In this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we interviewed Ilan Srulovicz, founder of Égard Watches, men’s and women’s luxury timepieces. Through a direct-to-consumer sales model, Égard is able to provide high-quality watches at affordable prices by avoiding wholesalers and retailers. Listen in and learn the inspiration behind the brand, their journey over the past eight years since its launch and where Égard is headed toward in the future.

Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

    • Where the vision for Égard Watch Company came from when it was founded in 2012
    • The key points and message that were focused on when building out the brand
    • What’s changed in the watch industry over the last eight years
    • How Ilan positioned himself and the brand for successful crowdfunding
    • The experience creating a marketing video in response to Gillette’s “The Best Men Can Be” video

Links

Sponsors

Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by The Gadget Flow, a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save, and buy awesome products. The Gadget Flow is the ultimate buyer’s guide for cool luxury gadgets and creative gifts. Click here to learn more and list your product – use coupon code ATOKK16 for 20% off!

Transcript

View this episode's transcript
Roy Morejon:
Welcome to Art of the Kickstart, your source for crowdfunding campaign success. I’m your host, Roy Morejon, President of Enventys Partners, the top full service turnkey product development and crowdfunding marketing agency in the world. We have helped startups raise over $100 million for our clients, since 2010. Each week, I’ll interview a crowdfunding success story, an inspirational entrepreneur, or a business expert in order to help you take your startup to the next level with crowdfunding.
Roy Morejon:
Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by Gadget Flow. Gadget Flow is a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save, and buy awesome products. It is the ultimate buyers guide for luxury gadgets and creative gifts. Now, let’s get on with the show.
Roy Morejon:
Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today, I am talking with Ilan, founder of Ègard Watches. Ilan, thank you so much for joining us today.
Ilan Srulovicz:
My pleasure, thanks for having me.
Roy Morejon:
I’m really excited to talk to you, I love interviewing OGs of the crowdfunding world. You have an upcoming campaign, which will be your fourth, for a new watch piece. So, I’m really excited to hear about the journey you’ve been on, since founding the company back in 2012. Where does it start, and what inspired you to create Ègard Watches?
Ilan Srulovicz:
The entire foundation of the company is an interesting story. I was a wild kid growing up, and got in some trouble and stuff like that. My dad was very committed to never giving up on me. so, I got through all that stuff, and then I got older, I got some health issues. Again, my dad was there, taking care of me, on a dime. I was living in New York, he just flew to New York, stayed with me and was like, “We’re going to get through this.”
Ilan Srulovicz:
So, it got to a point where my dad was getting older, he was 65 at the time. I wanted to find a way to pay him back, for everything he had done for me. I was working in a company at the time, doing previs. You know, we make movies, we do all that kind of stuff, so I knew how to do design, and I started prevising a watch. Or, designing a watch in 3D, and using the 3D printers. I ended up making him a watch, giving it to him, and that’s the inception of Ègard Watches.
Roy Morejon:
That’s impressive. To one, be in business, and continue being in business, and then creating your first watch. What was the process like, there? From tinkering, to building, to manufacturing, and sourcing, how did you go about deciding the initial features to include in the first design? And, what’s changed, fast forward now, eight years later, in the industry?
Ilan Srulovicz:
I mean, the industry’s entirely different. Retail, in general, is entirely different, so I just believe that people are starting to buy more online, and they’re starting to buy direct from companies. The whole retail industry has shifted, and you can actually build an entire company now, selling direct to consumer, and bypassing the middle section, there, of wholesalers. That’s not to say there’s no value in that part of the industry, but there is a massive shift, at least for watches, away from retail.
Ilan Srulovicz:
There’s positives and negatives to it, nowadays. A lot of people are going away from branding, which I think is a big mistake, and shifting entirely to value propositions. There’s no end game to that, eventually everyone’s just going to be trying to make a penny on a dollar, and run themselves into the ground. So, my philosophy has always been, no, I’m a brand, I have a message, I have a foundational story behind this, and I’m doing it out of passion. We’ve put a lot of work into what we do, so we try and be consistent, and control the pricing and say, “This is what it is, it’s not going to be discounted 50% somewhere else, just because we’re trying to get rid of inventory.” We can maintain our value as a product.
Roy Morejon:
So, you talked a little bit about building a brand, I think it’s important on the startup side of things to, obviously, focus on that, as well as who the customer is, and where can they find them.
Roy Morejon:
What were some of the key points that you focused in on very early, on building a brand out, and then launching your first crowdfunding campaign, back in 2014? So, two years into the building of the company, and the brand itself, what were some of those things that you did, to help put yourself in such a good position on your campaign?
Ilan Srulovicz:
There’s a few things. I think I have philosophy, I always say seek out the no. A lot of people are like, “Oh yeah, you’ll eventually get a yes.” I’m like well, if my goal every day is just to get 1000 nos, and I’m just going to keep sending emails for whatever, it sounds negative, but it’s actually a positive. I’m going to make myself consistent at sending out these emails, because my goal is to get 1000 nos.
Ilan Srulovicz:
Often, I never even get to the 1000 nos, because someone says yes along the way. Then I go, “Oh okay, I got a yes,” and I’m happy with the yes. So, I shifted expectation on myself to be like, “What will drive me to keep working harder every day?” That’s okay, if it’s 1000 emails, I don’t care if they’re all nos, I’m expecting all nos, I’m expecting that every day I’m going to keep doing it, until I get a yes. And, that I have that goal of hitting 1000 emails, 1000 nos.
Ilan Srulovicz:
So, I was a real hustler in the beginning, of just pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing, wherever I could, developing my own skillset, not relying on other people. Being able to develop the story around my passion, the story I wanted behind it, and focusing on that aspect. I also think that every company that does well has some foundational truth behind it, in terms of the message they’re putting out, it has to be authentic. So, the story with my father and me is very honest, and it was my voice behind everything, and my father behind everything. I think people connected to that aspect of authenticity, and that it was genuine.
Ilan Srulovicz:
That’s whole message led to the call with William Shatner, and him relating to that, and him coming on board that first campaign, because he himself has kids, wanted to have this idea of legacy and tribute. Again, it’s an authenticity that founded an honest relationship, and we designed it together, that first watch for him, which was that Passages Williams Shatner campaign.
Ilan Srulovicz:
Yeah, it was a combination of trying to make something unique, that was different in the industry, hustling, and always going for those nos, and just sending out emails. William Shatner was my first yes. People go, “Well, how did you get William Shatner?” I got 1000 nos before I got the one yes from William Shatner, I reached out to everyone. I still do that, all the time. People don’t see that.
Ilan Srulovicz:
I had a friend … Sorry, this is off topic. I had a friend who said, “Every time someone says no to you, or puts you down, take that like a brick, like you’re building a house, and that’s your foundation. You need those bricks to build a house. Then, when you have a house at the end of the day, you’re good.” So, I’ve always looked at it like that, that’s the philosophy behind what led me to that first point. It’s very hard, at first. You don’t have money to put into marketing or anything, so you’ve got to find innovative ways to reach out to people, and get your product out there.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah, I share a similar philosophy with you. I remember doing all the sales for company initially, and getting it started. My philosophy was get to the no faster, I don’t have time to sit with you on the call. Are you in, or are you out?
Ilan Srulovicz:
Yeah.
Roy Morejon:
I think that certainly helps, especially for a lot of businesses, in terms of getting the answers that they need, or all the nos that they needed for the day. The one person that believes in them, or the multiple that believe in you that day, you can build around that.
Ilan Srulovicz:
Yeah. This is totally separate, but I make a chart for myself. On the one side, I have fear or frustrations, on the other side I have the things I’m passionate about. On the fear side, I broke it down to things I have control over, and things that I don’t have control over.
