I was leaving my country soon to start an adventure, but I still had some time to meet another start-up, C21 be brave
C21 be brave is a start-up from Madrid that sells watches with very original designs through their website. But as you’ll soon discover, C21 be brave, it’s not only about watches anymore. It’s much more.
I arrived at their new offices. They were still empty and there were only some chairs, tables and some stock stored there, but I could breathe illusion and big projects straight away. Especially when I met Raúl and Rafa, co-founders of C21 be brave, and they told me about all the ideas they have in mind to decorate and organise the layout of the new office.
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Who is behind C21 be brave?
These are the founders: Raúl, Rafa and Jaime. All have studied Industrial engineering at the Polytechnic University of Madrid; they are 24-25 years old, are from Andalucía (south of Spain) and went to the same residence while staying in Madrid. They have so many things in common it’s what has made them forge very strong friendships.
“We’ve always been entrepreneurs, we love creating things. The truth is that we quickly realised that we didn’t like the career of an engineer. Our thing was building stuff. We had a bracelet business when Spain won the World Cup in South Africa.
We prepared a PowerPoint. Two simple designs, nothing spectacular. We looked on the Internet and saw there was a company in Barcelona that was an intermediary of a Chinese one. We placed an order of 1.000 bracelets, 0.26€ + IVA each one and we sold them at 3€.
It was the most profitable business of our lives! We sold more than 2.000 bracelets, without a website, just word of mouth. We were lucky though. Spain won that World Cup and everyone wanted bracelets for the final.”
Where does the idea of C21 be brave come from and what’s its WHY?
They had the vision of having a business before finishing university. The summer of 2013 there were the Youth World Days (YWD) in Rio. The Pope sent renovated and fresh messages to the young people. Values do not depend on skin colour or nationalities.
They really identified themselves with those ideas and words.
“We are Christians, but nowadays we all have friends from other countries, skin colours, religions and sexual preferences. But we don’t care. The important thing is the respect between us. Those are human values. The respect and courage that us, young people, show when we fight for what we believe in is what the Pope asked us in the YWD.
So we thought, how can we spread this message to young generations but in a more attractive way? Why don’t we make a watch brand that fosters this?”
That August 2013 was the first moment in which the idea began.
First steps and problems
In October, when Raúl was flying from London to Madrid, he saw some watches that could represent the style he was looking for to represent what he had in mind.
“I saw it clearly. When I got to Madrid, I talked to Rafa and Jaime and we made it.”
Rafa was in Paris and Raúl and Jaime in Crandfield.
“At the beginning it was a bit messy. But the good thing about Crandfield is that there is nothing to do there. It was pretty boring so we had time to focus on the project.”
The first question they asked themselves was obvious:
“How do we make watches? We didn’t have a single clue, so we went to Google. With the bracelets, it was easy so we expected the same with the watches. Moreover, we wanted to manufacture them in Spain, which wasn’t that easy. We found one supplier in Cordoba (south of Spain) that made watches for a recognised brand so we went on with them.
The 30th of December 2013 we had the first meeting.”
They brought the first designs to the meeting and as they confessed to me later, they were in PowerPoint too.
When they were looking for case suppliers, they realised that some investment in machinery was needed, around 500-600€. Adding the costs of the packaging and the watches, they made some calculations and managed to collect 16.000€ between the three of them. That will be all the investment they would need to start the project.
“We wanted to sell the product at 20€ at the beginning, but the sums did not add up. In the end we had to sell the product at the 45 and 65€ point in the mid-range of the market.”
First problem. Suppliers
“The first order arrived the 20th of May 2014 and we asked for it in December 2013. The manufacturing time is pretty high and the supplier wasn’t very serious. We had some problems with them.
We didn’t want to stop working with them though, since we didn’t have another supplier and the quality was still good.
In June 2014 we started selling, in July we made another order and in August we were already break-even.
We went to so many pop-ups. We caught their last golden age. They were physical events where you went to sell your product. People started to know you and took some business cards. Step by step.
That was our key initial starting point, although it’s true that we worked ourselves to death. We were there the whole day. Non-stop. It was tiring; I’m feeling tired just remembering it.”
