Sam Konigsberg is the Head Relationship Builder at Sablier Watches, a wine-inspired American luxury watch brand based in Atlanta, GA. Sam joined Sablier Watches in 2013 with a passion to share Sablier's patented design and unique philosophy with the world. Sablier has been featured in Forbes Magazine, Bloomberg Pursuits, Esquire Magazine and in numerous charity wine auctions across the country. Sam's attention to time is important as he is also an Investment Consultant for BlackRock. The process of balancing corporate life and entrepreneurship has taught Sam many lessons that he shares in this podcast.
Shantel: Hi Sam, welcome to the Imagine More Podcast.
Sam: Hey, how are you? It's great to be here.
Shantel: Yeah, of course. We're so excited and lucky to have you on the show. I know that you've had, just from some offline conversations, some really exciting moments as an entrepreneur, and figuring out this business. I can't wait to dive in, and learn a little bit more about it, as well as the audience. Can you kick things off and tell everyone a little bit more about Sablier and how you got started, how did this idea come about?
| BUILD YOUR OWN WATCH |
Sam: That's a great question. Yes, so, my name is Sam Konigsberg, and I'm the head relationship builder is my official title at Sablier Watches. It's really an interesting story. It actually started about 20 years ago when my partner, who was a Taiwanese immigrant actually came to the US, chasing a girl. He had fallen in love in Taiwan. He served his two years of mandatory military service. Moved to the US, actually against the wishes of his parents. Moved to Los Angeles. Realized when he got here that the relationship was actually not going to work. He came over here as an engineer, but when the relationship fizzled out, he said, “Wait a sec, actually can't go back to Taiwan and have everybody tell me that they told me so. I've got to figure this out.” So, he said, “You know, I've got this great engineering background, but I've always had a passion for arts. So, why don't I go back to school and get a masters in fine arts?”
His deciding factor was, how far away from Los Angeles can I possibly get. He actually looked at SCAD in Savannah and he looked at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. He had no idea New York, especially upstate New York, was as cold as it is, but he moved there and got a masters in fine arts from Rochester Institute of Technology. Back then, that was the heyday of Xerox and Bausch and Lomb, and Kodiak. And so, They were pouring resources into the school. He got a great education. He brought together his passions for art and engineering.
And so, he quickly was hired as a medical device engineer, moved to Princeton, New Jersey, and became very successful as a medical device engineer. Patenting machines to work with the body. And that was his full study was, how do we take this machine and make it usable for the human element, is what he calls it. And so, he got married. Started having a family and was doing well; was collecting watches and things like that. He kept complaining over and over and over, and said, “You know,” to his wife, he's like, “Hey, listen. You know these watches are nice and they're expensive and all this, that and the other, but they've got two fundamental flaws." Right? He said, "They're uncomfortable to wear and they're hard to read." Right? And over and over again, he'd be having this problem. And so one night his wife looked at him and said, "Look, you're an engineer. Build your own watch."
And that was about 10 years ago, when he went on this journey. It was really amazing how he's done it, but this is a guy who's literally, never taken a watch-building class in his entire life and redesigned the watch to work as only a medical device engineer who studies the body and builds machines for the body, could do it. So, he and I met in Princeton, New Jersey when I was up there working in finance. And so, we hit it off, and we got a really unique story but, that's how it started, was an engineer looking at a watch and saying, “We can make this better.” With having no formal training, saying, “I'm going to attack this from a totally different angle.” And today, we have Sablier Watches.
Shantel: That's amazing. That's really fascinating. And when you met him, did he initially lead with, “Hey, I'm starting this watch company” or he was perhaps just wearing one of his watches? Did he ever anticipate trying to bring it to the masses?
| CONNECTING AUTHENTICALLY |
Sam: No. It's a great question. So, he made this watch for himself. He said, “I want to build the perfect watch that I can have for myself and for those that I love." He really had no commercial ambitions for the watch. I didn't meet him until after I had... until after I was in need of a watch, really. I was in finance. I gave an investment presentation to a group of older investors and after the presentation I was like, you know, "Oh, I killed this thing," I pulled my phone out to check the time, and I just felt the air go out of the room, and they were like, "I can't believe this kid doesn't have watch... yada yada."
