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These 2 Young Entrepreneurs Seized the Time -- and Success

These 2 Young Entrepreneurs Seized the Time -- and Success
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Jake Kassan and Kramer LaPlante, both 24, and the co-founders of the watch company MVMT, met as college roommates in Santa Barbara, an oceanside college town famous for its “work hard, play hard” mentality. But after deciding that the university route wasn't for them, they left their studies behind to try a venture of their own.

Within just three years of MVMT's launch, these two college dropouts had grown one of the most buzzed-about ecommerce watch brands in years. They’ve sold over 100,000 watches and been featured in Complex, Playboy, GQ, Hypebeast and countless other blogs and magazines. (Full disclosure: They're customers of whose blog I manage.)

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What’s their secret?

Clearly, one reason MVMT skyrocketed to popularity was its cool, minimalist designs, matched by a super-reasonable price tag. But Kassan and LaPlante can also take credit for a degree of branding and marketing mastery that took their startup from just another ecommerce store to one of the most successful rising brands around.

Here are the strategies they used:

1. Utilize a direct-to-consumer model.

Recognizing that the direct-to-consumer model was proving successful in other industries, Kassan and LaPlante considered how they could use this trend to disrupt the watch market.

By cutting out middlemen like wholesalers and distributors and skipping the traditional retail model, they decided, they could launch an ecommerce store and sell quality watches at two-thirds of the price watches currently on the market sell for. “By going straight to the customer, we could cut down the price without sacrificing the quality,” Kassan told me.

2. Take advantage of crowdfunding.

As two young kids living on their own, the co-founders lacked the funds necessary to start an ecommerce business. But, they realized at the time, crowdfunding platforms were becoming wildly popular.

Mirroring the global trend, Santa Barbara-based students were taking to crowdfunding campaigns in droves, funding everything from their bands' European tours and local film festivals, to startups. Some notable local successes have included TrackR, which raised nearly $2 million in its Kickstarter campaign, and Imlak’esh Organics, an organic artisan food line.

Seeing those peers’ successes, LaPlante took to Kickstarter to try out his own idea. It was a success: The wallet he had previously pitched successfully raised over $100,000.

He and Kassan researched and found there hadn’t yet been a successfully funded watch campaign, so they got to work. They applied twice, and were denied twice, the opportunity to launch on Kickstarter. Then they turned to IndieGoGo. Though not as experienced in IndieGoGo's structure as they had been with Kickstarter, they researched the former platform's nuances that would help them succeed on this platform.

Related: Small Banks More Likely to Give Businesses the Funds They Need, Fed Says

“On Kickstarter, you make the most of your money in the first few days, but on IndieGoGo, you actually make the most at the end of your campaign, so go for longer campaigns and extend if possible,” LaPlante says he learned.

The partners raised almost $300,000 in 50 days on IndieGoGo, and their site actually received four orders the day after the campaign closed.

The two also offer another piece of funding advice: Reach out to family and friends from the start. “Don’t be afraid to reach out to your great aunt’s dentist -- even the most far-reaching contacts are often willing to help, whether by donating or sharing the project,” Kassan says.

Additionally, the two say to start with a small goal that can be achieved quickly. A goal that is complete or almost complete serves as "proof" to potential donors that preceding donors have believed in the project.

3. Market in ways that earn shoppers' trust.

Once on the market, MVMT faced a new problem. The company offered a great product and awesome deals on watches, but consumers weren’t used to the direct-to-consumer model, and online shoppers were suspicious of the low price tag.

“Historically, our typical buyer would have to go to a retailer, check out a watch in a brick-and-mortar store and buy it there or online,” LaPlante explains. So, for MVMT, earning shoppers’ trust was a must. “In this respect, using reviews and user-generated content in our marketing has really been huge for us,” LaPlante says.

Community participation was built into MVMT from the beginning because of the co-founders' roots in crowdfunding and their reliance on their personal networks to spread the word of their venture. So, it was only natural that MVMT would turn to community feedback, ratings and reviews to build trust among hesitant buyers.

It was also important for the co-founders to control their online reputation and own their review content so they could leverage it in marketing and paid advertisements. That's why they began collecting verified customer reviews with Yotpo. To date, they have received more than 5,000 five-star reviews -- and have engaged in community Q&As with customers.

The social proof from reviews apparently worked: It turned hesitant shoppers into buyers and brand advocates who then spread the word even further, to their own friends.

3. Bring in the professionals.

Kassan and LaPLant have succeeded in large part because early on they followed an old rule: Do what you’re good at, and find professionals to help you with the rest. Rather than try to be a jack-of-all-trades, smart entrepreneurs know to focus on what they do best, and hire experts in other fields to help with other parts of their business.

Kassan and LaPlante, for example, knew that they had to nail millennial marketing, offering cool designs for an affordable price. But they knew they had to do this strategically. “Because Kramer and I both had different businesses in the past, we understood the typical obstacles: growing a business, sourcing product, spending money on agencies you shouldn’t spend money with,” Kassan says.

The two hadn’t launched a website like MVMT's before. And, while their platform, Shopify, offered plenty of ways to help them create their own online shop, the business began getting so big that they needed professional help. So the duo put their trust in personal referrals to find the right agency to design and build their website.

Shopify recommended BVAccel. That's how the two partnered with the agency for their design and development needs, including a website overhaul. “It was love at first sight,” Kassan says. “We’d used lots of agencies before, but BVAccel really had the right eye to help us execute what we wanted, perfectly.”

Now that they’ve got a name for themselves, the co-founders are focusing on growth. They’re currently at 17 employees, and are looking to add anywhere between five and 10 more in the coming year.

“We’ve figured out ecommerce pretty well so far, but to get to the next level and continue to grow, it’s about really bringing on the best people and scaling smartly,” Kassan says.

Related: 15 Tips to Grow a Social-Media Audience for Your Startup

“When we started MVMT, I was $20,000 in debt and working as a valet," says Kassan. "Looking back at that and seeing how far we’ve come, I really hope our story inspires other people to go out and try their own thing.”