Hamilton Powell – Founder of Crown & Caliber

[quote style=”boxed”]Get out of the office. