Brian is a Navy SEAL turned entrepreneur in the midst of starting his first company. We haven’t had a lot of guests on the show who are selling physical products, and Brain talks about what it’s like to start a watch manufacturing company. We talk about finding expertise and knowing when to pay for it, we talk about how social media is often shunned in the military and yet absolutely essential in business, we talk about the value of reserves for healthcare when you’re starting a company and have a family, and we talk about much, much more.
Brian is the founder of the Declan James Watch Co. He started out in commercial real estate for 6 years, before joining the Navy SEALs, where he served for 8 years including two deployments with SEAL Team 7 and one shore duty assignment as a BUDS instructor. He separated from active duty 10 months ago and the Declan James Watch Co is his first venture.
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Transcript & Time Stamps
Joining me today from Denver, CO is Brian Dougherty. Brian is the founder of the Declan James Watch Co. He started out in commercial real estate for 6 years, before joining the Navy SEALs, where he served for 8 years including two deployments with SEAL Team 7 and one shore duty assignment as a BUDS instructor. He separated from active duty just about 10 months ago, and the Declan James Watch Co is his first venture.
How would you explain Declan James Watch Company?
I design and manufacture watches. I’m following my passion. It’s really that simple.
How did you get interested in this?
As far back as I can remember I’ve loved watches. I remember the watch a buddy gave me back in grade school - a neon green digital Sharp watch. That started my lifelong passion for watches. My taste got more expensive and eventually my taste outgrew my budget.
The best two jobs I’ve ever had - selling women’s watches at Dillard’s in high school and being a Navy SEAL. As I was separating from active duty, I wanted to find something that I was passionate about doing. So that’s when I started this company.
How are the watches made and how did you go about finding someone to manufacture the watches?
When I was a BUDS instructor, I started this endeavour. I really wanted my watches to be American made but that was difficult because there’s really not an industry for that. I was working Hell Week with another SEAL and he is the founder of Resco Instruments. He really helped point me in the right direction. He advised me to go visit Hong Kong because there is a huge watch market over there. So I thought about that and booked a ticket to Hong Kong. A month later I was in Hong Kong and went to a trade show there.
I finally found someone at the trade show that could help me out with the quantities I wanted. But I left the trade show and I felt uneasy about trusting someone I just met. So the next day my wife and I set up a visit with the company at their office. The office was in the middle of nowhere. Finally we were able sit down and really talk to them and that’s when things really started falling into place.
How many watches did you initially order and what kind of a budget did you set aside for that?
I really only wanted to make one unit to see how it would turn out. The company I worked with made me order a minimum number of watches. They were able to build a prototype first and send it to me for feedback.
How did you know what specs to use when you were building that first watch?
I went through a lot of magazines and pieced together specs from about 10 different watches to achieve what I wanted. I found someone here in the United States to do the packaging.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start a company that involves a physical product?
I thought designing and manufacturing the watch would be the hardest part but it ended up being the easiest. So if you’re interested in starting a company, you really just have to dive in.
As an example, when I got my boxes manufactured here in the US, there was a concern that the watches wouldn’t fit the boxes. A lot of manufacturers want money up front but that can be difficult if you have limited financial resources. So you never know exactly what issues you will face.
The best way to do this is to just do it. That will take you far.
What has been the most challenging aspect of starting this company?
Internet marketing and social media because it’s such a huge part of our daily lives. As a SEAL, all of that was shunned but now going to market with a product, I’ve realized how much I didn’t know. I finally sought out the help of someone and realized how much I needed to work on that.
Initially I wanted to do the branding by myself. But as I dove into it, I realized I couldn’t tackle it on my own. I hired a branding firm - Robyn Young & Company. She was really able take all my thoughts and ideas and bring those together. I was working with her for over a year and continued to realize how much help I needed in terms of internet marketing. Robyn helped me find the right people for that. Finding people who you can trust along the way is really key.
As an entrepreneur, you’re going to make some mistakes. But if you can find someone -- for me it was Robyn - -that can help you out, that person will keep you on track.
You’re six months into starting this company. What does your day-to-day look like?
I’m still a Reserve Navy SEAL so I spend a lot of time doing that. I also do some real estate development on the side. And then I’m also running Declan James Watch Company. Time management is super crucial.
I don’t make a lot of money from the Reserves but what I do get is very inexpensive health care and that is really invaluable. I encourage people that are separating to really look into the Reserves. You can maintain that brotherhood or sisterhood even after you leave active duty.
What I really like about this is that you’ve maintained side hustles in your life while getting Declan James Watch Company started. I think that gives you the freedom to develop the company without having to put so much pressure on it.
Yes and when I say I’m all on Declan James Watch Company, I don’t mean I’ve quit my day job. What I mean is that I’ve gone all in with my heart and my ideas.
Where is the company at now?
We’re open for business and we’ve sold watches and are getting positive feedback. we ‘re continuing to try to get the word out in any way we can.
How can listeners support you?
You can buy a watch. Or you can help us spread the word. Word of mouth is one of the best marketing tools that is out there.
Are there any resources you would recommend to listeners?
I would encourage them to check out this podcast. We spoke about eight months ago and one of the best pieces of advice that you told me was that when I was talking to people to ask them if there was anyone else they knew that they thought I should talk to. That was so helpful for me. I think what you’re doing with this podcast is really great.
I also encourage people to ask questions and have some humility in knowing that you don’t know everything. You’ll develop a relationship a lot faster doing this.
Do you have anything else you’d like to share with our listeners?
It can be a scary transition but don’t be scared to separate because you don’t think there will be an opportunity for you. The civilian life is also good and there are a lot of opportunities out there.
If you want to be an entrepreneur, just dive in there and do it.