Kellogg Magazine  |  Spring/Summer 2015



Winding up from scratch
Leonard & Church’s Chris Chon ’14 is opening the high-quality wristwatch market to consumers with low budgets and refined taste

I’ve been excited about how technology can simplify and change not only the user experience but the underlying business model.

For Chris Chon, the long and winding path to enter the $1 trillion luxury goods global market started innocently enough: He wanted to buy a new watch.

However, Chon couldn’t find a watch with the quality, design and feel he wanted, even though he was willing to pay as much as $1,000.

That’s when Chon and his friend and co-founder Jeff Leung began researching the reasons behind the higher prices. “We found a supply chain riddled with middlemen,” Chon said, “and an industry dominated by a small number of traditional players.”

Through one of Chon’s partners in New York, he and Leung connected with an experienced timepiece maker, who also had created one of U.S. President Barack Obama’s watches, to validate their own findings and learn more.

Those meetings laid the groundwork for Leonard & Church, a New York-based startup offering an affordable price point through developing partnerships with manufacturers and a direct-to-consumer approach.

Chon, a graduate of the MMM program, pitched the idea to his professors, and was chosen as one of nine students in the inaugural cohort of the Zell Scholars Program. While he was in the program, Chon and his partners developed the idea over the next two years and secured some early funding.

“I’ve been excited about how technology can simplify and change not only the user experience but the underlying business model,” he said.

Case in point: In August 2014, Kickstarter project backers placed 10,000 pre-orders, pushing the company almost $400,000 past its initial $75,000 funding goal. Since January 2015, orders have been steadily increasing month-over-month.

Similar to the initial strategy of upstart eyeglasses brand Warby Parker, Leonard & Church uses many of the same materials as brands that are priced out of most consumers’ reach, then fills orders for its $95 to $145 watches through its website.

“It’s a very different question when you’re trying to launch a brand from scratch,” Chon said. “We began having some conversations with retailers, but it’s a tricky balance between trying to widen the top of the funnel to reach more customers and staying true to why we started this in the first place.”

Moving forward, Leonard & Church plans to unveil new designs this spring as well as launch new leather goods and products for the winter, but Chon will not forget where it all started.

“I remember pitching [Professors Linda Darragh and David Schonthal ’09] the idea nearly two years ago,” he said. “Now they’re both wearing Leonard & Church watches around campus. I think that’s awesome.”