that when we started selling these watches my thoughts were that were in the same market as our competitors MVMT or in that general category, I couldn’t be more wrong - these watches were meant more for outdoor enthusiasts who enjoyed purpose-driven brands vs the age-old e-commerce formula of low priced, low cost, high volume stores which most people think fashion should be at. I interviewed our first customers and found out that these people were more driven by what our brand did.
Are you as a brand doing customer interviews with your audiences to find out what makes your product and brand unique? Because there’s a whole treasure trove of information in there that I didn’t even realize till like month 3 into the business. So here’s my mistake #1 you should learn from.
We are doing about $25k/mo in sales right now, which is poised to double in the next 6 months at least as we open and explore new markets.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My family moved to Canada in May 2007 which makes me a first generation immigrant. I was 21 around the time, and I came from Mumbai, India where I already had a job in advertising.
I continued to experiment with drop shipping and other small ecommerce niches, till it hit me - I needed to build a brand, which was focused on longevity, I wanted to start a purpose-driven brand, not just any watch store.
In those days, Vancouver was still a small market and the opportunities in advertising and other related industry were very limited, so I got a job selling Indian (Punjabi) radio and for my first year in Vancouver, Canada. I took public transit to do sales at mom and pop Indian stores door to door to sell radio advertising.
It was a very humbling experience because, the year before I was at the Economic Times awards in India meeting the 5th Richest man in the world at that time, LN Mittal and the next year I was selling radio advertising door to door. I learned pretty quickly to grow a thick skin and keep my head down and focus on my goals.
I literally went from job to job for the next few years like a rudderless sailboat ( we needed to make money - help with the parents mortgage etc. ) while upgrading my knowledge in digital advertising till I landed a job at BestBuy Canada in 2012, where I was a media buyer and my job was to 100% be focused on emerging digital media which was very retail driven. I learnt a lot from that job in retail and how big retail organizations work and I’ll be honest I loved it a lot because it was fast, ruthless and it gave me the opportunity to network with the best minds in digital advertising.
I decided after my experience at BestBuy and the organizations I worked at after, that I should take a chance on myself.
I started and sold my first online store in 2016, which was a small drop shipping store put together after watching a few online courses, I continued to experiment with drop shipping and other small ecommerce niches, till it hit me - I needed to build a brand, which was focused on longevity, I wanted to start a purpose-driven brand, not just any watch store - the very idea of this brand and watch store was born from the time I was in Africa at a safari with an entrepreneur friend of mine and we saw the effects of poaching and on our first day we smelled a dead Rhino which was poached for its horn. It made my resolve stronger to have a brand which protected the outdoors and wildlife in particular with the money we made.
I want to say first, I had limited experience in this field my first designer who had some fashion experience was forced into learning industrial design and watchmaking because we needed someone to design these watches. So in we go with both feet, it took us 6 months to validate the idea and actually get something up from the ground if not longer.
When I started I remember I had like $5k in a bank account, and I was literally interviewing to be the Director of Web for a local outdoor retailers. I remember I didn’t get the job because they were afraid of my resume as I’d moved jobs every 1.5-2 years which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it drove me harder to start my own company.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
At that time I had 0 ideas on how to source products, how to design watches or even find out how and where watches are made, what is swiss vs Japanese movement and how they’re assembled.
My mistake #2 was going through Alibaba to get in touch with 100+ vendors to try and get samples from the first 10 that responded. I should have been on the next flight to the HK watch and jewellery fair where you can meet these manufacturers and factories all in one place for a week vs haggling online.
I eventually did fly to HK but, I had lost 6 months trying to order samples and try different factories and using random “gurus” to help me source the watches. I was about 2500+ $ down in samples and employee costs by this time.
Pro-tip: Anyone who is a guru is looking to make themselves rich because they have 0 skin in the game and they’re just good at selling themselves, so if you ever receive these random gurus approved proposals - read them and toss them in the garbage and go and meet your suppliers in person - why? I negotiated really great credit terms because, I went to meet my suppliers, convince them of my vision and what I had in mind. I wined and dined them and I was able to get letters from some creditors to convince them about a favourable payment schedule.