Ilan Srulovicz:
So, if I take a fear, or I take this aspect of what I want to do with my brand and it’s non specific, often it becomes a fear. I’m worried people won’t like my watches. Well, that’s something I can’t control, I can’t control of people don’t like my watches. What I do have control over is getting feedback before I go into production, so that becomes more specific. Then, you kind of drop the fear because what you do, is now you make it something actionable. Now, I can on a form, I can show my watch, I can get feedback. And then, I can make an educated decision on what I want to do with the design, at that point. As opposed to staying in that ambiguous, fear based section.
Ilan Srulovicz:
I think a lot of people waste a lot, a lot of time, especially in the early stages, in these abstracts which are really fear based, which don’t lead to anything actionable. In the end of the day, the actionable stuff is what’s going to build your company.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. In terms of taking action, now that you’re about to launch your fourth campaign, I’m really interested to hear how you’ve engaged your community that you’ve built, over the years? I mean, with thousands of backers supporting your campaigns over the years, how have you gone about, in terms of engaging with your community, and how have they potentially helped shape the company, and the products that you’re now launching?
Ilan Srulovicz:
Well again, it comes down to going on, and engaging with them with the early designs, and getting them interested, seeing the feedback they have, taking their feedback seriously. In the end of the day, you can’t please everyone, so you’re going to have a certain percentage of people … this was a mistake I found, early on. I started trying to accommodate everyone, and that just becomes impossible. You end up changing things so many times, and bogging yourself down, so you have to, at some point, have to commit.
Ilan Srulovicz:
That early stage feedback from the customer base is very valuable, it helps you go into a right direction with things. Engaging them, again, with the story, the meaning behind the brand, and connecting that meaning to this watch. Again, branding through and through. I always say I’m never selling a product, I’m always selling a feeling, or I’m selling a moment, or an idea. Even with this watch, despite the breakthrough we had with how we engrave it, and we feel like this is our best quality piece so far, that’s never my primary focus. My primary focus is always well, we’re still here to sell you something that is about tributes, that is about legacy, and defining important moments in your lives.
Ilan Srulovicz:
We’ve just gotten better, as a company, at making things that are different and unique, and this is our next step up. You’ve always been a part of that journey, as a customer, so now you can take the next step with us. That’s the philosophy, and I think as long as we never give up on our core values, and our story, then people will continue to stand behind the company.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah. It’s interesting, doing my prep work before this interview, of watching all four of your videos from the crowdfunding videos, in terms of the first one that you launched, to this one now. I really appreciate the new one, because it’s very story based, and I really connected with a comment that you made in there, that “time connects all of us. Around the world, everybody is stuck to time.” That really spoke to me, in terms of a defining moment, of passing a watch down, and the story of making a watch for your father really, really resonated with me.
Roy Morejon:
I’m interested to know what some of the prep work, video marketing content, branding, et cetera that you did for the first campaign, and how that’s evolved and changed with your brand, now, over the last eight years?
Ilan Srulovicz:
Again, I never believed in … This is going to sound weird. I never believed in overly polished videos, that are perfect. I always felt that, as a company, that’s not who we are. We’re imperfect, we’re human, we’re not this massive, [inaudible 00:11:45] organization, with billions of dollars. So, we’ve always gone for this authentic, more organic feel in our videos. That was important early on, because I just didn’t have the money to make a nice video, I didn’t have the money to go make a big production.
Ilan Srulovicz:
I asked myself, how can we relate to people? We can relate to people by being honest, and being authentic, and making a video that just touches on that. Hopefully, that will be enough, that people will see that, and that will be enough. I just didn’t have another option.
Ilan Srulovicz:
Even with William Shatner, when he came on, I didn’t have money. The whole way I pitched that whole thing was crazy, I just said, “This is what I can do, I can make the watch. I can make one watch, I can’t even fund the whole production. But, I’m going to pre-sell that watch, and I’m going to make it very, very successful.” It’s a hard pitch, but if you’re really genuine about it, again, you’ll find someone who will back you up. So, the whole marketing approach followed that same philosophy, in terms of what can we do with what we have? Where can we spend our money where it’s going to give the highest ROI, and get that message out the most?
