In today’s episode, Esti Chazanow shares her start-up story. She brings a unique perspective to the show because this is the first husband-wife co-founding team we’ve had. During our conversation, Esti explains the strong entrepreneurial influence her husband had on her. He helped her understand that the skills she’d developed in her early career were exactly what she needed to come alongside her husband and bring their brand to the market.
In today’s episode, Esti Chazanow shares her start-up story. She brings a unique perspective to the show because this is the first husband-wife co-founding team we’ve had. During our conversation, Esti explains the strong entrepreneurial influence her husband had on her. He helped her understand that the skills she’d developed in her early career were exactly what she needed to come alongside her husband and bring their brand to the market.
Esti and her husband are the co-founders of LIV Watches, a direct to consumer Swiss-made watch brand. They launched their very first watch on Kickstarter and from there went on to repeat that launch cycle four times, generating over $8 million. Esti’s journey from the corporate world to starting a business with her husband shows us again how diverse every entrepreneurial journey is. Tune in to hear all about it.
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The Startup Story - Esti Chazanow
Esti Chazanow: Hi, this is Esti Chazanow. I'm the cofounder of LIV Swiss watches, and this is MY startup story.
Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story.
James McKinney: Welcome to another episode of The Startup Story. Before we jump into this week's episode I want to say thank you to the team at Fuse Workspace for allowing me to use their podcast studio to record this episode. Visit workatfuse.com to discover how you can do more.
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Our guest this week is Esti Chazanow, cofounder of LIV Watches. LIV Watches is a direct to consumer, limited edition Swiss made watch brand. They launched their very first watch on Kickstarter and have since repeated that launch cycle four times, generating over $8 million from over 7,000 backers or as Esti likes to call them, fans. Esti's story is fascinating on a few different levels and not just because she's one of 17 children - yes, you heard me correctly, she has 16 siblings. No, her story is interesting because after 80 episodes this is our first husband/wife cofounding team. In her Startup Story she will share about how strong the entrepreneurial influence from her husband was for her. Her early career days helped equip her for the management, and marketing, and organizational leadership but again no real desire to run her own company. In that journey though she realized that the skills that she had been developing within the corporate world were the exact skills needed to partner with her husband to help bring the watches to market. If you've been around The Startup Story then you know how diverse every entrepreneurial journey is, and Esti's is definitely no exception.
Esti Chazanow: I grew up in a very large family. I actually have 16 siblings.
James McKinney: Oh my goodness. That's a Startup Story record right now, wow.
Esti Chazanow: It's funny because no one ever asked me this and I've done a lot of different interviews, not just with podcasts but we've had a lot of write-ups done about us and no one has ever asked me that so it's funny to bring up something so personal.
James McKinney: Then I'm about to get another level of personal real quick, because you mention 16 siblings, right? There's something to be said about birth order, so where are you in the 16?
Esti Chazanow: That's another very good question. So I have an older sister, and then six brothers, and then me.
James McKinney: So you're right in the middle.
Esti Chazanow: Well, no it's 17 total so the middle is actually the ninth.
James McKinney: Got it, got it, okay.
Esti Chazanow: I make fun of my sister who is a year and a half younger than me that's she's the middle child. We're all everything basically.
James McKinney: And it's just so funny because when you have the one, or obviously the only child has its own dynamic, twos, threes, fours, and maybe fives. I don't even know how birth order ranks when it comes to the nuances of character and work ethic and privilege and what have you when it comes to 16. At some point, it just becomes completely unique in that number.
Esti Chazanow: Well now that I think about it also is that I'm running a men's watch brand and I grew up with six older brothers.
James McKinney: Oh, okay.
Esti Chazanow: I never made that connection but I always felt extremely comfortable around men, not in a … I grew up actually in a very Orthodox Jewish setting, so everything was kind of segregated. You know I went to an only girl's school and everything like that, but I never felt intimidated or anything like that so that might be another interesting point as well.
James McKinney: That is interesting. So in a family that large there is some dynamic when it comes to level of affluence, when it comes to lifestyle. Did you grow up with very little and therefore work ethic was critical? Did you grow up with much and yet there's this idea that you have to work for your own? What were some of the lessons that your childhood that you remember that kind of play into where you are right now?