Our first prototypes were supposed to be minimalist, but they never came out the way we envisioned them and like I said we have zero experience in how to source and actually give specification to our Chinese factories so it was massive trial and errors exercise, my words of experience to you is as granular as possible - if you want xyz grade of leather, say it - don’t say generic brown leather because you’ll get really shit pleather.
Be as descriptive as possible, try and make the whole experience as visual, double check the designers work from your suppliers before you make the final leap. Always get a run of samples 2-3 times before you actually commit your final design it’s really important to make sure you have all this nailed out.
I remember we focused only a small collection to start - ours was the “casual” collection because we wanted initially to have a minimalist collection, so we tested our 1 sample of each watches and size to make sure we were in the right from the get go.
Since our products are manufactured in China, I’m afraid there was/is no way around the IP and trademark, some of our better-known competitors have their watches being sold on Taobao for $10-$15 and there’s nothing you can do about it as a business owner, which is why your brand play is so important - your products can be imitated but, your brand and its experiences can never be copied. An example of this would be Apple - no one ever open an iPhone or Apple product alone, it’s a ritual to open it around people and everyone ooh and ahh’s around the product. We want to give our customers a similar experience.
Our first prototype designs:
Describe the process of launching the business.
I was in a mindset to have a bootstrap business from day 1 and not take any outside funding, which in retrospect was the right idea as I wanted to have 100% control in my business decisions.
My background is in digital advertising and I am a firm believer in spending money on finding new customers and traffic and driving them to our stores to generate sales. I believe looking back I should have been more aggressive in our influencer marketing outreach and this actually was a missing piece of our puzzle even in content generation, product photos, aspirational pictures etc for our visual identity.
Brand focus was initially hard to understand, but in the long run I can see direct sales, organic sales which generate higher returns than just simply putting $1 in and getting $2-$3 returns on ad spends.
I heard somewhere that a lot of Instagrammers and micro-influencers lived in Bali so I flew there to meet a few people whom we could outsource this project to - initially I supervised a few photo shoots and now it’s a content machine which feeds our Instagram automatically.
Here’s some pictures from the first shoots we did:
Using a Canadian company like Shopify definitely helped get us to market quickly, however, as a fashion brand our designers had a lot of custom work to be done on the site, for which we hired outside help - we had a website we thought were the best in the industry and we tried to reach the benchmark of being the best as closely as possible - I still believe we aren’t there yet and need to work on continuous improvement.
Here is where I’d love to highlight Mistake #3, which no one talks about - Logistics and Shipping - Holy eff, this was a pain in the butt - what service do I use? Shipbob? Shipmonk? Stamps.com? Canada Post? - blah blah, there’s so many options about there and everyone promises you the world.
I initially got a small batch of watches sent to me and I would pay the duty, take the watches out and pack them myself in my house office and go to local Canada post. This process sucked and I really didn’t want to be a part of it, remember those suppliers I was speaking about earlier? The ones I wined and dined and made nice with? They actually had a global shipping and logistics network to 100+ countries on hand and when I called and asked them for help they came through with the best rates in the industry with shipping, warehousing and packaging. That was a really big help to me back then and still is today! I can’t thank them enough.
Watches are a really highly competitive category and it took me a week to see my first sale as we had to highlight our different brand values, experiment with different Facebook audiences to hit the right winners in our niche, from there on it was just building into a snowball strategy to hit our most profitable markets globally with trial and error.
One last piece of advice I’d give you, from our launch be to hire a VA or a part-time customer service rep, I didn’t know anything about hiring a VA or even having a customer service person back then and I was doing everything myself - my chat/phone name was John (who spoke with an Aussie accent - thanks to my year in Melbourne), because you wouldn't want a person with an Indian accent picking up the phone - trust me, I tried. I was burnt out in 3 months wearing the hat of a PPC person, a call center guy, a shipper, a website builder and live chat support person - so, spend a little money on Upwork and hire a good VA it’ll make your life a lot easier.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
From Day 1, my focus has been on branding, grow an aspirational purpose-driven brand - lead with brand, brand, brand.
For me, it was a transitional mindset shift from a guy who was going from the lowest price possible to being all about customer experience, aspirational and brand focus - it was initially hard to understand, but in the long run I can see direct sales, organic sales which generate higher returns than just simply putting $1 in and getting $2-$3 returns on ad spends.
So, whatever you make in China from your suppliers will be copied and sold on Amazon, focus on building a brand don’t focus on building cheap product which is the flavour of the day, I made that mistake with drop shipping - you won’t be able to beat the factory direct prices of Chinese sellers - period.
We are hitting a wall today with a declining ROAS from Facebook ads,because of the competition, and having a branding driven focus has helped us become profitable.
I would invest passively into Organic traffic a great strategy which usually goes overlooked in this field is optimizing for google images and Pinterest. People are out there looking for gift ideas for their loved ones or some inspirations and these two mediums are usually overlooked a lot - I myself am in the process of catching up to these mediums
Most of our marketing efforts are very advertising driven with facebook ads being #1. When we had initially started and gathered all that lovely data on our facebook pixel, 6 months in we were doing really well and then all of sudden facebook’s policy team came in and banned our accounts during holidays Dec-Jan - why? I have 0 clues why - some really vague reason.
We eventually got it restored, but we missed out on holidays Q4 of last year - so my advice is don’t put all your eggs in one basket - spread yourself as wide as possible with google, facebook, and all the tier 2 traffic drivers to your stores.
In fact, Reddit itself is a goldmine if used properly ( I will admit we haven’t got it nailed down yet), but the community is amazing, passionate in their feedback and holy hell do people here go crazy if you mess up in your quality - it’s always a good gut check to see how good your product is with using the community here as your sounding board. I still haven’t forgotten about EA and those loot boxes Reddit
Here’s an interesting stat for the readers out there - 40% of the sellers on FBA selling over $1 million in sales are all Chinese. So, whatever you make in China from your suppliers will be copied and sold on Amazon, focus on building a brand don’t focus on building cheap product which is the flavour of the day, I made that mistake with drop shipping - you won’t be able to beat the factory direct prices of Chinese sellers - period.
The watches and jewellery policy to get approved on AMZ right now is pretty ridiculous if anyone from Amazon is reading this, please update your policy on watches, it’s crazy how many loopholes one has to jump through to get approved on Amazon, for our niche I don’t recommend selling on Amazon. However, for other niches go for AMZ guys - it’s your default shopping engine for retail. I’d be looking to invest heavily on AMZ for sure if you know how FBA works.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I make $0 in net profit right now as a company, however, I get to pay myself a good salary and give our employees above industry salaries for their positions and invest whatever we make back in the business. I firmly believe this is the only way to grow. 20% of our yearly dividend is distributed to protect wildlife in southern Africa in the Okavango Delta and Kruger National park.
We are growing at an incredible rate, we have doubled our sales every 6 months, we may be small but, we’re definitely aiming to hit a run rate of 100k/mo in the next 12 months.
70% of our sales are coming in through PPC - Google, Facebook ads and the usual suspects, we’d like to remove our dependency on these channels as we grow and focus more on organic, email and direct sales.
We are working on points and referrals program right now to increase engagement and word of mouth sales for our brands, the goal is to get to at least 10% of our sales coming in through our loyalty programs..
Organic search is a big driver of growth for us, we have been increasing on our branded searches and generic fashion searches over the last quarter which means we’re putting out the right content and getting reviews by the right people right now
We have been warned by friends in the industry that the watch markets stagnate or our repeat business will slow down so we are expanding our collections to men's fashion jewellery, sun glasses, skin care and other related products in the near future. I believe we haven’t even maxed out our reach yet in watches market, however, it is ideal to think about these things in the long term
Our operations today are pretty streamlined with an operations manager, email marketing hire, part-time sales and distribution lead and most importantly a couple of designers to make our products - this is our core team - we have an auxiliary team of customer service people who work tirelessly around the clock to make sure our customers are well supported and satisfied with their purchases.
My long term goal is to dominate our category and sell the brand in the next 5 years.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Loaded one for sure: I can’t even begin to tell you how I have changed as a person. I am more proactive, I have learned to listen and not talk about myself (a big one!), I have developed so much personally and professionally and it’s really been thanks for this journey of being an entrepreneur. I don’t waste time watching TV shows, I read more, I am more into self care than I was, I am better at time management and am conscious about whom I surround myself with.