Ilan Srulovicz:
Production was always done in a way that it was me and a friend, or calling in favors, or whatever I could do to get that video done. I wrote everything, a lot of the time I even shoot stuff myself. Even today, the company’s much more successful, I still follow that path of … It’s a little bit more polished now, our videos, I do have more money to put into them. But, I still try and keep it as honest as possible, and not make it a big thing because, in the end of the day, it’s the message that matters. It’s not the production value, it’s not the visual effects in it, people are either going to relate to the story or they’re not.
Ilan Srulovicz:
You look at the William Shatner video, even to the George St. Pierre video, the George St. Pierre video’s shot much cleaner, and in a studio. Actually, it was shot in his gym. Yeah, we shot the George St. Pierre video, we went to his gym, and I said, “Hey, can we use your gym?” Again yeah, always just finding ways to hustle, and make these down-to-Earth videos that people will relate to.
Roy Morejon:
The one that you did back in January, the response to the Gillette video, What is a Man, obviously got millions and millions of views. Do you want to dive in on that?
Ilan Srulovicz:
Yeah. I did that on my own, and I decided to put my company behind it just because I felt like, okay, if a person releases this video, it’s not going to have any value, but if a company’s responding, then it does. The intention of that video was to highlight not just men, but the idea that we can highlight anyone in a positive way, and that the way to effect positive change in the world is to show the best in people, not the worst in people.
Ilan Srulovicz:
I felt like there was a downward trend in advertising, in media, in news to divide people, segregate people. So the philosophy behind the video was, okay if a company as big as Gillette is going to come out and make a video like this, which is on the basis of lecturing, or on the basis of a negative philosophy from the start, “You can be better.” Well, I’ll counter that and I’ll show, these are the best, and people who watch this will now be inspired to be better. It was just to change the narrative, and I hope more companies follow that path.
Ilan Srulovicz:
Again, that was a video I did myself, in my room, no one else. People who actually helped me with my company, or involved in the company, were very much against me releasing it because they felt like maybe they’ll be backlash. But, I’m one of those people who, from the start of the company said if you look at the philosophy of the company, and the branding of the company, it’s always been that honest approach. I have foundational beliefs, and it’s okay to insert foundational beliefs into what I’ve built, which is my company. That’s the most valuable thing to me. So, I built this company, it’s my voice, it’s been my voice since the beginning. If I feel like there has to be a shift in something, and that it relates to my company, or what my company can affect, then I’m going to do that, and I’m going to put that out there.
Ilan Srulovicz:
A lot of people, again, connected to the truth behind it, or my message behind it, which is a message that a lot of people believe in, and feel already, long before I made the message. It’s not really about the fact that I put it out there, people have been feeling this way for a long time. So, this was just something that people could relate to, and said, “Oh, I feel the same way. Thanks for doing it.” That was it.
Ilan Srulovicz:
Again, that’s the same philosophy for the videos where I’m trying to promote the brand where it’s, “Hey, this is the relationship between me and my father, these are the things I struggle with. I struggle with the idea that I am limited in this life, that I’m not going to live forever,” that we all struggle with the idea of death, of the passing of time, of the idea that the people we love get older. So, we all look for something within that, to give value and meaning to life. If it’s something as simple as looking at your wrist, and wearing your dad’s watch who’s no longer with you, and seeing him, and remembering him every time you look at it, then that’s the most beautiful thing in the world.
Ilan Srulovicz:
That’s much more than a watch, that’s much more than something that tells the time, that’s a memory of the people you love. So, I’ve always said if I’m going to put anything out there, that’s what I’m going to put out.
Roy Morejon:
Not to continue on the topic of death, but obviously Coronavirus is a major thing that’s affecting retail and product development. Are you guys seeing any issues with it, in the development of your watches? Or, any advice that you could relay to any of the startup founders, looking to get into product development, specifically overseas?
Ilan Srulovicz:
We do make … For this watch specifically, for the upcoming campaign, two of the three are Swiss made. So, they’re using a STP1-11, which is a Swiss made movement, and [inaudible 00:17:29] 515. So, that stuff’s not done in the far East, but we do have the Seagull version, which is the skeleton watch, which is done in the far East. Or, Hong Kong and China. We do have other watches where we do have our own facility there, where we work on modifying movements, where we do some case work, some dial work. That’s all shut down right now, and it’s tough.
