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Thursday, 5 May 2016

GarconJon meets Andrew Jennings

Within 5 years, Mr Andrew Jennings has turned a part-time project into an International megabrand. As the co-founder of Larsson and Jennings, he created a new genre for the time piece market and effectively changed the game, and by last year I feel like everyone I bumped into had one of these Swiss-made watches on. Due to the meteoric rise of the brand I wanted to find out more about what it takes to be a successful young entrepreneur in the internet age.

I shot Andrew around Covent Garden, where he lives and works, and we chatted about moving to New York City, the birth of the brand and his plans for the future.

Mr Andrew Jennings, CEO & Co-Founder of Larsson and Jennings

Describe yourself in 5 words. A motivated, ambitious, humble global citizen.

Where are you from and where do you live now? I’m from the Wirral and now live between London and New York.

What do you think about the contrasts between the two cities? I find both cities have many similarities and love them equally. New York is a more dense version of London, everything's on your doorstep. When I’m in New York I miss the relaxed culture of England as the Big Apple is so hard-hitting and on-the- go constantly but when I’m in London I miss the convenience and summer weather of New York. Americans are more direct and Brits are a little more relaxed. I feel so lucky to be able to experience both worlds.

With that in mind, have you found it a challenge to manage American’s now you’ve opened across the pond? One of the hardest things in this expansion has been hiring good people. In London we now have a pretty well known brand and started by hiring friends of friends effectively. Going to a city that’s new, where there’s low brand recognition makes this process much more difficult. Not only do we end up paying extortionate fees to recruiters but I found that a few people in New York have been excellent at selling their abilities in an interview but not matched my expectations in the role.

When did you first become interested in watches? I inherited a Rolex Daytona when I was about 10 years old. As I was so young my Dad decided he’d look after it but ended up wearing it himself and that created a real sense to desire around the watch for me. When I turned 17 I saw an article about that particular watch in GQ valuing it at £20,000 so I phoned Dad immediately and told him to put it in the safe! When I started the business I came close to selling the Rolex and I’m so grateful that didn’t happen, and it was at around that time my fascination with vintage watches grew which has been a strong influence on the aesthetic of Larsson and Jennings watches as we reimagine classic design.

At the time of starting the brand I was in a job I didn’t enjoy much and so the idea of launching an independent watch brand came to me. Ten years ago, the only nice watches you could get were all created by huge companies that were very heavily branded. They put little care, attention and detail into the watches being unique as all production is outsourced. I thought there was a great opportunity to introduce an independent to the market. I wanted to create something cool and relevant with a twist on classic design.

So it’s been 4 years since you started Larsson and Jennings, right? On the 26th April 2012 we sold our first watch online so it’s been exactly four years. There was a year before this when I was sampling and formulating the company; before we launched online I sold to friends and extended family and this provided enough funding to build a basic website. Back then I was working as a Private Wealth Manager in the City and was an underpaid guy with a dream of working for myself. I was yearning to use my creative energy so once the ball started rolling I was full steam ahead. I would assemble the watches at home, pack them up and cycle to work with the packages in my backpack, mailing them off at lunchtime. Within the first year I learnt to manage all aspects of the business from helping to build the brand’s website to coordinating our first photoshoot and arranging production. After all that hard work our first Christmas was spectacular and I was able to leave my job and focus my attention on Larsson and Jennings full time from January 2013.

Was there a eureka moment in the business where you knew you were on the right track? Between April and September of our first year we sold about one watch a day and after being mentioned on we sold around 30 watches in one weekend. I think that was when I really sat up and realised what social media could do for our business. I started gifting influencers via Instagram when it was just starting and that helped us to sell over £100k of watches over our first Christmas period. That was a crazy time as I’d had an operation on my shoulder so I was packing up watches with one working arm, queuing for hours in my local Post Office to have sacks of packages individually franked and sent. It’s a time I’ll never forget.

What are you most proud of? I love that our growth has been totally organic. I started the business by taking out some pretty chunky credit cards and it’s grown naturally from that. I want to keep control of the business so that I have a creative voice and also to protect the future of the brand. I’d love to see my kids coming into the company one day in the future. There are always investors that are interested but this business is a long-term vision.

You have 30 full time employees, 2 stores in the UK and US with more to come, and 150 retailers stocking your product! As a young man in his 30s how does that make you feel? Is it ever overwhelming? It does hit me sometimes but that just comes with the job. I make decisions that can carry risk in order to push the business forward but I have an amazing team. I take huge pride in our business and there’s still a lot further to go. At the end of 2016 we will have opened four stores globally in London and New York; a significant step that will hopefully enable us to become a globally recognised company.

How would you describe Larsson and Jennings as a brand? Understated and progressive as all our watches are made in Switzerland so our product is always of the highest quality. Scandinavian and British heritage are still intrinsic to our values while our brand begins to become more experimental, particularly through our creative content - I can’t wait to release our latest campaign shoot.

What’s your average day like? If I’m not travelling, then I usually wake up around 6am, check emails from Asia in bed then get to the gym by 7am. I’m in the office by 8.30am every day but that’s the only set agenda. During my day I could be in sales meetings, interviewed by press, photographed by gentlemen like you or be designing new products and working with our operations team. Making sure the team is happy is a huge part of a successful business so I like regular check- ins. During the day I may take time out for myself or have a long lunch and if I do that I’ll stay late. Interacting with Tokyo or New York means my hours can be 24/7 and it’s quite difficult to switch off.

How do you unwind then? I love kite surfing and skiing. Being outdoors is important to me.

If you could give your 18 year old self a piece of advice what would it be? Don’t go to university. Although I matured a lot during that time I don’t think I learned much. I studied Business Management so it may have helped subtlety but I think I would have preferred to start my business earlier and to have been more ambitious. I didn’t take myself seriously until my mid-twenties.

Leave us with some words of wisdom. I’m all about trying things out and taking considered risks. I think a bad decision is better than no decision at all. If you do screw up then at least you gave it a go and learnt something from it - if you play it safe then you aren’t progressing. I have failed plenty of times and I will fail plenty more but as long as I learn from my mistakes then I am moving forward. The road to success starts with failure.