Well, I went back to Princeton, and I said, "You know what, I'll never have that experience again." I wasn't a watch guy. My dad didn't wear watches. So, I just was going to get the standard, used, you know, Rolex or Omega or something like that. Well, I walk into a jeweler, and it's actually at that time the only jeweler that his watch was in. He had just come to market. And I walked in, and I never had an experience where a physical item had literally grabbed me. I walked in and his watch is sitting on the shelf and it just stops. Time.
And I've never had that experience before, and I just said, "you know, I know nothing about watches. That is the most beautiful watch that I've ever seen in my life. What's the story?" And the guy said, "well, you know, it's actually made by a local guy. He's a medical device engineer." I said, "can I please have his cell phone?" And so, I call him up, and I said, "hi, Kun-Chi Wu, this is Sam Konigsberg. You have no idea who I am, but I'd love to take you to lunch, and hear about your watch."
And we went to lunch, and I heard his story, and he had put all this time and money and resources into building the first line of the watch. He speaks broken English, and he really needed someone to build his business, and tell the story. And so, one lunch turned into two lunches, turned into ten lunches. He had agreed to allow me to come on board, but I needed to convince his wife. His wife was, she was a tough, tough cookie, and I love her to death. But she shook me out for about 12 months.
It wasn't until we were having dinner at their house one night, and this is like my fifth attempt to say, "can I please join?" And his daughter at the time, who was about seven years old said, "Sam, what do you like to do for exercise?" And I said, "jump-rope." And she said, "well, I like to jump-rope," and I said, "well, I've got my jump-rope," because I was training for different events and stuff. I said, "well, I've got my jump-rope in my trunk." I said, "do you want to go outside and jump-rope?" And so, I'm in my suit and tie, and we're jumping rope in the front yard, and I walk back inside after 10 minutes of jumping rope, and my partner, my now partner's wife said, "okay, you can join the company."
That was it. So, that's how it began, and that was about five years ago.
Shantel: That is amazing. We as a team are just re-reading the book How To Win Friends and Influence People. Have you read that book?
Sam: Dale Carnegie. It is my favorite.
Shantel: Mine too, and there's a whole section on speaking to other people's interests and really trying to kind of learn more about them, and what makes them tick. And I think you just hit the nail on the head with, like her daughter was probably one of the more important things in her life, and you created a connection authentically. She sensed that, and then she trusted you. Which I think was a valuable lesson.
| BUSINESS COURTSHIP |
Sam: That was it. Yeah, and to this day she's 13 and that family's actually since moved to Atlanta. So we could be closer to grow this business, and the daughter and I have got a great relationship. She's a wonderful girl. And it's been an awesome partnership, but also friendship between me and my partner, and his family.
Shantel: Well, I think probably a little bit goes into the length in kind of that courtship, if you will, of you know, "hey we need to trust each other, let's learn more about each other, and not jumping the gun on them just letting you in right away." You know?
Sam: That's exactly right. Yeah. I mean, you know, you put your heart and soul, and energy, and effort into bringing a watch to market, and all that goes into, you know, for those in the audience who don't know... building a watch, or any other physical product, of substance, you're having to put all of the money in upfront to build the product. And if it's something like our watch, that is totally bespoke and custom, and has not been made before, you know, you're not operating with pieces just off the shelf in a watch factory. Every single piece is being customably made, and so customably casted, and so all of those expenses add up. And all of the time and sweat and energy that goes into it, as the creator, you're not about to just let someone walk in and buy a piece of the business. And I totally understood that.
And so, you know, the way that we had structured it was, first built on trust, and on the understanding that, you know, since we were going to do this as a moonlight project, because he still is a medical device engineer, and I still work in finance, that we were going to literally give it our best, and that if there was a single watch that came back that wasn't absolutely perfect, we were going to send it back. And so, we had made that agreement to quality. We had made the agreement to each other, and our families. And, that's really what brought us together over time.