In the Christmas 2014, they surpassed from selling 1-2 watches daily. It was like a dropper, they say.
“We sold by inertia, we went to some fairs and word of mouth. For the next order we reached some Chinese suppliers and asked them to make a small batch, just to see how they worked, but the big order went to our traditional supplier.
It was the 22nd of December 2014 and we had an important event in which we spent so much money and the watches didn’t arrive. They arrived the same day of the event… we were about to die.
But the event was so good. We were selling 100 watches a day.
It was the first time we realised that we had an attractive product. Through the website the numbers rose too, we were selling around 30 watches a day in those dates”
They could feel the success but as they confessed, there were many weeks living on the edge.
“Our time was spent at events during the day from 9 to 9 and at night we had to assemble the watches until 3 am. The strap and the sphere are joined on the website but we receive them separated to make the combinations we need and assembly them depending on the demand, a typical assembly to order (ATO) model.”
Apart from all this, we had to study too.
I felt that my body was about to collapse at any time. Those days were extremely hard.” Raúl says.
Second problem. Delivery
If it wasn’t enough with all that, the problems where pilling up in the Christmas 2014.
“Until that moment we weren’t worried about delivery companies. We sent the packages through the normal post. We had never thought about hiring a private delivery company. ”
Rafa used to go to the post office every day to take all the packages, but many days he had to line up for more than an hour.
“Normally I used to take 1-2 packages a day. In these days I was carrying 25 or 30.”
To make it worse, in those days the post collapsed on some days and it was impossible to send anything.
“We built up more than 80 orders that didn’t get to the clients. People called us complaining, especially at Christmas. They want everything for the next day and the post took around 72 hours to deliver.
We saw clearly that if we wanted to offer good customer service, that way wasn’t sustainable. We started to work with Nacex, a private company, and we are very happy with them.
The Price is more expensive, but the watches arrive in less than 24 hours and with warranties. It was such a relief after all we went through.”
In the summer of 2015 Rafa finished his studies and started to work full time in C21. In September Raúl started to work in consultancy after finishing a master in finance.
Before Christmas 2015 they talked about the future of C21 and Raúl decided that in February 2016, he was going to quit his job to dedicate his time entirely to the start-up.
“It wasn’t an easy choice; I spent so many nights thinking about how I’d say that to my parents. After they paid for a degree, two masters and you are already making a good living, I left everything behind to start “selling watches”.
That’s hard for parents… Until C21 worked out we’ve been the fools of the watches for a long time. Now they see how everything goes and they feel so proud of us, but it wasn’t always like this.”
“During Christmas of 2015 we had absolute chaos with our traditional supplier.”
In the previous Christmas, they ran out of watches and this time couldn’t be like that. They bet hard and placed an order of 3.000 watches (before they used to ask for 1.000 at a time).
The order took place in July 2015, they were supposed to arrive in October and it finally arrived at the end of November. Still, they received them for the key moment.
The straps they asked for were mainly made out of suede, a material that was working very well for them in terms of sales.
“We were selling so many suede straps, we were so motivated. But after a few days some people started to contact us saying that the straps were vanishing. They sent us pictures and it was like that. You passed the finger on them and all the suede was gone… and that was the big bet for Christmas.
We talked to the supplier and told him the situation. When we saw his passivity and he told us that it wasn’t the end of the world… we exploded. It was the flagship of Christmas and we couldn’t sell any from the new order. We couldn’t believe it!
From that moment we sent all the designs to the Chinese supplier and started to manufacture with them. We’ve never had a problem. They are always on time and respect the quality. The final price is the same but the quality is much better.”
However, that Christmas were very successful. They ran out of the non-defective suede very fast but people started to buy other models and they ended up finishing all the stock they had.
“That Christmas the revenues were around 50.000€ and we saw that the business was getting serious. We needed to dedicate more time to it.”
As agreed, in February 2016 Raúl quit his jobs as a consultant. He and Rafa started to be fully committed with the start-up. A new era started for C21.
The new C21 be brave
“In March 2016 everything changed radically. We became much more professional.”
They placed the office in their living room (Rafa and Raúl were sharing apartment). There they asked themselves an important question. What do we do now? Where do we start from?
“We even went downstairs and bought a blackboard to start the motivation.