Esti Chazanow: So we always had enough of whatever we needed. My mother, another point in terms of managerial and so on, my mother's an extremely competent person. Now that I think back, she kind of ran the house like a business. Everything was we got home, there was a three course meal, everything was ready, delicious food. She actually would sew our clothing, make our own clothing, but everything was like beautiful and pristine. I never felt lacking in that sense at all. At the same time, we would go to school and things like you know when they have those special days to like fundraise, bring a dollar and get a hotdog, we never got that dollar. It really bothered some of my siblings. So some of my siblings are still traumatized by that. You had to, from when I was 11 or 12 years old I was babysitting to earn extra money. I always felt very responsible that anything extra I wanted, I needed to make my own money. And I had some siblings who felt very comfortable getting more out of my parents but I was never that type anyway. I wanted that independence, so it wasn't like… I never felt like poor but I felt like if I wanted independence I needed to make my own money.
James McKinney: Interesting, okay. So with that idea, coming to the end of high school it's a natural chapter for us and you have six siblings before you, so depending upon the age span there's a chance that half of those are already working in the corporate environment or starting their own business, whatever their journey was. So coming out of high school what did you think you wanted to be? What did you think you wanted to do? What was the next step? And then what were your siblings doing, just from a perspective of awareness of what opportunities were ahead?
Esti Chazanow: Okay, so just to give you some perspective. We're all like a year apart.
James McKinney: Oh your parents didn't mess around. They're just like baby, baby, baby.
Esti Chazanow: Yeah, so my older sister who is before all the boys is only eight years older than me. So I always thought I was going to be a professional because she was studying dentistry. I kind of looked up to her I guess. She was studying to be a dentist when I was graduating high school, and I was very academic student. I was top of my class, I came in top 1% of my state academically. In the school that I attended, it was very old school so if you were good academically… first of all, they forced you to do all the sciences and languages and all the subjects that would get you that really good score academically. So even though I was not really a science kind of person, I was pushed to do all the sciences because they knew I would do whatever I did well. I'm really happy I did those subjects because they did not come naturally to me, so I think it kind of sharpened my brain. A student like me, if I wasn't interested in becoming a doctor then I would need to go to law school. So I got into law school. Now, I didn't start right away and my journey kind of led me in all different directions, but I ended up eventually starting law school and I really didn't like it, and I just stayed with studying… I ended up getting a degree in business and commerce, and then studying education.
James McKinney: So let's talk about that real quick. You entered university wanting to, and you grew up just for context and you have not mentioned it, you grew up in Australia correct?
Esti Chazanow: Yeah, I grew up in Melbourne.
James McKinney: And so your university I assume were in Australia as well.
Esti Chazanow: it's a little different. So I grew up Orthodox Jewish, so when you finish high school you don't go straight to university. You first go to like a seminary where you pursue religious studies, which is what I did. The specific Orthodox group I belong to, this is getting very granular and this I think definitely helped me in my journey, is called Chabad. It's a Hasidic group, Chabad, but now looking back now that I understand the world in a much larger context, I realize that it was a very rebellious group because they didn't believe in just keeping to themselves. They interacted with all different kinds of people so the leader of the movement whose name was the Lubavitcher Rebbe, I don't know if you've heard of him, he was a very famous leader. In fact, education day in the US every year is dedicated in his honor. He's not alive anymore. He encouraged his followers to go out and establish institutions and centers all around the world. I personally went to an institution that was founded by him, and then later on I went and after I completed my studies went and worked for a Chabad institution in Austin, Texas.
James McKinney: Oh, okay.
Esti Chazanow: So I travelled the world because I was part of this, and I still am, part of this group. The younger generation is kind of, you know they're running the summer camps, the schools, all the different institutions. So I, within that capacity, I have been to and lived in some of the following places: Anchorage, Alaska; I mentioned Austin, Texas; Belgium. I literally travelled the world. And I think that really gave me an understanding, and even to this day because our fans are from all over the world I'm able to really relate to a lot of different types of people because I travelled extensively in my formative years, I would say from when I was around 17 until I was around 23 or 24. I travelled a lot. And it's not just travelling, it's meeting people, it's working with all different types of people. And I think that really gave me a very broad understanding of the world.
James McKinney: Oh, absolutely. One of the things I say often with some of our stories, obviously if our featured founder happens to be an immigrant of some type, there's a very common theme inside of that narrative but also too if our founder happens to be very well travelled, there's a lot of perspective that comes from just seeing other elements of the world. I'm sure that plays directly into LIV Watches. But there's still a season of life I want to cover before I want to jump into the watches, because your upbringing very academic whether it be religious studies, you go to university for business, you transition to law, then you hate law and you want to go to education. So at some point you finish your studies. What was your degree and what was your next step? Of those verticals, where did you end up?