And so, it's been awesome, but it was certainly, certainly was a courtship. I would just encourage anyone who is considering a business, you really are marrying your partner, and your partner's, you know, family, and they're marrying your spouse, and it's really a very integrated thing. You know, especially in the beginning.
Shantel: Absolutely. So fast-forward ten years. How have you been able to, I suppose, stay passionate, while also... so, I imagine you kind of want to dive head-first into this, and grow the business, but you've just mentioned that you've maintained your job in finance. How have you been able to reserve the energy for starting a company?
| INSPIRED BY WINE |
Sam: Yeah, it's a great question. So, he, he first got the patent for this watch. This watch is actually, it's inspired by wine. And it's a watch that has no edges. So, as a medical device engineer, he said, "I'm going to build a watch that's super comfortable to wear. I have to remove structurally every single edge from the watch, and I need to make the watch very legible and easy to read." So, he actually got the patent on the world's first and only concave crystal watch. So, we hold that patent through 2029.
So, when I joined five years ago, just like any other patent, the most value you can have is in the window, and the lifecycle of the patent. So, we had gotten off to, and have gotten off to a fast start, but as you said, you know, working 60-70 hours a week in a very intense sector was difficult. But, what was very interesting, and what kept me afloat were a couple things. The first was my finance job was very very focused, and very very specialized. And so I was doing a few tasks repeatedly over and over and over, and I didn't have as much of a creative side. On Sablier, it was almost all creative energy.
So, I took my head down kind of focused energy from finance, and the creative energy needed from the watch, and I was actually able to share those with one another. Which was really great. So, even when I was very tired of doing my nine to five finance job, I had the energy to do the creative work required for the watch, and I learned from each different business venture, and shared best practices among each of those. And so, that kind of creative energy powered me to have the focus and energy to pursue the watch, and then of course, a huge shout out to my wife. She's been phenomenally supportive from day one, given the fact that, you know, I do work a lot, and without her support there is no way I could do this.
So, I've needed to continue to work to maintain equity, and to continue to build the brand, because we are, because you pay for everything up front, because you pay for all the watch materials, and shipping, and packaging, and marketing, and all those things. If you want to maintain equity, you've got to be able to put dollars in. And so, the finance job has been the bike shop that has been powering the plane, if you will, at night. So, it's been good.
Shantel: Certainly. And so, did you find that there was any crossover in perhaps demographic, you know, you could gift this to clients, or encourage clients to purchase? I mean, I remember when you mentioned in your story that you saw it, and it kind of stopped you in your tracks... are you that perfect persona, and customer for the brand now?
| SAVORING EACH MOMENT |
Sam: I am. I'd like to think that I am my own target market. In my finance job, I don't talk about the watch proactively at all. I try to keep those things separately, but I do have clients that have asked me about it. Certainly friends and family, and things like that, that have asked me about it, but we target, we really target those that are, that want something different. Anyone can get a, you know, a Rolex, Omega, Cartier tag. Those are all watches that are readily available to everyone, and most folks have those.
We really target folks that are looking for a bespoke watch that has its own soul. It has its own story that's different. That is, that is functionally better than what they're used to, and its great because when one of our customers connects with our Sablier watch, it's almost instant and immediate. And so, we have taken the time to really reinvest into our clients, because when it comes to marketing, we cannot punch toe to toe with you know, Rolex or Cartier. So, what we do is we just take extra special care of our clients. We take extra special care of our partners who sell our watch, so we've got jewelers up and down the East Coast that sell our watch.
And then we do things like, charitable events. That's how we do most of our marketing. So, we've done a couple events in Atlanta. We've done two wine auctions at the Atlanta High Museum. For benefit of the High. And so, you're able to put your watch in front of, you know, 1,200 people that are all wine lovers, and lovers of really nice things, very cool stories, and are entrepreneurs themselves a lot of them, and give a watch away. You know, for benefit of charity, while also telling your story to the audience.
We also did something recently for Brawl for a Cause. That was in Mercedes Benz Stadium. And so, we love to, you know, partner locally. We love to be able to give back as much as we possibly can, and really build that thousand strong, you know, followership. And that's what we've been able to do.