Then we started checking Google Analytics. We were amazed by the amount of data we found there, we had never touched that before.”
With that information they could better target their customers and started investing in Facebook ads.
They decided which KPIs were most suitable for them.
“We didn’t know what the bounce rate was. We started to do some research and try to improve it. We did some trial and error, A/B testing and we had some progress.
We started to make decisions based on data and we left the intuition a bit aside. We realised that in terms of ads, Facebook was much more effective for us than Google plus it allowed us to interact more with our audience and customers.
We went from being a couple of friends working in a living room and investing 300€ in Facebook ads a month, to in few months having a couple of interns, investing 3.000€ monthly in Facebook ads and moving the office to a co-working space in the centre of Madrid.”
At that stage they learnt a priceless lesson. Not only is the product and marketing important but everything in a company is essential and it’s necessary to maintain a balance.
“If you manage to sell a product but the customer service isn’t great, they won’t come back and will probably talk bad about you to their friends. The optimisation of the site is essential too. We went from a conversion ratio of 1.5% to 7% in a short amount of time.
On Instagram we saw that we didn’t have to upload just pictures of watches, we had to promote the lifestyle too. We couldn’t hire models so we threw some parties with our friends and hired some professional photographers to take pictures.”
With all these changes, they went from selling 100 watches a month on average, to sell 700 in the middle of 2016 and closed the year with the impressive amount of 1.300 watches a month.
In September 2016, they started a new stage within the new C21 be brave.
“Now we know what we do. We moved to an office only for us, we are a team of 8 people working full time and we want to create a corporate culture.
We want to bring young people and with all we have learnt so far, we want to do crazy things. We have a product that works, now we want to work on what surrounds the product. We want people to love C21 and what it represents.
C21 isn’t a way to just make money as it was before. Now we want to create something much bigger, a brand and a culture. We want to help and collaborate with everyone we can.”
From the beginning they worked with the Takeli foundation.
The founder was a teacher from their school, he was from Togo. One day, his brother called him saying that he would have to unsubscribe the children from school because they didn’t have enough money. This teacher asked them for money when they were 13-14 years old. They used to give him 1€ a month and he ended up building a school there.
“When we started C21 we wanted to help him. The first year we paid the school fees for 115 children, the second year we paid the fees for the whole school, more than 500. Now we have launched the campaign seconds to help them build a well so that children don’t have to walk several kilometres a day to find water.”
What about the future?
“If we have had revenues of 700.000€ (20.000 watches sold) so far, in 2017 we want to have a turnover of more than 1 million €. We finished the year investing 10.000€ in Facebook ads with a very interesting ROI, so we are very optimistic about what 2017 will bring.
In the future we don’t see ourselves constrained to watches, but we have to be careful what market we enter. Mistakes are more expensive now than before.”
And what about countries? I was sure that these guys wouldn’t be happy just with the Peninsula (Spain and Portugal).
“We would love to enter the US, it’s a sweet market but expensive to enter. It’s true that they can afford to pay more, but we do not see it clearly yet.
Where we’ve seen a lot of interest is in Italy and Germany, especially Italy. They buy from us a lot. It’s interesting because the site is entirely in Spanish but they still manage to buy from us. Once well established in Spain and in 2017, we’ll go for Italy.”
Tips for other entrepreneurs?
Risk, risk and keep risking.
“Especially if you are young. It’s the moment to risk and follow your dreams. If it doesn’t work out, you’ll always have time to go back to a job you don’t like to make money.
The other day I was thinking how hard it would be to be nearly dying and think… what did I do with my life? I’ve spent my whole life in front of my computer working with data as a robot.
We have much more potential than that! We have received CVs from people in their fifties. These people want new things, a corporate culture, illusion and energy. It’s never too late to make a change!
With this piece of advice we finished our interview of almost 2 hours. Apart from being very interesting, I have to admit that it was a very entertaining interview in which we laughed a lot.
The energy these entrepreneurs give off when they are talking about their projects is incredibly contagious. I’m completely sure that great things wait for them in the future.
Thanks so much for everything C21!
That’s all for this week! For the next start-up we leave Spain and go to Switzerland! Velohub will be waiting for us there.
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