This morning Kirsty Whyte, the Creative Director and founder of Freedom To Exist, appeared on the BBC news. This has led to lots of new people discovering us and our minimal watches, which has led to our highest ever day for traffic!
BBC: You’re with Business Live, our top story today, President Trump is accusing China and Europe of playing a big currency manipulation game and has called for the US to do the same.
BBC: Now let’s move onto our Inside Track today, because having more than one job or business interest is becoming increasingly population, in fact 1 in 4 workers are now running at least another company outside of their day job, it’s known as a Side Hustle.
BBC: Kirsty Whyte is doing just that, she and her husband both have day jobs but together they decided to launch their own watch company.
BBC: Yes, Kirsty was unable to find one that she liked that would fit a slim wrist and so decided to design her own, in 2015 their company Freedom to Exist was launched.
BBC: The buzz and demand surrounding affordable designer watches has meant the company now sells in over ten countries around the world, and as a whole the market is expected to balloon to $50 billion in value by 2022.
BBC: Well I’m glad to say we’re joined by Kirsty Whyte, Creative Director and Cofounder of Freedom to Exist, welcome to the programme.
KIRSTY: Thank you for having me.
BBC: So we’re talking here obviously about your business, but the interesting thing is the side hustle element, because you were actually working a full-time job, as was your husband when you thought up this idea, talk us through what you were both doing.
KIRSTY: Yes, Yes, exactly, so we both were working full-time, Paul was working at Marks & Spencer’s, we’re both furniture geeks by heart, and I was also working at Heal’s as the Product and Design Manager there and we really wanted to have the opportunity to have the autonomy of running our own business, as well as that additional income, and it started with that need, exact as you said, that I couldn’t find a watch that fitted my inordinately small wrists and so we thought let’s do this together, and it was a great starting point to actually start building a range and it’s grown to a lot larger than we originally anticipated.
BBC: And you both lived and worked in China as well.
BBC: In your previous day jobs as it were, so you really had a sense of a place to manufacture, to make contacts, etc.
KIRSTY: Exactly, so we’ve a lot of experience designing from the initiation stage to all the way through development, to actually approaching those manufacturers, so even though we’ve done it with furniture in the past we applied that knowledge to watch design and it actually worked quite well.
BBC: How do you do both jobs though, how do you have a job, I mean I find it difficult to do my day job, let alone start my own business, were you working 24/7?
KIRSTY: It is always a challenge, definitely, and especially as your workload increases during the day, then I have to accommodate the time to actually deal with FtE requirements, so we actually despatch all of our orders from home as well, so whenever we have an order it’s great we do that little high five, but then in the evening we also then have to get it despatched, wrapped, we handwrite all of our orders still to everybody, so that’s a lot of time, but then also we try and dedicate some time at a weekend, or we also have been known to take annual leave and spend a week working on it when we have to do a new website launch or a new campaign as well.
BBC: It sounds like a lot of hard work to me, and I would imagine the worry is for the employer if someone’s got a side hustle that’s really demanding, and it’s their real passion they’re not really going to put their heart and soul into the day job.
KIRSTY: Oh, well that’s really interesting you say that, we’ve actually found the opposite, our employers have been super-interested in the fact that we have this side hustle.
BBC: Is M&S going to sell those watches then?
KIRSTY: Oh well [all laugh], you never know, we do have a lot of people representing, wearing them, a lot of our friends, a lot of colleagues, people that meet us they actually end up loving them because they have that same ethos of brand free behind them, but what we’ve actually found is that we’ve learnt loads of skills within running our own business, so I do all the creative direction from photography to curating the website, Paul does all the ops and logistics from building the website and that’s actually become really useful in our day jobs.
BBC: What sets your brand apart then, you’re talking about brand free, what is it about Freedom to Exist that makes it different from all the other watchmakers, and what is a saturated market at that price point.
KIRSTY: Yes, well when we first started it wasn’t very saturated actually, because I couldn’t find the watches I wanted, but since then the way that it’s sort of set us apart really is the fact that we are a personal business, people really like the fact that it’s just the two of us running it, we’re not a big brand, but then also the fact that we are totally brand free, we do free international shipping, so anybody can order it and anybody can buy it and I think it’s still quite hard to find something at the level of the quality of our watches at that price point.
BBC: The price point being £99 per watch.
BBC: And actually that’s for any watch?
KIRSTY: Yes, either size, large or small.
BBC: That the consumer buys from you, and that kind of pits you against everything.
BBC: All types of watching, including smartwatches, whereas the real luxury watch arena, they’re not against these like smartwatches.
KIRSTY: Yes, that’s another level, Yes.
BBC: So that’s, where you are is a very competitive market isn’t it?
KIRSTY: It is, and the reason why we’ve actually started doing most of our business through ecomm rather than through retailers is so that we can keep that margin and keep that good price point, and then still compete with those. But we’re actually getting customers that don’t want the smartwatch, our watches just tell the time, that’s it, the whole point is that they’re free from technology and free from buzzing at you every five seconds, if you need to know the time you just look at your watch rather than then checking your Twitter and your Facebook and your Instagram at the same time.
BBC: I must admit, I love that.
BBC: Yes, that does sound very, very appealing to me.
KIRSTY: And when your hands are full you can just check the time still [all laugh].
BBC: Kirsty, it’s lovely to meet you.
BBC: Good old-fashioned watch.
BBC: It is, Yes, Kirsty Whyte, Freedom to Exist, thank you and the best of luck with the business going forward.
KIRSTY: Thank you very much.