Esti Chazanow: So I have a degree, my bachelors, the education piece was a Master's in education, that's what I was studying towards. I started that much later and I didn't complete it because at that time we were starting LIV and I just had to make a decision. It was impossible to do that, have a family, and be starting LIV.
James McKinney: So let's put some dates on this real quick. So what year did you finish your studies in which you're making this decision of where do I go, and as far as the beginning of LIV Watches? What year are we putting this on?
Esti Chazanow: So 2012 I was working in education, I was starting my Master's and I had my second child. At that time, I was starting to really talk about LIV and work on it. I believe the summer of 2013 or the summer of 2014 we ran a LIV design challenge and that was completely consuming. I would say 2012 or 2013 I was doing my studies in education while working at the same time.
James McKinney: Okay. There's a couple layers that are part of your story now that we've gotten there, just through a general conversation and narrative. One of them being we now find ourselves in 2013, 2014 you're married and have kids. Obviously I absolutely believe that part of the entrepreneurial story is also the family story because we cannot do this without the support of those that we live with obviously. And if we choose to do it without their consideration well then something is going to unravel. So I know within LIV watches that you and your husband do this together, this is your venture. So can you walk us through the conversations that took place around the idea of starting your own watch company? Because I don't think most people get there naturally. There has to be a thread somewhere in there that leads you into this industry, so can you unpack that a bit for us?
Esti Chazanow: It's so funny because just a side point, I remember on one of our dates, my husband started talking about work like so intensely and I was like… and for a second I felt like I was in a work meeting. I always remember that. I remember where he was sitting. That's what our lives eventually became. Anyways, so the history is that my husband was always obsessed with watches, since he was a young child. He eventually turned his obsession into a passion, and then into work. He worked for other brands where he started literally in a packing room in Miami working for a watch brand, and when ecommerce came along he eventually set up his own website to trade watches online, high end watches. He was one of the very first people to do it in the early 2000s, so he was very successful in that.
After we got married there had been a huge shift. It was after the recession. Things had really changed and there was also a huge shift in advertising, how the customer behaves. I would say that from the moment we got married, I knew that this man had a dream of starting his own watch brand. I don't remember the specific conversation but he had this dream. Obviously, I thought he was a little crazy. I really did. I really did, thinking back I did think he was crazy. But I guess I was young and naive enough to kind of just go along with it. He really needed me because independently we have such different skills and such different abilities that in order to pull this off we needed to combine into one skill stack and together we were able to pull it off.
I don't think independently I would ever have been able to do it. I would never have come up with the idea. I don't have that creativity. He is super creative but he needs help with implementation and that's where I come in. so I think together we were able to do it. Also, like I said there was a huge shift. We knew at this point… I can say we because eventually it had to become fully part of me, it's not like I could just go along with it. I had to be fully invested because it was going to be extremely challenge. We said we want to go direct to consumer, no stores, online only. We want to create these super high quality watches at an accessible price. We want to create something called a fan experience.
And another thing that I didn't mention is that in my work experience I became very involved as well in business organization and helping businesses understand, sorry not business but nonprofits, it was in the nonprofit world, understanding what their mission was, why they needed to exist, what their vision was. In fact, at one point when I was living in Belgium I was trained by a woman who had run IBM in Israel. Her background was in consulting. She had actually run IBM so she had a very good understanding of organizational structure. She was older by then, she was in her 70s or 80s and she was volunteering for organizations that I was working with. She saw that… I guess she saw that I had a certain talent or whatever you want to call it. She kind of trained me in her methodology in breaking down an organization, understanding why they need to exist, and then following up with implementation on a monthly basis making these organizations write reports of what they had accomplished. What did they accomplish, how were they able to accomplish it, what hadn't they accomplished that they had set up to accomplish on a monthly basis. And all that really helped me get a good understanding on how to run an organization. Do I implement everything I learn? I probably would be better off if I did. There's so much that you can do, as you know.
