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Designing and prototyping a watch

23rd July 2017

This is post #2 in the series I'm writing on how I created a successful Kickstarter project on a tiny budget. Post #1 covered the beginning of the journey, including creating a brand and generating an email list of people that might be interested in my product. If you've not read it yet, it's available at How to get funded on Kickstarter - spoiler: anyone can do it.

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Designing a watch prototype

With a brand in place, it was time to get a watch built. That meant getting the idea out of my head and onto the screen so I could find someone to build it for me. This was a problem as I can't draw well at all and I'm even worse with graphics software. I sketched out a very basic outline on paper and found a load of textures and colours online, then found a graphics person to put it all together for me. I used upwork.com to find someone that specialised in 3D rendering. Upwork is a site that lets you post a job and have people bid for the opportunity to work on it. I explained in the job spec that the drawings they'd be working from would be very basic and that there would be a lot of backwards and forwards between us to get the renders looking exactly how I wanted. I found someone who was willing to work with me via Skype to get the design right, and spent a few days talking it through with them as they made tweaks and improvements. At the end of this I had a realistic 3D image of my watch from various angles that I could pass on to a factory.

Finding a watch factory

Turning those 3D images in to a working prototype was where things started getting scary as it started to cost real money. To find a factory I tried a few things. One was contacting a few small watch brands to see if any of them would share details on their manufacturer. Most didn't answer, a few said no, but one person gave me some contact details. I also posted on Alibaba. If you haven't used Alibaba, it's basically a huge marketplace connecting factories in (mostly) China with customers around the world. I posted a job and asked for factories with the relevant skills to get in touch. You'll get told a lot not to use Alibaba but with almost nobody willing to share details of their suppliers (unless they're trying to sell to you themselves) it's hard to do anything else as a company on a tight budget, with no reputation, working on your first model. I looked through the references and details of all of the factories that made contact and found two to go ahead with. I commissioned them both to create technical drawings based off my renders before picking one to work with, based mostly off instinct and how easy it had been to work with them on the technical drawings.

A few things worth looking out for:

  • Factories will promise the world but once you get into details you'll start noticing them trying to cut corners. If you have a custom designed product but they keep trying to convince you to use factory parts, walk away. For a long time "Kickstarter watch" just meant a generic case with your logo stuck on it. You don't want to be that guy.
  • If the factory offers you a minimum order quantity (MOQ) of 50-100, be worried. If they can make their required profit off such a tiny number of watches they have to be cutting corners or charging a fortune. I talked to a few factories that offered a MOQ of 50-100 and the examples of their work that they sent me were poor.
  • Many factories will employ someone young with good English but limited watch making experience to communicate with their English speaking clients. That can be helpful but they are likely to say yes to questions without the required knowledge in order to get a sale. Make sure you get to talk to someone on the technical and management side as well to make sure that your vision is understood and you're confident they can deliver.

None of this is groundbreaking advice, but it's stuff that I wasted a lot of time on and that I wish had been explained to me up front. I'm not sure why the whole process is so secretive. 

Finding other suppliers

As I said in blog post #1, I'm convinced that if you present something well and appear to know what you're doing, that's half the battle. I was therefore determined that my watch wasn't going to turn up in a little plastic bag stuffed into an envelope like so many microbrand or Kickstarter watches do. If you're asking someone to part with hundreds of dollars, they need to feel they've not just got value for money, but also something of high quality. It should be an experience or a treat. Obviously a large part of that is down to the final product being great, but you can influence that feeling of quality by presenting your product well. I'll cover video and photography later in the series, and that's a huge part of it, but by spending a few dollars extra on a decent watch box you can vastly improve the initial reaction. Unboxing videos are a big deal on YouTube - people like receiving something special and then taking their time to experience the whole package. 

I found a box supplier in the same way that I'd found my watch factory - by posting on Alibaba and waiting for the offers to come flooding in. Unlike the watch, I wasn't insisting on designing my own box. I was happy to just find a good supplier and then put my logo on one of their catalogue boxes. Several potential suppliers sent me samples and I picked the one that felt best in my hands. 

I also needed a silicone strap supplier. I wanted to give customers an option of strap type, and silicone straps need to be custom made for the watch in my opinion. They should fit tightly and perfectly into the lugs. I followed the Alibaba route again, and found a supplier that could provide me with high quality samples of their previous work. I then put them in touch with the my watch factory to make sure that the fit was perfect.

Building a prototype watch

Now I had a factory and I had technical drawings that I was happy with, and I had suppliers for boxes and silicone straps. So I commissioned a prototype watch and waited around for a month or two and finally got to see it. Initially I was just excited to see something that I'd been working on for so long in the flesh, but that quickly turned to worry as I began to realise it had a bunch of problems.

  1. The bezel grip was the wrong colour. Something had clearly got lost in translation
  2. The logo and text on the dial was almost unreadable. This was my fault - the colours I'd picked didn't have enough contrast
  3. The bezel action was too loose. This was my biggest worry.

We quickly fixed 1 and 2 for the next round of prototypes but the bezel action worried me, so we revisited the drawings and slightly changed the design. This meant paying again for a new case mould, which didn't do my credit card bill any favours. This was the one disadvantage of using custom designed parts rather than catalogue parts - catalogue parts are tested and ready to go, so it's cheaper to get started. 

Finally with the second prototype I had a watch that I was happy with. Other than the Kickstarter launch day, this was the most exciting part of the project for me. I finally had in my hands the watch I'd been working on for over a year, and it looked and felt better than I'd hoped. The colours on the final prototype were all perfect and the bezel action was as good as I'd felt on a watch at anything close to this price point. Going ahead with the second prototype had been a worrying moment as if the project had failed I'd have been left with a load of credit card debt that I couldn't afford to take on, however for the first time I began to believe that I'd actually be able to sell the watch in decent numbers.

Now I had a brand and I had a product that I was happy with. Next time I'll go over how I got from here to launching the Kickstarter and being fully funded just a few minutes later.

I hope you find these posts useful or interesting. I'm leaving comments off, as more often than not comments sections get filled with crap. If you've got questions or have comments you can email me ([email protected]) or the Hamtun Twitter and Facebook pages are constantly monitored.

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