Don’t worry about the money, worry about pursuing your dream, you’ll find the money, you’ll find ways to overcome any obstacles thrown at you, you’ll grow a thick skin and you’ll learn to persevere.
I am working 24/7 x 365, last time I had an off day was when I was last hungover and that was in Sept 2018, so no off days - the hustle, commitment is what drives me with a hunger to be successful and the long term vision to build a brand and succeed. Airplane rides are perfect for me to shut down and focus on content and long term planning as I have 0 internets.
I wasn’t the best at hiring to be honest when it came to due diligence I believed people at their word and that was it, so I went through people initially like water as I believed them and then these “guru’s” would not deliver what they promised. So, I hired an operations manager who grew as the company grew and he makes these decisions. I have wasted over $100k+ on bad hires, don’t make the same mistakes as me.
One thing I may seriously recommend is focusing on your health , a lot of us go through this period of entrepreneurs stress, I solved it by drinking myself on a binge and “trying to exercise” - you really don’t need to deal with this by drinking yourself and working crazy, find something other than the business you’re passionate about - I found squash which is a cool racquet sport, it’s a 45 minute intense high intensity workout and an awesome way to network. If you find me today, I have 0 alcohol, all my meetings happen with people on the squash courts and I am healthier because of it. I am down 50 pounds just because of this one change - I wake up happier with clearer thoughts and clearer vision that I did a year ago.
Oh man! You’ll find this funny and my friends will attest to this, I used to get drunk, come home and watch drunk shows on my laptop on the tummy with a pizza on my chest - those days are definitely long gone now!
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
- Facebook ads
- Google ads
- Anything by Bold Commerce - shout out to a good Canadian company.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I was 14 when I first read Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy and I wanted to be in advertising, the book is probably 50+ years old by now but in regards to copywriting, consumer behaviour and building brands it’s still very relevant to this day.
Scientific Advertising by Claud Hopkins is another big one I’d recommend - similar reasons to look and dissect your advertising in this day and age. I read books about all the founders of great agencies who all have something to add lookup anything on Ted Bates, Stanley Resor, Raymond Rubicam. Why do I recommend the older books - The way humans buy and what drives us hasn’t changed in over 100 years - the way we present it has.
I developed this podcasting habit very recently, only over a year or so ago in the gym, here’s my fav one’s - How I built this by Guy Raz, Lord Tim Ferris ( I finally got on the hype train), Masters of Scale Reid Hoffman, Ecommerce Fuel by Andrew Y - Highly recommended if you’re in E-commerce - he just gets it, the guy and his community is 100% all ecomm all day everyday and Tropical MBA by Dan and Ian - if you’re interested in having lifestyle businesses and the folks you have on here are more people like you and me and have started their journeys out quite recently.
Network with other entrepreneurs, like me they love sharing their journey and talking about themselves a lot (sorry!). But, ask them your questions in a meaningful way, don’t say hey - give me your shipping contact, of course, I am not going to - but, ask more general questions about their businesses and their setups and if they find you intelligent and driven, they may invest in you and your abilities to pursue your dreams. We have made over 100+ hiring mistakes we know by now what good-great talent is when we see it.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I am sure all my colleague will tell you this - t ake the leap, don’t think twice about it, I wish I had started 10 years ago or 15 years now that I am here that’s my biggest regret, why did I sell radio door to door when I could have been doing this business back then? ** Yesterday was the second best day to start your business and TODAY! is your best day**.
I chased for a long time looking for recognition from my peers, don’t worry about this - people are always secretly wishing you’ll succeed - you’re the best underdog story your life is writing at this very moment.
Don’t worry about the money, worry about pursuing your dream, you’ll find the money, you’ll find ways to overcome any obstacles thrown at you, you’ll grow a thick skin and you’ll learn to persevere. I truly believe in this and I truly believe in you-you, the future entrepreneurs to take that leap - YOU CAN DO THIS!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I am currently looking to fill the position of a part-time facebook ad’s manager and if you or someone you know is looking to fill this position, do get in touch - [email protected]
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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