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James McKinney: So it sounds like what you're speaking to with the dynamic of the two of you, it really validates something that Brian Carrico of The Guild spoke of. He's a serial entrepreneur, he had multiple startups leading up to The Guild, and each of them had some moment of significant tension and some cases some failure points, and what he realized in the last one before he launched The Guild was that his skillset is best utilized when it comes to optimizing and scaling. He was not a zero to one guy, and so when he encountered his founder for The Guild and his cofounder is a zero to one guy and not an optimizing in scaling guy. The two of them saw their gifting and their skills and said okay, now we have the full package in order to grow and start something. It sounds very much like your husband is a creative and a zero to one guy, and you would be the optimize and scaling side of that formula.
Esti Chazanow: And it was difficult for me because I didn't think I was a natural entrepreneur at all, personality wise. I would have loved to just have that consistent paycheck and reliability. That was not me. Growing up, I was always surrounded by a lot of professionals. I was not surrounded by entrepreneurs at all, except what I mentioned to you about the Jewish movement that I mentioned before. But other than that, I'm saying for people who were actually in the workforce, they were in the workforce. They were not starting business. He brought out a side in me that I never thought had and I'm so happy because he's lucky I guess that it turned out well because maybe I wouldn't be happy otherwise.
James McKinney: that's awesome. Well, I mean let's talk about LIV Watches. You've unpacked a little bit of it, that this is a lifestyle brand watch for the watch connoisseur at an affordable price. So it's high level quality at an attainable price for many watch fans out there. But one of the things you spoke of, the word that you used that I want to unpack a bit is you talked about a fan experience. I wouldn't have ever probably used that language when it came to watches. So can you, before we talk about the path to market when it comes to LIV Watches and how you launched with Kickstarter and the various other things, can you unpack that notion of a fan experience when it comes to LIV Watches? What is that for you?
Esti Chazanow: To us, a customer is someone who buys something. There's not much brand allegiance, there's no form of relationship. I'm not saying that the word customer shouldn't be used in the toilet paper industry, pen industry, and whatever else. But for us a person who buys a watch, let's be honest most people do not need a watch now. You buy it because you're obsessed with the product and you'd like to buy it from a brand that is equally obsessed, and you want to be able to communicate that obsession with the brand, and you want to have a relationship about it.
So for us, the baseline of anybody who is going to let's say do a transaction with us is a fan. That's the baseline. Anyone who buys a watch from us is a fan. Now, the idea then is to turn that person through the post purchase engagement from a fan, everyone knows what a fan is, to an ambassador. So an ambassador is more someone who is proud to represent you, will tell people about you. And then from an ambassador to an advocate. That's really where we go, that's where we strive to be, and we say that, and it's a natural progression. We don't yet have an actual software that's labeling people as fan, ambassador, advocate, or anything like that. It's completely organic at this point.
James McKinney: Just from an understanding the language a bit, I assume the line between fan and ambassador is the purchase, correct?
Esti Chazanow: No, the fan… anyone who purchased from us is a fan. An ambassador is more vocal, leave us reviews, will do things. And an advocate even more than that.
James McKinney: Like the evangelist?
Esti Chazanow: Yeah. The advocate will go, if he works in a company he'll go to his manager and say, "Listen, you've got to sign up to these people. They have a great corporate gifting program." You know?
James McKinney: So at the early days of LIV Watches when you and your husband are brainstorming this and he's being incredibly creative, somewhat chaotic in the way his brain is working to bring all of this to fruition-
Esti Chazanow: That's a word, chaotic.
James McKinney: Well, I mean again I've interviewed 100 different founders so there's a little bit of chaos in many of them, which again part of the dynamic of the cofounder as well is the balance that comes with that. The beginning of LIV Watches as the design came onto paper, obviously Kickstarter was that beginning if I'm not mistaken. You're coming out party was Kickstarter, correct?
Esti Chazanow: Yeah.
James McKinney: Can you talk about the early days of LIV Watches and why Kickstarter? 2014 I think it was, Kickstarter was obviously incredibly hot. 2012 I think is when Kickstarter started so you were still early days in that. I don't know how many watches were launching on Kickstarter at the time, I don't know what the market was like for watches on Kickstarter, but can you kind of unpack the early days of LIV Watches and Kickstarter?
Esti Chazanow: We didn't think of Kickstarter until we already… as the concept was forming, I just remember my husband always watching Kickstarter videos, and he's like, "We need to go to Kickstarter." There were other brands launching that he saw and he just saw it as the best way if we want to have this fan experience and this relationship building dynamic within the DTC brand that we were going to build. We just felt that Kickstarter was the way to go, and it was. And in watches, it was already starting. There were a group of watch obsessives on Kickstarter so it just was such a good fit. Now, I didn't think at the time there were any other Swiss watch on Kickstarter so that was different, and that's why we did so well.
