Aaron Schwartz – Co-Founder and CEO of Modify Industries

[quote style=”boxed”]Talk with customers! It’s very easy to hide behind your computer or in your office. We solicit customer feedback all the time, and while it is sometimes painful to hear, we learn so much about how to improve because of it.[/quote]

Aaron Schwartz is the co-founder and CEO of Modify Industries, a leading manufacturer and distributor of interchangeable products. Prior to starting Modify, Aaron co-founded Refill Revolution, a sustainability startup that was acquired by True20. He earned his MBA at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and was a (very happy) strategy consultant before that. Aaron Schwartz loves advising startups and learning from others who are trying to build businesses and create jobs. The highlight of his career so far was selling 2,500 watches on a cross-country flight; he calls it, “the best ROI of a plane ticket ever.” The highlight of his week now is coaching 5th-grade AAU basketball.

Modify was voted as one of the top 100 young startups in the U.S. and was featured on Good Morning America’s website as well as in The New York Times, Washington Post, TechCrunch and more. The company’s first products, Modify Watches, are mixable and matchable for individual style and character. The watches are available in two sizes and come in 400 design combinations. Modify holds licenses with Domo, the Major League Baseball Player’s Association, deadmau5, Live Nation, Tetris, the Pac-12 and more. The company has designed custom watches for brands such as Google, Facebook, [adult swim], the Pac 12 and HP. The full range of Modify Watches can be found at modifywatches.com.

What are you working on right now?

I am working on Modify Watches, the first of hopefully many interchangeable products to come from our company, Modify Industries Inc. These are dope, colorful, interchangeable timepieces that our fans mix-and-match to create their own style.

Where did the idea for Modify come from?

My co-founder, Gary Coover, came up with the idea. He had seen interchangeable watches while traveling and thought that an improved version (from a quality and design perspective) would be a great product for all demographics. He was right; everyone– from sneakerheads to young professionals to actual adults–likes customizing their own Mod.

What does your typical day look like?

I wake up around 8:00 a.m. and scroll through about 30 new emails. Once I’m comfortable that there are no immediate fires to fight, I jump on a phone call with my design partner, Ashil. He’s based in Atlanta (Modify’s HQ is in San Francisco). By 11:30 or noon his time, he’s already created new designs, worked to customize watches for our partners, and cleaned up various errors I made the day before.

We have a three-person team in the San Francisco office, and everyone arrives between 9:00 and 10:00. Ayo, our VP of marketing, and I have a morning meeting to catch up and discuss the upcoming day. Then Sean, our tech director, and I will do the same. My personal focus is on sales and fundraising, but I’m also the king of packaging customer orders and I always jump in to support the rest of the team on their projects. Once a week, I help coach youth basketball and I “try” to work out, but that seems to be placed on the back burner pretty frequently. At night, I’ll often work online with our manufacturer, which has offices in Berkeley and Shenzhen.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Hard work. I’m a generalist’s generalist (a history major and management consultant with an MBA). With no deep expertise, the only thing I know how to do is work hard.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Customization. Whether we’re talking about 3D printing companies like Shapeways and TinkerCAD or personalization companies like Zazzle and CafePress, I’m a big believer that the future of physical products is customization.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I was a “client associate” for MBNA America. In plain English, I sold credit cards for a summer. It was not the most engaging job, but it’s been instrumental in my career. I learned how to cold call and how to chat with people from all different backgrounds. MBNA also had a sign with the company mantra above every door, which read, “Think of yourself as a customer.” This has stuck with me and is a concept I bring to work at Modify every day.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Actively manage the development of our upgraded watches. From design to mass production, our water-resistant, durable, thinner watches took one year. I wish that I personally had “managed” that project on a day-to-day basis, as I believe that would have saved 4-6 months.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Talk with customers! It’s very easy to hide behind your computer or in your office. We solicit customer feedback all the time, and while it is sometimes painful to hear, we learn so much about how to improve because of it.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

There’s a major need for a great middle-eastern chain restaurant analogous to Chipotle. Let me know if you’re interested in a financial model and about 20 pages of notes.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

Figure out a way to deliver fresh water to everyone in the world for free.

Tell us a secret.

I’m incredibly afraid of spiders.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

Basecamp helps you organize your team, SEOMoz Pro helps you organize your web traffic, and Facebook helps you interact with your customers.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Made to Stick. Entrepreneurs too often think that a cool or “good” idea will win. Made to Stick will help you focus on telling the right story to make sure that your idea wins.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

@Hnshah because he shares interesting articles and deep insights into web analytics.

@magoosh because I think they’re onto something super cool (revolutionary?) with video-based, online test prep.

@AyoNYC, my partner at Modify, because he uses Twitter better than anyone I’ve seen. Hilarious articles, great interaction with others, diverse mentions.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

Last week. Ayo, Modify’s marketing guru, and I create a new handshake every week. This last one was a doozy and involved face-slapping tortilla chips.

Who is your hero?

My parents (two heroes).

Would you do consulting again?

Absolutely! I met a ton of great people (colleagues and clients), learned how to communicate in a business setting, and learned how to take reams of data and suss out the most relevant information. All of the above have been incredibly helpful with Modify.

What do you wish you did better on a personal level?

In the same way that I will not break investor meetings, I need to improve scheduling “meetings” with friends (for hang-outs) and myself (for working out). Treating those as critical will make me healthier and happier.


Modify Watches on Twitter: @modifywatches
Modify Watches on Facebook: facebook.com/modifywatches