Ilan Srulovicz:
Again, all I could do is be honest, and let customers know, “Hey, production is really messed up right now, it’s bigger than us. People are sick, people are dying, the government has shut down our facility temporarily.” I can tell them I understand they’re frustrated that they have to wait, and it’s very unfortunate, and just hope that they understand. You know, the whole thing with the Coronavirus, tons of industries are suffering, and it’s kind of a matter of fact situation. No company can do anything about the fact that the Coronavirus is out there, and that the government has literally closed down facilities.
Ilan Srulovicz:
If a customer’s not going to understand that, you can empathize with the customer, that oh, okay, they have to wait an extra few weeks for their product, that’s frustrating. In the end of the day, the best thing I can do … Sorry, my computer’s going nuts right now. My God. The best thing I can do is refund them, if they’re that unhappy. But, it’s not a situation, with the Coronavirus, where unfortunately there’s much give, because it’s so far out of anything we had control over, that you would hope that customers have a certain degree of empathy, that it’s bigger than their product. It’s bigger than you getting your watch, there’s sick people in the world, and that this is a real problem.
Ilan Srulovicz:
My tolerance for this, maybe, to be totally honest, is a little bit less than it should be, because it’s not, hey, we screwed up production. Hey, you’ve got to wait an extra few weeks, because we screwed up. You know, in those cases I really do empathize, I do try and do better for the customer, and give them massive discounts, whatever I can do. But, in a case where there’s people who are sick, and I tell someone, “Hey, you’ve got to wait an extra two weeks, or three weeks, because there’s people sick all over the world right now, and it’s an epidemic.” And they respond negatively to that, I don’t know what to tell a business owner in that situation, but you do have to be the bigger man and just say, “The best we can do is offer you a refund.”
Ilan Srulovicz:
Again, it’s a worldwide kind of issue right now, and a lot of businesses are suffering. Again, the best thing you can do is be transparent and honest. Most customers will empathize, and will understand, the vast majority. The ones who don’t, unfortunately, there’s not much you can do in that situation.
Roy Morejon:
So, in the years that you’ve been running Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns, what’s one lesson that you’ve learned throughout the years of running these campaigns?
Ilan Srulovicz:
Communicate with the customers, be honest about delays, be honest about production, be honest about everything. Don’t hold anything back. If it’s going to take two months longer, let them know and tell them, “Hey, we’re doing our best.” Just be honest, because you are doing your best, when you’re a small business owner. “We’re doing our best, this is way more difficult than we thought, more sales than we anticipated.”
Ilan Srulovicz:
The William Shatner one, we put the meteor dust … So, I went and I bought a meteor from a geologist in Alaska, and we started dusting it, and putting it on the dial. Then, the movement wouldn’t run properly, and we realized that it was an effect of the amount of iron in the meteor, it was affecting the magnetism of the movement, and causing it to stutter. So, I said, “Oh, how can we fix this?” That delayed the delivery of the watch by something like six weeks, or eight weeks. I just told customers, I said, “We’re trying to do something we’ve never done before, we’re trying to put meteor dust on a watch.”
Ilan Srulovicz:
I have to go buy a meteor, I have to dust it. These things take time, and we didn’t anticipate, it’s just not something we could have known in advance. “We’re really sorry, we’re going to try and include something extra. We’re going to reassess and find a way to get that meteor dust on there, like we promised, it might just be less.” So, we put them in these small vials, and then we put them on the dial in these star placements, and it wasn’t enough that if affected the movement. Everyone was happy, in the end of the day.
