Talking to Jonny Garret Of William Wood Watches On Transitioning From Kickstarter Project To Self-Sustained Brand
What started as a Kickstarter campaign is now a full-fledged independent brand.
One thing we always do when judging if we want to cover a Kickstarter brand is to check several criteria. Is it up to par with what we feel like covering? Do the people behind it seem genuinely passionate about watchmaking? Do we see it being around for more than just one or two campaigns? So, when we recently got in touch with Jonny Garrett, founder of William Wood Watches and learned about his journey from kitchen table idea to full-fledged brand, we jumped on the opportunity to learn how he managed to do so in just five short years. And yes, there are life lessons there for everyone dreaming of doing the same!
Robin, MONOCHROME – Jonny, can you take us back to how William Wood Watches came to life? How did it all start for you?
Jonny Garrett, Founder and CEO of William Wood Watches – It all started when a friend and I were talking together in a pub in my hometown of Hexham, England. He recently launched his own brand on Kickstarter, raising the funds he needed to bring his idea to life! When I learnt that customers who could pre-order a product or service and were willing to wait for a few months for it to be built in return for a small discount and not have to give away any equity, I thought this was a brilliant opportunity.
That same night I went home with a gut feeling that it was now or never, and it kept me up all night. Over the coming weeks, I drafted different mood boards, searching for the right product and idea. I have always had a very entrepreneurial mind and knew from a young age that one day I would build a business that I would do for the rest of my life and grow into something very special.
This helped massively my decision to produce a watch brand in dedication to the person who touched my life the most: my late grandfather, William Wood, a decorated British firefighter and an incredible man. As for the product, every mood board kept coming back to watches. I have always admired horology, but more so the craftsmanship that goes into building luxury products.
But surely you didn’t think of William Wood Watches overnight? How did it go from there – starting with the mood board and the notion of doing something – to watches?
For me, when building a brand with longevity, it has to be authentic, you have to be devoted, but above all, you have to love what you are building. The word passion is used by many, and although I am passionate about lots of things, I am not dedicating my life to building a brand around them. Loving what you’re doing will get you out of bed every morning. People are also very clever and often see through individuals who are not being their authentic selves.
The second most important point for me is that you need a very strong, unique selling point. That doesn’t mean it has to be extremely difficult or complex, but it has to be something that radiates through everything you do. A generic design doesn’t cut it against established brands. How are people trusting you with their hard-earned money if you don’t have something new to offer?
We haven’t found another watch business fully dedicated to firefighters and builds watches using genuine upcycled firefighting materials. We believe we are the only ones in the world who do this. You have to own your area of the marketplace and bring something fresh. We are not reinventing the wheel, as watchmaking has been around for hundreds of years, were simply bringing something different and interesting.
That sounds like a very logical consideration. Can you tell us a bit about your grandfather and why he’s so important to you and the business?
My grandfather was a firefighter working for the British Fire Service for over 25 years. During his time as a firefighter, he was commended for his acts of bravery, risking his own life for the lives of others, as all firefighters do. He has always been an inspiration to me through his dedication to others’ well-being. I knew that keeping his legacy alive in every watch we produced would get me out of bed every morning. I found that something that’s so close to my heart drives me forward every single day.
That’s why we are proud to have a real piece of British firefighting history inside all our watches – from the very first watch, the Chivalrous Collection, to the most recent, our FDNY project. We melt down 100-year-old British brass firefighter helmets into our crown inserts, upcycle fire hoses with ten-plus years of active use in our watch straps, and our presentation boxes look like fire alarms. When you put everything together, it’s a unique experience unboxing your first William Wood Watch!
What was your consideration to go through Kickstarter, and has it been a blessing or does it come with certain drawbacks as well?
As mentioned, the biggest benefit is the fact you don’t have to give up any equity in your business. Traditional investors seek some reassurance in return for their money. They want to own part of the business and, to an extent, influence what’s going on with the company. I always envisioned remaining an independent company because I did not want to dilute the story, so Kickstarter was perfect.
Second, the fact you get backing from early backers and potential long-term clients, you can grow a database for future releases. We pushed as hard as we could through our personal network and noticed that during the second campaign, this paid off much more than the first. Our split between what we raised on Kickstarter vs what we generated from our own mailing list was 3% Kickstarter vs 97% self-generated.
This is the big health warning to flag when launching on Kickstarter. You can’t expect to launch a product without a strong mailing list of your own that you have built over a few months. If you’re very lucky, you become a trending project on Kickstarter and get pushed to the homepage, which will then drive significantly more backers. Without that, you need to bring a strong list of customers on your mailing list to pre-order when you launch.
