I live in Valencia, California, a sleepy suburb outside  Los Angeles. When I moved here,  the most controversial news included  blowback about the length of the cheerleaders' uniforms. It's not exactly a mecca for fashion and high-flying lifestyle brands.

Then, two high school kids broke the mold. Jake Kassan (who went to my daughter's high school) and his partner Kramer LaPlante dropped out of the University of California Santa Barbara to start MVMT Watches in 2013. In just four years MVMT reached $60 million in sales.

Two weeks ago they announced the sale of their company to Movado for $100 million (plus an earnout). Not bad for a couple kids from the 'burbs.

As reported by CNBC, Kassan and LaPlante didn't burn a traditional path to cashing out before their thirtieth birthdays. There are seven business lessons to learn from their impressive story:

1. Use alternative financing methods.

MVMT raised $300,000 through Indiegogo crowdfund campaigns. According to Indiegogo, Kassan and LaPlante exceeded their original funding target by 1,466 percent to raise $219,898 in their first campaign.

The founders reference their ability to identify latent needs and communicate them to investors as a key to their fundraising success. The company was crystal clear on what problems they were solving, and investors responded.

2. Lifestyle sells.

MVMT made its mark with edgy, distinctively designed watches and sunglasses at affordable prices. The company's maniacal focus on creating visually stunning products made an impact online (my MVMT watch doesn't even keep perfect time--perhaps an indication of how shallow I am).

Kassan has said that having high-impact photography was critical for initiating trial. Many brands that connect today create imagery that allows new customers to imagine themselves consuming a product. Estimated to have sold over a million watches, MVMT grew the brand almost exclusively on social media--a channel where photos matter and lifestyle resonates.

3. When all else fails, shamelessly pitch celebrities.

Influencers and micro-influencers put MVMT on the map. Kourtney Kardashian, Kylie Jenner and Klay Thompson are seen globe-trotting in MVMT products. While I personally fail to understand the fascination with the Kardashians (who live about 40 miles down the road), MVMT's one million Instagram followers regularly use the feed for fashion trend inspiration.

4. Be data-driven.

The New York Times labeled MVMT as "a watch brand by and for millennials." Kassan regularly asks millennials what time it is just to see whether they look at their watches or their phones. They learned a lot about them.

According to Forbes, MVMT's gained advantage by selling almost exclusively online, because they had strong analytics from which to make decisions on selection, pricing and promotion. In their second year, they invested in Twitter and Facebook campaigns and created podcasts--utilizing both pay-per-click and organic search to drive traffic. They then used what they learned to build a better offering.

5. Explore alternative channels of distribution.

While there have been MVMT sightings in Nordstrom and Urban Outfitters, the company built the brand entirely on the internet. Flying in the face of conventional wisdom about omni-channel, MVMT proved that entire brands can be built through ecommerce alone. 

Don't buy the narrative that you have to be represented in brick-and-mortar. One of the beauty lines we work with actually sells better online, where they can control the message and execution (in-stock, etc.). 

6. Create a tribe.

"MVMT" is a clever play on words, denoting both the movement of time and of people. Its messaging includes phrase like "Where will the MVMT take you?" and "Be part of the global community of MVMT owners." MVMT doesn't sell watches and sunglasses; they sell conversations at parties.

7. Be hungry.

As told by CNBC, Kassan watched his father's credit business fail in 2008. He learned how to make money and guard against the downside. Every company needs to have financial discipline in the form of structured budgets and so on, so entrepreneurs can be confident in the investments they make. 

I bet Kassan has made his father proud.

Published on: Sep 10, 2018