Shantel: That's great. Now when you, when you joined the team as a partner, was the wine element already incorporated into the design?
Sam: Yeah, and that was one of the final reasons why I decided to come on board. Was, you know, the world doesn't need another watch. You know, we've got plenty of watches out there, and although we've got a very cool watch, and you know, it's functional, and it's excellent, and it's beautiful, you know, for me it was like, what are we actually doing here? And my partner said, you know, we talk about the watch being very comfortable and easy to read, but also we want to point to what we believe is true luxury.
For him, he, whenever he would watch watch advertising it was always the car, the yacht, the girl... all these different things that were tied to luxury and the watch, and he just said, "you know, that's not really how I define luxury. You know, luxury to me is spending time with loved ones, because you cannot purchase good time, time well spent. You can't buy more of that." And so, he said, "whenever I'm in good company, I'm usually sharing a glass of wine, and I'm savoring the conversation. I'm savoring the glass of wine. I'm savoring these relationships." He's like, "I really want to teach that philosophy through the watch." And so, when I heard that, that really connected with me to say, you know, this is bigger than me. This is bigger than, you know, putting a watch on someone else's wrist, and owning a piece of the business.
And so I said, "this is something I believe in. That I personally share the philosophy with." And so, we took that philosophy and we used the wine as symbolism for that. And so, on our watch, we have things like, you know our case is shaped after a wine glass. It's cut from a single piece of surgical grade steel; which is extremely difficult to do. Our crystal is concave, which is the only one in the world, which looks like the bottom of a wine glass. Our second hand is actually a corkscrew that goes with a wine glass shape. We also have colors in wine. We have champagne, burgundy. We've got rose. We've got other traditional colors, like white, black, and blue, but we also do things like, we've got a cork band. A wrist band made of wine cork. Which took us two years to get right.
So, those are the type of wine elements that are in our watch, and they really point to the philosophy that we share for true luxury.
Shantel: I think that's such a unique differentiator, and I love the thoughtfulness between time well spent, and savoring each moment. I think from a marketing standpoint, you guys hit the nail on the head.
Sam: Yeah, well, thank you. Yeah, and we believe it too, right? Which makes it even better, right? You know.
Shantel: I am now craving a glass of wine, and a beautiful watch. So, I think you guys are doing something right.
Sam: Yeah, thank you.
Shantel: Can you touch on a little bit of the, you know, your sales strategy and distribution from a go to market standpoint? I mean, that you're new to, you're creating a product... how did you get it in front of more eyeballs, with the exception of, or outside of the charity events and such?
| GEOGRAPHIC EXCLUSIVITY |
Sam: Yeah, so a lot of it is, it's really interesting. There's so much innovation right now in, not just the watch space, but just in the way people buy physical product. And so, we are a boutique luxury watch, and so we want to be associated with the best brands and jewelers that curate great watches, and so, we had received a couple international design awards for the watch. We had been featured in Forbes and in Bloomberg, and couple other magazines, and so we basically took that momentum, and went to a bunch of different jewelers and just said, "look, like, you're always looking of that differentiated something that you can share with your best clients. You know, these are all watches that are designed in the US, patented in the US. You know, they're made in Switzerland. They're inspected back here again,"
And we offered geographic exclusivity to our partners and said, "listen, if you take us on, you're not, we're not going to go down the road, and partner with another jeweler." So, we gave our jewelers geographic exclusivity to their city, and to their region of the city. And we just worked with them to tell our story, and we learned their story. We learned what was important to them, and so through our partner jewelers, we've been able to grow our brand. And these are a lot of times boutique jewelers that really have a great client base, that know their clients, that know the wants of their clients, and it's just been great.
And that's how we've done it, but it's been a lot of hard, you know knocking doors, and making introductions, and a lot of "no's." But then we've had a lot of yes’s too, so just marching through that.