And one of the drawbacks worth mentioning is the fact that Kickstarter claims 5% of all your funding when a campaign is successful. Of course, you should take this into consideration from the get-go, but it can quickly become quite a big chunk of cash!
After that first project, the Chivalrous, what was your next step?
We learnt some important things from that first campaign. For instance; start your story early and engulf people into the development even before you have presented the full project. Tie in people from early on, and keep track of who has expressed interest. Our first campaign was 75% funded in the first 48 hours. This might sound good on paper, but the remaining 25% took a lot of effort.
With our second campaign, launched in 2019, we implemented the lessons from before. When we launched, we had already created such a fanfare amongst backers of the Chivalrous, but also newly interested audience as this was our first mechanical watch. This resulted in our second campaign being funded in under a minute!
The next collection was the Triumph, our Swiss-Made chronograph watch, which we developed in the middle of the Covid pandemic. We thought about going through Kickstarter again, but in the end, we felt we could do this one on our own. We registered every single potential client from day 1, just like with Valiant. Once we were ready, we launched a pre-order campaign through our website, and it worked! We attracted more interest and more registered pre-orders than we could have imagined. To this day, I consider it our most impressive launch as it received incredible coverage from the New York Times, Forbes, Financial Times, Hodinkee…
So the Triumph was the turning point for William Wood Watches?
To be honest, the timing was perfect. The pandemic was a blessing in disguise for us. With basically the entire world locked down at home, online shopping spiked, and we fully committed to paid social media advertising which really paid off. It was the perfect storm because people were not travelling or commuting to work and were saving a lot of money; they also spent a lot of time at home scrolling on social media.
What we also learned from many clients and collectors who purchased one or more watches from us is the fact they felt they gave back to the emergency responders in a way. We’ve always committed to donating part of our proceeds to charity. We have donated over EUR 100,000 to firefighting charities around the world in five years. We are proud of this as not many independent brands can state they have made this kind of impact. People felt they could provide support by buying a luxury watch. And that accelerated the Triumph Collection for us.
The Triumph Collection was a big step up for us, as it took a serious amount of investment, and we needed the pre-orders to bring this to life. But we really felt the time was right, and we could pull it off. Within 48 hours, we pre-sold more than 100 Triumph Watches, which meant we recouped our investment for the development of the collection.
Looking back on those five years, what would you have done differently?
Well, I don’t think I would have changed much at all. When looking back, it’s always easy to spot your mistakes, but if you learn from them, they can become more valuable lessons than small successes. And these lessons help you along your path to the future.
Maybe I would have started with a mechanical watch instead of quartz from the beginning, but again, that’s all in hindsight. We are happy with how everything went so far, and we’re in good shape going into the coming years with exciting projects coming!
What’s your biggest lesson in all of this, and what would your advice be to others wanting to launch a product or brand through something like Kickstarter?
What was important to me was independence. I want us to have complete control over everything that we do as a team. I am not looking to be stuck in someone else’s plan just because he or she owns a part of the business.
Next to that, patience is key. Creating a Kickstarter project sounds like an easy thing to do, but it’s not. It takes about nine months of total dedication. From day one until launch, make sure you are devoted to the cause and have a clear vision of where you are heading and don’t give up. Look beyond the earliest backers, most likely friends and family and find your audience.
What I also recommend people to do is to start a business like this as a side hustle. Don’t put everything you have into something like this and take calculated risks. If it takes you longer, that’s fine, but if you become too dependent on a good outcome on day X, you might push yourself in the wrong direction.
Well, that sounds like solid advice!
Thank you, and I genuinely mean what I have said. If you take a couple of things into consideration, it is an absolutely fantastic journey to embark on. It just takes patience, vision and persistence. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s a lot of hard work. Even at times when things look like they are falling apart, soldier on. Stay vigilant and keep your goal in mind.
What’s next for William Wood Watches? What can we expect in the future?
We currently have three new collections in production, which we are very excited about. We’ve also just presented the Bronze Amethyst for our 5th anniversary and the Triumph Chronograph Bronze Jubilee for the Queen’s 70th anniversary, which have been received incredibly well.
And then there’s the partnership with the New York Fire Department and The Bravest Watch, honouring the men and women of the FDNY. This limited edition of 250 pieces is now available, and you can try it on in person in the FDNY Store in the Rockefeller Centre in New York. That was a very proud moment seeing my grandfather’s name on a watch honouring the heroes of New York in the Rockefeller Center.
For more information, please visit WilliamWoodWatches.com