Now looking back in retrospect, there were really four things I would say, four reasons why we went to Kickstarter. Of course at the time as you said in the chaos we wouldn't have been able to articulate this, but now I can tell you that the first thing is that Kickstarter, and again talking back to my experience with organizational management was that Kickstarter forced you to define yourself. It forced you to say what's your concept, why do you need to exist. That's part of the Kickstarter protocol if you will so that was the first step and that was an incredibly experience, just sitting and articulating that together.
Then the second reason I would say is once you've actually proven to people why you need to be there, you've made the video, you've launched, then you are able to actually prove the concept by having backers. So you're presenting the concept and you're getting feedback and you're able to determine oh, we need to do these dial colors, and we need to do this, and we need to do that based on real feedback, which is incredible, which again has continued throughout. We just launched a watch yesterday, the Rebel AR. We did not launch it through Kickstarter because the original Rebel was launched through Kickstarter. We went back and we made some changes to the collection based on real feedback and we just relaunched it yesterday through our own private platform. That continues to be a running theme in everything we do.
And of course the third reason is the funding, that's very nice. And the fourth thing is which I touched upon, is being able to start a relationship with fans. The comment wall, just having relationships with these people. I have to tell you there's a huge percentage of the original backers on Kickstarter are still our fans. In other words every time, many of them are probably be better defined as advocates at this point, but every time we launch a new product they're the first ones to purchase them, whether it's on our website or on our own launch platform or whatever it is. We still continue to go to Kickstarter as well with our main collections. So we were able to create long lasting relationships because it all started in such a natural and organic way so that's the story of why we went to Kickstarter.
In terms of the how of it, we just kind of brought all the pieces together and found a video. Everything we did was very, very creative. I don't know if we mentioned the LIV design challenge, did I tell you about that?
James McKinney: You had mentioned that, and that's what I was going to jump into because you did mention that early on about the LIV design challenge, but we had not gotten to the Kickstarter story yet. So walk us through, and again we've had a few episodes of the show that have had highly successful Kickstarter campaigns so we're not going to unpack the nuances of how you were able to raise over $1 million I think on your first one, I think every one since has done incredibly well so we're not going to unpack that. But what I would like to talk about is what you just mentioned right there, the LIV design challenge. What exactly is that and what was your objective with creating that?
Esti Chazanow: From the very beginning we wanted to do everything in a really creative way. We wanted to do things differently and we also didn't have a lot of money to work with. That forced us also, thankfully because if we would have just thrown around money I don't think we would get to this point. We wanted to do things really creatively so my husband had this idea of launching a challenge. Instead of hiring a designer to design the watch we had a concept, we had a logo, and we had a name.
James McKinney: That's where most people start.
Esti Chazanow: And my husband had understood watch production because in his journey he had worked in watch production mostly. He understood it so we had those three things, and then we had me who could like keep everybody on track. So we decided I believe it was the summer of 2014 we launched the LIV design challenge. So we went and we gathered designers who had experience designing mechanical things and detailed and precision instruments, so things like cars and stuff like that, product designers. We invited them to join our challenge. We got over 100 designs, I don't remember the exact number. We ended up changing the amount of winners from three to six because there were so many good designs. We gave them a design brief and they had to come up with a watch design. We still use the winning designs from that challenge in our watches as we continue to grow. So we haven't even used all six designs yet.
James McKinney: Oh wow, okay.
Esti Chazanow: Yeah, incredible. So the winning design was the GX1 that was our first watch. That was the number one winner, that was our first watch. I always say there's an element of whatever you want to call it, you want to call it God or luck or whatever you want to call it, but that first design was a hit. We were lucky, people loved it.
James McKinney: I'm sure part of why it was so successful is because it came from the community right?
Esti Chazanow: Yeah, and it wasn't born in an office environment in a corporate environment. It was born from some guy sitting somewhere, think he might have even been on an island I don't remember. And we worked with them through the challenge so the challenge ran for a few months. We had FAQ sessions every week. I ran all that and we helped them refine their concepts. It was an incredibly experience and we still have relationship with the people who design the watches and so on.
James McKinney: I love it. When you took that design and you brought it into Kickstarter, what were your expectations? What did you think was going to happen with your Kickstarter?