Ilan Srulovicz:
I think as long as you’re transparent, and you’re honest with your customer … treat them with the same respect you would want them to treat you with, which is that if they have a problem, you’d want to know about it. You wouldn’t want them going elsewhere, and just letting it sit, and then writing negative reviews. You’d want them to come to you and tell you, “Hey, I’m not happy with this.” The same way, you as business owners, “Hey, we’ve got this problem, this is what we’re dealing with.” Or, “Hey, we’re really excited, things are great.” Just communicate, customers are very, very happy when you communicate with them.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely, solid advice there, Ilan. This is going to get us into our launch round, where I’m going to rapid fire a handful of questions at you. You good to go?
Ilan Srulovicz:
Yeah.
Roy Morejon:
What inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
Ilan Srulovicz:
Again, same idea. I never had the intention to be an entrepreneur, what inspired me was the relationship with my father, and seeing him and all the good he’s done. I just want to live up to that standard.
Roy Morejon:
If you could meet with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?
Ilan Srulovicz:
I guess, I really like Elon Musk. I don’t know why, I think he’s a real innovator, so I’d just want to pick his brain.
Roy Morejon:
What would be your first question for Elon?
Ilan Srulovicz:
I actually thought about this yesterday, I was like, “Man, if I could meet Elon Musk, what would I tell him?” I would want to know why he got into trying to have this effect on the world, such a positive effect. Like, what motivated hey, we’re going to look at electronic cars? All his motivations seem to be to make the world better, I just would want to know what stimulated that. Why is he going in that direction with everything? Which is a good thing, I’m just curious what the motivation is behind it.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah. For all the other startup founders out there, what book would you recommend they read?
Ilan Srulovicz:
Ah, what’s that book that talks about the why? That book, is it called The Why?
Roy Morejon:
Talk About the Why? Yeah, good book.
Roy Morejon:
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Ilan Srulovicz:
Hopefully I’m alive, I’ll tell you that much. Hopefully, my goal is to have my company doing 10 times better than it is today, literally that exact number. Just to grow 10 times, there’s so many untapped markets. My five year goal is to hit all those markets. We don’t even sell on Amazon right now.
Roy Morejon:
Last question. What does the future of crowdfunding look like?
Ilan Srulovicz:
The future of crowdfunding’s going to be a lot more polarized, I think. You’re going to have campaigns that hyper successful, and a lot more campaigns that don’t do well, just because I think it’s going in that direction. I think you’re either going to be a mega hit, or you’re going to do the $30,000 to $50,000 price point range.
Ilan Srulovicz:
I base that on the fact that it’s becoming more competitive, and that customers are starting to respond to it differently. But, I may be completely wrong, but I just see it going in that direction.
Roy Morejon:
Nice. Ilan, this has been awesome. This is your opportunity to give our audience your pitch, tell people what you’re all about, where people should go, and why they should check you out.
Ilan Srulovicz:
Well, you can go to Ègard, E-G-A-R-D Watches.com, and you should check us out because, like I said, if you’re looking for something that you can pass down to someone, or give as a gift, I think we’re among the best at it, that’s what we’re founded on. We’ve got incredibly unique designs, that are pushing the limits of what’s possible on a watch, so check them out.
Roy Morejon:
Awesome. Audience, thanks again for tuning in, make sure to visit ArtOfTheKickstart.com for the notes, the transcripts, links to the campaign once it goes live, and everything else we talked about today. Of course, thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors, the Gadget Flow and ProductHype.
Roy Morejon:
Ilan, thank you so much for joining us today, on Art of the Kickstart.
Ilan Srulovicz:
Thank you.
Roy Morejon:
Thanks for tuning into another episode of Art of the Kickstart, the show about building a business, world, and life with crowdfunding. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, awesome. Make sure to visit ArtOfTheKickstart.com, and tell us all about it. There, you’ll find additional information about past episodes, our Kickstarter guide to crushing it, and of course, if you love this episode a lot, leave us a review at ArtOfTheKickstart.com/iTunes. It helps more inventors, entrepreneurs, and startups find the show, and helps us get better guests to help you build a better business.
Roy Morejon:
If you need more hands-on crowdfunding strategy advice, please feel free to request a quote on EnventysPartners.com. Thanks again for tuning in, and we’ll see you again next week.