Time Waits for No Man With This Watch-Rental Startup
The compulsion to consume is one as old as time, but among today’s luxury shoppers -- a generation that saw the dot-com bubble burst in the early aughts and trudged through the financial crisis of 2008 -- a new attitude towards ownership is emerging.
It is one, says the entrepreneur Randy Brandoff, that prizes instant gratification and experiences over a more traditional notion of amassing possessions.
“It’s not an ownership dream anymore,” Brandoff says, “because variety’s more fun.”
In light of this shift, Brandoff, 38, founded Eleven James -- a one-year-old startup that lets consumers rent luxury watches. The company takes its name from a story Brandoff once heard about James Bond: in each film, the dashing agent allegedly sports an arsenal of 11 gadgets.
While all Eleven James members must sign up for a yearly membership, a variety of different price plans are offered with respect to the frequency and caliber of watches one chooses to receive. At the bottom of the spectrum, members can receive three total watches per year -- each for two months at a time -- for $2,700. At the highest end, members pay $16,200 for 6 total watches -- though these timepieces are culled from Eleven James’ most elite collection, comprising watches valued at as much as $50,000 apiece.
A Shared Model
From Rent the Runway to Artsicle -- which lets consumers rent pieces of fine art -- Eleven James joins an illustrious breed of startups that is employing a shared model to make luxury products more accessible.
Celebrating its one-year anniversary this month, the company already counts hundreds of members, a staff of 10 and sales in the seven figures, Brandoff says.
And the shared sector is one in which he boasts a unique expertise. For more than a decade, Brandoff cut his teeth in the private-jet industry, ultimately serving as the CMO of NetJets -- a Berkshire Hathaway company that offers fractional ownership and rentals of private jets. (He is also one of the early team at Marquis Jets and a founder of the high-end spirit Tequila Avion.)
At NetJets, Brandoff says, he had “a front row seat to the rise of luxury collaborative consumption,” and also regularly intersected with ultra-high-net-worth flyers -- many of whom shared his penchant for Rolexes, Patek Philippes and Audemars Piguets.
Though driving $4 billion worth of sales at NetJets was a rush, Brandoff says he occasionally felt bogged down by corporate bureaucracy, and describes being beckoned by an entrepreneurial spark. “I was too young to just keep a fantastic job because it was a fantastic job,” he says. “I thrive in an environment where I can have an idea in the morning and start doing something about it in the afternoon.”
If Eleven James sprung from Brandoff’s own passions, it has caught the eye of a surprisingly diverse clientele. A quarter are millennials, Brandoff says, who have one or fewer watches and are using Eleven James as their “training wheels” into the luxury sector. Another quarter are more established clients, who already own six or more watches and are looking to the service as a kind of “try-before-you-buy.” (All Eleven James’ watches are available for purchase. Users can also sell or loan their own watches to the company in order to offset the cost of membership.)
An Exclusive Club
Eleven James is not the only startup within the watch-sharing space. Unlike competitors such as Haute Vault, Borrowed Time and D&C Watches, however, Brandoff says he’s aiming to create a club-like ethos as opposed to merely facilitating one-off rentals.
For instance, a concierge service welcomes each new member to Eleven James with a personal phone call. Additionally, customers can earn rewards points for referring friends or renewing their memberships. The company also hosts networking events for watch lovers across the country, and has partnered with like-minded luxury brands -- such as men’s grooming expert John Allan’s, the Manhattan Cricket Club and indoor bicycling startup Cyc -- to offer exclusive deals.
Given its comprehensive and intimate relationship with its members, Brandoff says that Eleven James is collecting a trove of consumer data that doesn’t exist in the watch industry today. This includes brand-crossing tendencies as well as, from a geographical perspective, which models are resonating where. He ultimately envisions offering this information to major brands in exchange for access to their watches.
Hitting Its Stride
Timekeeping has, of course, changed. Many nowadays tell time via smartphone and smartwatches are likely to take off after the launch of the much-anticipated Apple Watch next year. Yet, Brandoff doesn’t expect the time-honored art of horology to wane anytime soon.
To this end, he says the primary order of business is to “spread the gospel” of Eleven James’ unique value proposition. The company expects to close a Series A fundraising round next quarter -- following a $2.27 million seed round last year. Brandoff says he plans to use the majority of the proceeds from the latest round for marketing.
And thus far, the company has already hit its stride among a handful of distinct consumer audiences. As a popular corporate-gifting option -- an industry that is worth, in total, $38 billion, according to Brandoff – Eleven James recently announced a corporate-gifting initiative that offers monthly, quarterly and semiannual memberships. The service is also being embraced by professional athletes as well as Silicon Valley tech types, Brandoff says.