Esti Chazanow: I cannot even remember. I just remember thinking my family and friends were really nice, and feeling like they felt sorry for me because the first few thousand dollars came from family and friends, but I mean we got up to almost $200,000. It was a very small percentage at the end, but I was like wow we have such nice family and friends, they feel sorry for me. That's all I remember. We put our goal I think at it was either… you can see still on Kickstarter, it was a very low number compared to what we had gotten. I really didn't know. We didn't really know what to expect. I thought we would get for sure to $10-20,000.
James McKinney: But not what your subsequent Kickstarter campaigns have done for sure.
Esti Chazanow: And definitely not even in that campaign to get to almost $200,000. We were a no name brand asking people close to $400. They were spending close to $400 and looking back at the time in the chaos you don't have time to process anything.
James McKinney: Yeah.
Esti Chazanow: Now that I think about it, now that you're asking me I've really never actually thought of it like that. Now that you're asking me.
James McKinney: In 2016 again if I'm not mistaken, just time lining some of your Kickstarter successes, was your next one. I think 2017 was another one and you just said you launched another one. Actually, hold on, your most recent one was not on Kickstarter though correct?
Esti Chazanow: So that was last… 2018 was our last real Kickstarter, another words being on Kickstarter. Now we continue to offer… let me check the dates.
James McKinney: Well I just, what I'm getting to is I'm wondering as you have continued to grow the fan base, you did more than launch the Kickstarter, you grew on Kickstarter as well. So why continue, because Kickstarter takes a piece of everything, so why continue to launch watches on Kickstarter versus leveraging the reach that social ads have? Now you have an audience of people, so there's lots of things you can do to sell and launch within your own channel but you continue to go back to Kickstarter. What was the thought process behind that?
Esti Chazanow: I would say it's like a modern day launch event being specifically on Kickstarter. Now, for example we relaunched a collection yesterday. We didn't go to Kickstarter for that but for new collections we will continue to go because there's just something about it, about launching on a third party platform also that gives them the credibility as well I think. Also being able to find new fans because you're on that third party and not just relying on your existing people. Because we've always tried to be organic, and just to circle back to that first Kickstarter, we literally did almost no advertising. It was all organic. By the second Kickstarter we were a little bit more savvy if you want to call it, but not with the first Kickstarter. We continue to want that authenticity. I think something about Kickstarter has a certain, and maybe it's where we started as well in that there's kind of a progression on Kickstarter of our brand DNA on Kickstarter.
James McKinney: Yeah. Is that part of your thought process and your strategy going forward, new collections you're going to bring through Kickstarter expanding on current collections you will not?
Esti Chazanow: Yeah, that's how it has been even in the past two years, even when we've launched a new collection and before that we launched.
James McKinney: What have been some of the greatest challenges as you have grown LIV Watches to where it is today?
Esti Chazanow: I think just building a team, finding the right people. Right now we have an incredible team and it was a lot of work. It was me listening to a lot of podcasts to figure out how to do the interview process, how to get there because the team is everything. I cannot even tell you. I wake up every day and I say thank God I have an incredible team. I think that was the most challenging thing until you get… because you can have the most grand ideas, you could be a great implementer, you could be the most talented person but if you don't have a team that is as passionate that's really, they have to be passionate and as committed as you are. That's really what we have right now which is such a blessing. It didn't happen by accident. I remember listening, you know the Masters of Scale podcast?
James McKinney: Reid Hoffman, yep.
Esti Chazanow: I remember listening to him. I think he had interviewed Marc Zuckerberg in the early days I think, and I remember certain things that he said that I just until now, even now I'm looking for certain positions or whatever. And we don't have a huge team. We have a very lean team, so I remember for example him saying you want to find people who are stable that their resume is not all over the place, that have had jobs for consistent amount of times, like for longer periods of time, and that was a game changer for me because we live in Miami and it's a very transient place. So of course had to take that relative to Miami. But I realized once I did that, first of all I was wasting a lot less time because I was just stripping out a lot of people, but I was finding such better quality people. I remember listening to a podcast with I think it was also on Reid Hoffman, at one point I was obsessed with that podcast. He had interviewed the Airbnb founders. I don't think they're even there anymore, Travis, is that his name?
James McKinney: Travis is from Uber, but yeah the Airbnb founders are still present and involved in the company.
Esti Chazanow: Okay, so I don't remember who it was. Maybe it was Uber, I don't remember. But no, no, it was Airbnb because I remember them saying even as their company grew enormously they were the ones who continued to interview because they thought it was so important.
James McKinney: Yeah.
Esti Chazanow: And then once we bring them in, just inculcating that company culture, not using the word customer. And we don't just have… I have a guy that's worked remotely for me now also for quite a few years full time and I did all the training with him. Even people that worked for us for a short term, I'm the one who did the training and I think that is so important.
James McKinney: That you had hands on, doing the training.
Esti Chazanow: And the training, so I also listen to a podcast about Trader Joe's.
James McKinney: Oh, I love that brand.
Esti Chazanow: Amazing. I've been so inspired by them. That was later. I listened to them probably, I listened to that podcast in more recent years. I had never even been into a Trader Joe's when I listened to it and I just was, because there was no Trader Joe's right near me and I was just dying to go to Trader Joe's after listening to him. But their whole training is about communication. It's barely anything to do with what you're actually doing, because communication is everything.
James McKinney: Yes.
Esti Chazanow: I've taken the same approach, and I stopped caring. I remember one of the people that I hired more recently who has been an incredible asset to the company, I used to be stuck on the idea that they have to be very tech savvy because we're a startup and blah, blah, blah, we're all online. Then I realized that it's really not true. I don't care if he types a little slower and if he's not able to figure out how to get the printer working on his own, I don't care. If he has good human communication skills that is everything to me, and especially I know it sounds counterintuitive because we're an online brand and you would think that because you're online it doesn't matter as much, but it's everything. It's everything for us.
James McKinney: I feel like communication is actually even more critical online because there are so many things in person… not in person but audible that come across in tone and inflection, and clarity as well. The human brain can process things so quickly but in written word we process it very differently because we have boundaries with the words we're actually seeing, so it's even more important in messaging for us to get it right in written word.
Esti Chazanow: It took me a while to realize that honestly. It took me a while and I had these people who were like very tech savvy but they had zero communication skills. If you look at our reviews online that's what says it all. The reviews mention the people who help that person through the process. It mentions them by name. I would say 80% of the reviews have a name inside the review.
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Esti Chazanow: And sometimes it will be Chaz or myself who help the person because there was no one else there, because Chaz is there still until 11 o'clock at night.
James McKinney: That's incredible. So when you think of LIV Watches and let's say we're doing a where are they episode five years from now, where do you want to see LIV watches at from a brand, from a distribution perspective, all the different sales channels? What do you hope that LIV Watches becomes?
Esti Chazanow: I want it to be on the same track but just so many more people, so many more fans, so many more ambassadors, so many more advocates, just the numbers. But I want it to be the same authentic, passionate. I want it to be the same brand. I would like to expand it into additional offerings, that's definitely on the agenda. Men's lifestyle products and the like. But I would like the watches to be the main thing. I think that always needs to be the heart and soul of it because there's something about watches, like we started circling back to where we started. It's a want and therefore it's a relationship, it's an obsession, and that's what we're built on. That relationship, that experience, not just because someone needs a pair of sunglasses.
James McKinney: I love that. Absolutely love that. So there's a couple questions that as our time comes to an end that I ask every founder. I'm anxious to hear your feedback on these. So the first one has to do with the general notion of entrepreneurship and being an entrepreneur. There's this thought process out there that not just anyone can be an entrepreneur, but then there's another camp that believes anyone can be an entrepreneur. What about you? Where do you reside? Do you think anyone can be an entrepreneur? Is it something you're born with? Is it something you're predestined for? Or is it purely a skillset that you can learn?
Esti Chazanow: Okay. I think it's a combination. You have to be a leader. That's something I always was a leader. Now, my husband wasn't as much let's say a leader as I was in terms of like running these huge overnight camps for kids and stuff like that. He always did his own thing. And especially when you grow up in a specific kind of community, part of it is just fitting in. you've got to be willing to do things differently, break the mold. It sounds so cliche but it's true. And I know so many people who I see are so talented, just regular friends of mine, just people I know. For example I think they have great social skills but they're so obsessed with what other people think of them or living up to the Jones'. You know what I'm saying? That they get stuck in that and then they'll never truly be free. They'll never be able to do their own thing because they're so stuck in caring about what other people think.
If you care about what other people think, you can't do it because everyone is going to tell you you're an idiot. I remember, close family and friends, "Are you sure there's a need for another watch brand?" you know? And you've got to say I don't care. Even though at certain points, at the very, very beginning I did think my husband was a little crazy because what the heck, I'll just go with it. But I'm the type of person that doesn't care, like I didn't care what people would think. So it didn't matter if I thought that he was crazy and that everyone else would think he was crazy. And just putting yourself out there. When we came out with the first Kickstarter, making that first Kickstarter video was a real brick. Also, now people are more comfortable with that direct and making videos and all that sort of stuff. But back then it was kind of like very opening yourself up, putting yourself out there like the pride.
James McKinney: Love it, absolutely love it. Speaking of pride though, one of my other questions I like to ask every founder is the idea of gratitude. The reason I ask this question is because I believe that if we forget all the people that helped to get us to where we are today we begin to think we did it ourselves and we will isolate ourselves, and that will ultimately lead to our failure because it becomes a solo journey about us. So when you look back along your journey and all the many people that have poured into your life, who are the people that you look back on with such immense gratitude for their contribution to your life to where you are today with LIV Watches?
Esti Chazanow: Our specific situation, since my husband and I are cofounders and as I said before the company is built upon our skill stack, so I have to say it sounds so cliche and so nerdy or whatever you want to call it, but my husband really pushed me to do everything I've done because he saw that I had that skill and that ability to do certain things. I think if not for him I would not be talking to you right now. On an ongoing basis, absolutely our team and our fans are everything. And actually this morning I said to my husband, because we launched a new product yesterday and thank God it's been really, really successful, I said, "your strategy was so brilliant the way we launched this particular product." I was just, I literally was just telling him a few hours ago. I said, "Well done, I think it's incredible what you just did." He goes, "What do you mean me?" He said, "I would never have been able to do this myself." And he wasn't saying it because someone was listening, you know? He really, really meant it. He said, "Esti, we have the best team." And it's true. It's really, really true. It's like the team, and again obviously the fans because without them we wouldn't have a company.
James McKinney: I love it. That's incredible. I love that question. If I had to trim down the podcast to 20 minutes I would never get rid of that question. I absolutely love the reflection just thinking about all the people that poured into where we are today. But to this point, we've been talking to 60,000 plus listeners unpacking your journey at a very high level. I consider The Startup Story a digital mentor of sorts and so I'd like to take the conversation from the masses down to the one. So I'd like to transition this to just a coffee talk, just you and one of my listeners.
Maybe that listener that resonates with you is the listener who has a business but is frustrated at the lack of traction and growth it has had. Or maybe the listener that resonates with you that you want to pour into is someone who has tried time and time again but continues to reach a point of failure, and is starting to second guess themselves. Or maybe the listener that resonates with you is the one who has a 9 to 5 job, a book full of dreams and ideas, but some mental narrative as to why they can't move forward with that idea. Maybe it's a financial impact of being a sole provider in the house, having a mortgage, kids, maybe it's because they grew up in a house with a failed entrepreneur, whatever it is they have something in their brain that they can't get beyond as to why they should move forward with trying to build their business. So as we bring the conversation from the masses to the one, what do you have to say to that one person that resonates with you?
Esti Chazanow: To the person who has started a business and they're feeling like they're going nowhere with it, there's no traction, you have to focus on being authentic. That needs to be your focus. People are real. Everything that you do needs to be authentic, so whatever it is whether it's providing a service, providing a product, the product needs to be authentically do. Your messaging needs to be authentic. Just be real. Nobody is interested in investing their money and emotions into a brand that's not authentic, and on the side point if you're getting a lot of people telling you that you're not going to make it, you're not going to be able to do something, when everyone tells you that you cannot do something, that's an opening for you. So be authentic, be real in every way. Don't try to sell people garbage. Don't inflate. Don't pretend. Just be real and I think that when you're real, that brings success.
James McKinney: Once you've had a few moments to process all the value Esti brought us in this week's episode, please hit me up on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram and share with me your thoughts on this episode. And lastly if you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time, then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. So visit livwatches.com to see some of their beautiful pieces and maybe you just might find your next favorite watch. But if you're not a watch person, but you really love craftsmanship, then maybe you connect with them on Instagram @LIVWatches. Maybe you can even tag a few friends in some of their posts to help raise awareness of their brand. We hear it time and time again from founders how awareness is so hard to capture, so maybe you as a Startup Story listener can help elevate the awareness of their brand as a way of saying thank you to Esti for all the value she delivered us today. Remember, entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs so let's show up for Esti in a huge way today. All right, now for my personal ask.
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