Shantel: That's really exciting. How did you, when you were meeting your business partner, how did you define roles and leverage strengths? And is it something very early on you guys started talking, "hey my strength is sales, yours is design. This is how we should operate?" Or has it over the past ten years really kind of fleshed itself out naturally?
| ASK FOR HELP |
Sam: Well it's probably more of the former. We knew going in, I mean, you know, he's still to this day...his English has improved, but it's still broken English. Right? We, my background was in, you know, consulting, and so my job is to be in front of clients, and to understand their needs and to you know, if there's a way to help them...it's similar with this watch business. Which is, he's a great engineer. He does all the engineering work. He does a lot of the quality control and design. Really a lot of the back office, and then I'm really all business development.
And so, we've, I have certainly learned from him over time though. I mean, he has got a couple mental structures that he uses to make decisions that I've taken and applied to growing our business, and I would say vice versa, he's certainly learned some things from me. He's, we've got very synergistic energies with one another, and skill sets. So, it's been a little easier to define roles.
I think that the harder thing that we've had to work through is, okay, well what if there's a skill set required for this business that neither of us have? And how do we outsource that? And how do we find the right person to do that? And we've, you know, we've made some good decisions, and we've made some poor decisions that we've had to backtrack through, and hey we thought, you know, this could happen with this person, and they weren't the right person. Or hey that person was the right person. So, filling in our own gaps has been a learning process too.
So, it's been a very challenging experience, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.
Shantel: Absolutely. I certainly can relate to that. I think the ups absolutely outweigh all of the downs and the challenges and the lessons, and it's really exciting to be building something that you're proud of, and you believe in. So, I certainly resonate with that statement. Is there anything you wish you knew when you first got started on this journey? Or...?
Sam: Well, I'm so glad I didn't know how hard it was going to be. I don't know that I would have ever gotten in if I knew that. But, you know, I wish that, I think the power of strategy in my previous, in my finance role, you know, my objectives are very direct and they're very specific. And so, although I do some strategy work, a lot of my work is execution. In the watch world, and in our small business, you know, we become, I became and still am so passionate about what the watch is, and I just said, "hey, this is going to set the world on fire."
And although it’s been successful, it certainly has not been as easy as you just show up and people just immediately embrace you. So, I think having more strategy upfront around, hey this is the full business plan, this is how we're going to do that... that took me a couple years to really figure out, and iron out.
Now we're in a good place, but yeah, I wish if I could go back and tell myself one thing, I would've said, you know, really seek counsel from folks that have done this before. You know, be quick to admit what you don't know, and ask for help. And then, you know, really leverage your network. And so, I think I was a little hesitant to do all three of those things in the beginning, but it's again, it's been a learning process, and I've certainly learned those lessons. Either easily or the hard way, but they're learned at this point.
Shantel: Now that's certainly fair. As a smaller company, have you, and you touched on really pouring into the customers... have you made a lot of iterations to the design based on feedback? Or, is it really tough to be that nimble because you've had to invest so much upfront?
Sam: Yeah, so we launched our first generation, was 250 watches, and we sold through those. And we did make, we made a couple structural changes based on client feedback from our first generation to our second generation watch. Just understanding, you know, what did they really love about the watch? And let’s, you know, let’s keep the heart of what we're doing. Were, you know, are there areas that we can win on the margins, and change things, and so we took that feedback, we certainly made those changes and improvements, and then really just checked in with them. You know, "how do you like the watch? How are you? How are you doing?" You know, "how do we plug you into our network also?" You know, "Is there someone else who bought this watch that would be great for you to meet?"
So, we've tried to create this family around the watch that we're proactively trying to generate value outside of, just another watch. And then other things like, you know, giving free bands away. You know, most watch companies will charge $300-$400 for a leather watch strap. I'd rather just give you an extra one, because that to me is a great way to enhance your experience, and if you've had a great experience with Sablier, you're going to tell your friends about it. And so, those are the kind of things that we've done to invest in our watch community and to our clients.
Shantel: I love the thought of the different straps as well, and there's also, I imagine, the factor of if they have different options, they're wearing the watch more frequently, so you're kind of removing that barrier just right there.
