Exit Interview: Jeffrey Sawyer
Founder, Jeffrey Sawyer Watches
The timepiece community is notorious for its legion of passionate enthusiasts and legacy brands. But fear hasn’t got in the way for Jeffrey Sawyer and his new business. In fact, it fuels him. Meet the Swiss-trained Canadian entrepreneur brave enough to enter the luxury watch market (and chase his dreams.)
Describe your relationship with timepieces. How did it all start?
I developed an interest for timepieces when I was 12 and got my first mechanical watch. I was fascinated by the intrinsic details and level of craftsmanship that went into creating a watch that could run on its own without needing a battery. After that point, collecting watches became a hobby of mine.
What were you doing before you started your namesake brand? Why did you decide to leave it to pursue this business of yours?
I was a wealth manager for one of Canada’s’ biggest financial firms. It was through my conversations with our clients that I noticed a pattern—almost everyone I spoke with had a dream, whether it was to start a restaurant or a consulting firm. But when I asked why they hadn’t gone after those dreams, they all said the same thing: that they didn’t have the time, or it wasn’t the right time. That’s when the realization hit me that perhaps there is never a right time to start chasing your dream. I always knew I wanted to start a watch or fashion business but I had always waited for the right moment. The realization of how fast time passes by pushed me to leave the banking industry and start building my own dream.
How did you even know where to start?
Starting a watch business from scratch was a challenge. While doing my initial research, I discovered that there was a major watch fair in Hong Kong. So I booked a plane ticket and few there with the hopes of being able to make some connections. I ended up staying for a couple months after the fair to learn the basics of sourcing, manufacturing and horology, in general. Upon completing this preliminary analysis, I knew it was time to move on to the mecca of watches, Switzerland. I took an apprenticeship in Geneva to learn about the watchmaking process further and it was at Basel where I was able to further my network with a host of reputable timepiece brands and manufacturers. It was in Switzerland where the Jeffrey Sawyer process began.
What are the barriers to entry that you faced going into the timepiece community?
Making the right connections and finding reputable suppliers was definitely a challenge in the beginning. One of the other barriers was figuring out how to differentiate my brand in the eyes of the consumer, especially given the number of legacy brands within the market and how saturated it was.
Why did you feel like getting trained in Geneva was essential to the success of your business?
The Swiss have a reputation for producing quality at the highest level, just how Germans are known for making the best cars. Being trained in Geneva offered me a lens on the industry, and the competing interests that have shaped the luxury business. It was the key to understanding watchmaking and the craft that went into creating quality timepieces that would stand the test of time. The process of creating a fine timepiece elevates one’s appreciation for these sophisticated machines.
The watch world is well-known for its passionate community. How do you think you will be able to convince people to buy into your brand?
When it comes to watches, what the community is interested in is the quality, as well as its history. Beyond the timeless design and craftsmanship that goes into a Jeffrey Sawyer timepiece, we’re able to attract enthusiasts looking to get their first luxury timepiece. Currently, most entry-level luxury watches carry a hefty price tag of between $1,500 and $3,000, which leads to young professionals putting off their first luxury purchase until a later date. We’re here to change that. We wanted to bring the barrier down where people could celebrate their first success with a timepiece, whether that is a university graduation or job promotion.
As an entrepreneur, what are the struggles and challenges that you have faced with this venture?
Initially, finding the right team of people to come on board was one of our many challenges; it’s the first step to building a strong company. Along the way, we’ve faced other hurdles, including running out of cash. The challenges and struggles of an entrepreneur never end, which is why I think the most important trait to develop is resiliency. Once you have that, you’ll be able to overcome anything that is thrown your way.
Creating a timepiece brand isn’t something that comes cheap. How were you able to finance this?
The $8,000 in savings that I initially had ran out two months into my research trip to Hong Kong. At that time, I didn’t know how I was going to fund it but I was determined to find a way. Upon presenting my plan to a few close friends and family, I was fortunate enough to have earned their trust in the idea and the business plan was set forth. The majority of entrepreneurs receive their initial capital injection from their inner circles.
How would you best describe your brand and customer?
Through everything that we do, we aim to inspire adventure and remind people that time is precious. Whether that is leaving your nine-to-five to start your own business or hopping on a flight to Thailand with your best friend, life is nothing but a glorious adventure if you have the courage to look fear in the eye and see it for what it is, a figment of your imagination. When a customer looks down at our watch, I want them to think, “The time is now.” Our customers are not necessarily described by demographics but rather a mindset.
What does success mean to you?
To me, success is measured through the positive impact you have on the lives of others. Success is also having the freedom to live your life as the great adventure that it is.