Watchmaking might be an age-old tradition, but Schaffen Watches is certainly keeping up with time by offering a range of custom dress watches on an entirely digital platform.

The “micro-brand” was started by two brothers, Jonathan and Nicholas Han, who found themselves trading in scalpels and spreadsheets for sapphire crystals and leather swatches. Since its inception two years ago, Schaffen has steadily gained fans in Singapore and around the world, thanks to its commitment to producing high-quality timepieces as well as its innovative take on watchmaking. Customers can design their own one-of-a-kind watch online, and customise parts from the dial, markers, straps, and even to adding their own personalised inscription.

We spoke with Nicholas, CEO of Schaffen (right), to find out more about their journey as a young Singapore start-up.

So tell us, why customisable watches?

It all started when Jonathan wanted a watch with certain specifications. Since he couldn’t find his ideal piece, he decided to try his hand at assembling his own. He ended up making a watch for our dad’s birthday.

We felt that it was interesting to have complete control over the watch design, and being able to add personal touches was something we liked as well. One thing led to another, and we found ourselves commissioned to make a batch of commemorative timepieces for retiring colonels from the Air Force! It was this project that inspired us to bring this idea to market.

The both of you were students in completely unrelated fields before coming together to launch Schaffen Watches. Are there any surprising commonalities between medicine, economics and business and running a watch business?

My background in economics and business definitely gave me the insights and know-how to both market a brand and run a business. Our training in medicine and economics taught us to absorb and understand information quickly. We were also used to rigorous self-research so we could dive deep into the watch industry. Thanks to the support of associations like the Singapore Precision Engineering and Technology Association (SPETA), we were able to pursue our dreams.

What was your biggest hurdle in starting Schaffen Watches?

It was building a brand from the ground up. Creating a brand and gaining the trust as well as recognition in an established market is always an on-going challenge. It has been difficult to leverage our small budget in order to get our brand known and trusted.

How did you overcome your initial inexperience? What advice did you find most and least helpful along the way?

We had very helpful mentors, who gave us very important advice in both marketing and finance. We also observed what other brands were doing and tried to learn from their best practices within our lean budget.

One question we often receive is how we differentiate ourselves and how we ensure that we are able to stay ahead if there was an incumbent who replicated our idea. Our mentor, an ex-creative director at Disney, told us that our brand is one of our strongest defenses. A brand allows people to get to know you and what you stand for; it’s about building trust between the founders and customers, and that is something not easily replicated.

How do you see Schaffen Watches evolving over the next few years?

Our vision is to establish a micro-brand of watches that focusses on made-to-order, made-in-Singapore timepieces, and build a strong following. We believe that niche brands have the potential to carve a place for themselves and achieve international acclaim.

What are the qualities you feel are important for young business owners to have?

"Tenacity. Coming up with an endless amount of Plan Bs. Having passion is important as well, as it helps one to tide over discouragements."

Where do you conduct your business right now? Tell us more about the space.

Right now, we operate out of an incubation space: the Singapore Management University's Business Innovations Generator. It's a business incubator with a shared space for startups. We've really benefited from the pool of business mentors and advisory resources. We believe that this help was instrumental in getting our business off the ground.

What do you think of when we say “workplace of tomorrow”? How do you think a place like KLOUD (Keppel’s newest serviced co-office that has flexible layouts – from hot-desking to full office suites – and flexible leases) can help your business grow?

I think for up-and-coming companies, an elegant office which promotes a certain lifestyle can contribute to growth. Many startups do not require the clunky spaces of older offices and would prefer a more progressive setup such as flexible spaces, as well as more modern furnishings.

At Schaffen, we often have customers and clients request to meet and speak with the team, or to have a slook at our watches before placing bulk orders. I think a space like KLOUD is ideal for such meetings. It’s a plus that costs are reasonable, which is great for growing startups like us who need a bit of flexibility.

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