Sam: That's exactly right. So, we, we've made point to have a very diverse set of watch strap colors, different leathers, non-leathers, all different straps, so the way that, and we've made it very very easy to change the straps. So, my partner created this quick-release pin system to where you can actually change the watch strap with your fingernail. You don't need a special tool. You don't need to bring it to the jeweler. And so, when it takes you 15-20 seconds to change your watch strap, and you have multiple watch strap colors, and it looks like a different watch every time you change your strap, you're more likely to wear the watch. And so, we've, that's really been our philosophy, and that's what we've tried to double down on.
Shantel: I think that's great. I think it's extremely smart. What do you envision as next on the horizon for you and Sablier?
Sam: That's a great question. So, currently right now, we're all on the East Coast. We definitely have a West Coast presence as far as we've got clients that have bought from the West Coast, but we don't have any West Coast jeweler presence, and so we think within the next six months, we will be in Napa, Sonoma, and San Fran. And so, that's our goal, is to get to the West Coast. Fill out the Eastern Seaboard, right now we're in Atlanta, Charlotte, we're in New York, we're in Princeton, we're in Boston, and so, we are trying to, you know, hit some of the other Eastern Seaboard cities: Miami, Philadelphia, DC, and then get to the West Coast.
But the West Coast is next for us. It's certainly going to tie with the wine theme. Then also we just, we've had so many clients out there that have just said, "if you have a storefront, if you had a partner out here, we've got a ton of friends that would love to, you know, would love to buy and be clients of Sablier." So, it's been, you know, that's what's next for us.
Shantel: That's really exciting, and logistically is it difficult to, I mean when I think wine, I also think Europe, and Italy specifically. Is that, is that at all a goal? Or...?
Sam: Yeah, so the long-term goal is to have, not to be big, but to be good. I would say, you know, we want to have no more than 25 jeweler partners, and we just want to be excellent partners to them. I had to step back a couple years ago and say, you know, what are some of the tough things that I struggle with, with my finance job? And a lot of it was time away from family, and traveling, and being on the road. And so, I said, well the last thing that I want to do is, you know, with Sablier, I don't want to create what I didn't like from my previous job. And so, let me be really thoughtful about building this so I'm not rebuilding something that I'm, you know, considering leaving.
So, we've really stepped back and said, let's make a few very deep, but impactful relationships. And so, we certainly see that extending to those wine countries that you mentioned, and I would say probably the largest 10 to 12 international cities that we'd like to be in. But I want to make it so it's manageable. I want to make it so it, we're able to still keep our hand on the pulse with our clients, still be everything that we want to be to them and service them in the right way. Our goal is not to be big. So, we will go internationally. I think we've got a couple more years before we do that.
We currently sell internationally, so to your international listeners, we certainly do sell there, but we don't currently have a storefront there. So, I would say in the next couple years that will be up there.
Shantel: Well, very very exciting. Sam, how can people get in touch with you, and learn more about your journey, and learn more about the watches, and perhaps buy one?
Sam: Yeah, so you can follow us on SablierWatches on Instagram, on Facebook. It's S-A-B-L-I-E-R Watches. We're at SablierWatches.com. You can find our story there, pictures of the watches, our Instagram, our Facebook. You'll find a lot of ways there. You can interact with us there. If you're listening to us in Atlanta, we have two jeweler partners in Atlanta. The first one is Solomon Brothers. They're based in Buckhead Tower Place. They've got an awesome, huge showroom. The other is, Highland Diamond. They're based in Virginia Highlands. It's a smaller jeweler, but they're great guys. They've got a really nice collection of different jewelry and art there, and they carry our watch as well.
So, those are the two spots in the Atlanta area, and you can always just email me as well. I answer all my email directly. It's Sam@sablierwatches.com. And we love telling our story, so if nothing else you've heard this podcast, and you want to listen and learn more, I love telling our story, and answering any and all questions. Whether it be about the business, entrepreneurship, or the watch.
Shantel: Well, thank you, Sam. I really appreciate your time, and I can't wait to look at all the different watch straps myself. So, I appreciate that.
Sam: Awesome. Thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure.