To paraphrase that old New York lottery commercial, all you need is $5,000 and a dream. At least that’s how things worked out for Artjem “Addy” Weissbeck, who decided three years ago to abandon his legal studies at Germany’s University of Muenster to pursue his passion for watchmaking – which resulted in the creation of Kapten & Son, a now-$20 million brand available all over the globe.
“I made a decision against unhappiness,” says Weissbeck, who turns 27 this month. “I was bored with my law studies, and along with my university classmates (and current business partners) Fabian Deventer and Johannes Theobald, we came up with the design of this watch we all liked. We were inspired in part by Swatch in wanting to create something with an affordable price point [under $200] that would feel both timeless and humble. I don’t think any of us even told our parents about the money or what we’re doing.”
That initial investment was enough for the creation of the prototype and the production of the first 100 watches, which they sold via their still-popular website. But Weissbeck is not one to think small. “We recognized quickly that we needed to grow fast, become global, and that we had to enter the brick-and-mortar market to get our name out in the market,” he says. The company now sells at Nordstrom, partners with approximately 500 specialty stores and boutiques, and just inked a deal to be featured on Urban Outfitters’ website (with in-store distribution likely to follow.)
As for their own brick-and-mortar stores, Weissbeck says that will likely be a dream deferred. “We are a bootstrap company; we don’t take money from anyone – no venture capital or anything – and we’ll just have to wait for the right time to make that step. Of course, we’ve had offers to invest in the company, but so far I’ve been strong enough to say ‘no.’”
Moreover, Weissbeck first opened the company’s Melbourne, Australia office so that Kapten & Son could better serve Asia, and five months ago moved to Brooklyn to help the company strengthen its North American footing.“More than Fabian (who is co-CEO) or Johannes (who is CFO), I am a nomad, so it made sense for me to travel. Plus, the advantage of having three people is that we can divide and conquer,” he says. “In a way, I think my own journey mirrors the journey of my generation, which is also the story of our brand. And New York was always my end goal, and I think now I would want to live here for at least a few more years no matter the business. It’s a great place for personal growth. In fact, the thing I’ve learned most in the time I’ve lived here is that life all comes down to the people you spend time with. They are the ones who define you are.”
In addition to moving, another thing Weissbecks says yes to is constant innovation. The main watch line usually launches a new product every three months – “that’s what makes us dangerous,” he says — and the Kapten & Son line has expanded to include sunglasses, as well as a recently-launched less-expensive line of watches ($99) called “Pure”. “I think the design of the Pure watch is what I’m most proud of,” he says. “I love that people say it’s tech-meets-analog, and I also love that it’s the kind of watch you can wear with a suit or with jeans. And we purposely only created two SKUs, because in some ways I’ve begun to believe in the whole ‘less is better’ philosophy.”
But what if Pure, which Weissbeck says is already selling extremely well, ends up damaging the sales of the original Kapten & Son products? “Look, if we don’t cannibalize ourselves, someone else will eventually do it,” he says. “I have a whole vision of Kapten & Son becoming a multi-category accessory band, sort of like Fossil, but that might not happen. And if someone smarter comes along and wants to take the reins, I will be okay with that.”