Canadian watch aficionado-cum-entrepreneur and founder of Rossling & Co. Nadim Elgarhy has made waves in the affordable watch department since cleverly utilising Kickstarter as a means for funding his brands, and spreading the word that quality and style don’t have to come with a massive price-tag attached. His latest range, a collection of nautical-styled chronographs, from Rossling & Co., combines classic dress watch class with the same robust level of build quality for what the brand’s become known.
We took some time out to chat with Nadim about his watches, and how he’s launched the brand so successfully.
Tell us how you came to start Rossling & Co.?
When I look back, I think there are 2 moments in my life that were important in planting the seeds for what later became Rossling & Co. As a small kid, I remember that time my dad told me that his boss’ watch was worth more than our car. My mind was just blown. How could a watch be more expensive than a car? It just didn’t make sense for me. Years later, I was in a store looking to buy myself a watch. That was just before graduating from college.
I remember being utterly shocked by the prices and basically being told by the clerk to forget about finding anything nice within my budget. My brother Terry and I decided to see if we could do better, if we could design and actually produce a nicely designed, affordable, quality watch. This lead to our first watch collection raising $170k on Kickstarter. Back in late 2013, this was the most funded dress watch project on Kickstarter, ever.
How did you go about designing and sourcing premium materials for your first line of watches? Was it a difficult process finding the right manufacturer?
In our family, we’ve always loved watches. Watches have been part of my life basically since I was born. I remember being mesmerized by my grandpa’s pocket watch (which I still have by the way). So before ever thinking about designing my own watch, I knew what made a quality watch, what made a good watch. When I started designing the first Rossling & Co. watch, I spent a lot of time reading, researching. I dismantled quite a few watches, old and new, cheap and expensive, just to really get a feel for quality. I actually got to know a few “old-school” local watchmakers very well. They were a huge help.
My engineering and design background helped a lot too; especially with CAD, material selection, etc… And then it came down to sketching. Lots of sketching. More sketching. Piles of crumpled paper and lots of coffee. Until the design felt just right. After that, we had to actually make the watches. We spoke to dozens of people in the industry. It’s not easy to find someone who has the same philosophy as you, someone willing to do quality work. A lot of manufacturers made promises they couldn’t hold. Language was a barrier, time zones were a problem. It was very hard, very tedious work. But it eventually paid off when we found really talented people, experienced craftsmen who were fully committed to make a great watch with us. We now have a great team, great relationships.
What makes Rossling & Co. different to the other cheap minimal watch brands that are prolific on Instagram?
The watch market is extremely competitive with new companies popping up almost every day. Our first collection was minimalist but with very unique, very important elements. In the watch world, details make all the difference. One of these details was the small seconds sub-dial. It was our tip of the hat to a very classical watch design, reminiscent of old pocket watches. I felt it made for a very balanced dial.
Another element was the tweed strap. We decided to use tweed instead of leather. It introduced a lot of texture to the watch. It was a very traditional material used in a completely new way. Although watches are normally very visual objects, the tweed appealed to the sense of touch. It really opened up another dimension. Of course, the quality of materials is very important to us. In our opinion, a watch needs to last. It is not a disposable object. It is not a fashion accessory. We see our watches as heirloom pieces. There is a bigger responsibility when making a watch that will be passed down to the next generation. That is part of the reason why we think designs must be classical, not trendy.
What made you choose a nautical design for your new Regatta Watch Collection?
We’ve wanted to make a chronograph for a long time. I had a hard time really connecting the chronograph design with a dress, classical look. Most of the time, chronographs a more sporty. Terry had the nautical lifestyle idea.
Terry: Last summer, I was in Boston. I decided to drive to Cape Cod. Our family used to spend summers there when I was as a kid. I have great memories of that time. I hadn’t been there in a very long time. It had changed so much; I didn’t recognise the place until I got to the Hyannis Harbour. As soon as I saw the sailboats, it all came together. The ocean, the lifestyle. It just fit. It was exactly the aesthetics we were after.
Nadim: When you look at a sailboat, the first impression is that of a very simple shape, a pure shape. But if you look more closely it is a very complex object, very mechanical. This is what we wanted to achieve with the Regatta collection. It was all about the balance between simple and complex.
What suggestions would you have for anyone considering to start their own Kickstarter campaign or watch brand?
If you want to succeed, you need passion. True passion will show. It will appeal to your customers. It will appeal to your suppliers, to your partners. It will make it work. When we started we originally wanted to make watches for ourselves. We started from scratch with no customers, no products. Just an idea and the drive to make it happen. Fast-forward a year and we raised $170k because a lot of people agreed with us. They agreed with us on what makes a good watch. If you have the idea and the drive, go for it.
What’s been your proudest moment for the Rossling & Co. brand?
I think our proudest moment was when we got our first customer review (it was a 5-star review). We had successfully funded our first Kickstarter campaign, we had manufactured all the watches, we had shipped close to 2000 watches. It was the dead of winter here in Montreal. We were exhausted. And then we got a notification. When logged in right away to check it out. It was one of our first customers telling us how he loved the watch, he was really happy to wear it and was getting tons of compliments. That feeling we had was just priceless. It just confirmed that it was all worth it. The months of crazy work, the blisters from packing almost 2000 boxes (we fulfilled everything ourselves). The watch was a success. It was real. We got tons more reviews, photos from all over the world, stories (one customer actually met his girlfriend thanks to his Rossling & Co. watch). It’s then that we realized we had created a true community. And this community has been growing ever since.
‘Disruption’ seems to be a bit of a buzz-word in the startup sector. What does ‘disruption’ of the luxury watch industry mean to you?
We are disrupting the traditional retail distribution model. Although it did make sense in the past, the old model is no longer relevant because it is now possible for small brands to connect directly with the customer. We see this trend all over the retail industry. The luxury watch industry has been plagued with obscene mark-ups for decades. Things are now changing. The new model bypasses the middlemen and allows companies like Rossling & Co. to offer a much better product for much less money. The boost in value for the customer is incredible.
What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
I have received a lot of amazing advice from amazing people that I consider my mentors. And I consider myself very lucky for that. But there is one thing that my dad told me a few years ago that really stuck with me. He said “No matter what you do, you need to make sure, first, that you love what you do and, second, that you do it the absolute best you can”.
What’s next for Rossling & Co. over the next 12 months? Aviator designs?
I am always excited looking into the future for Rossling & Co. We have a new collection in the works. We’re going off the beaten path. Something really new. We’ve been getting a lot of feedback from our customers and more importantly, we’ve been listening to our customers. We have more automatic watches coming; we have more complex watches, bigger watches. We have cool movements coming. We’re also launching a few nice accessories (did you see our tweed and leather watch roll?). Stay tuned. It’ll be fun.
If you had to choose one song to describe your brand, what would it be and why?
Oh that’s a tough one! Somehow Frank Sinatra’s My Way came to mind.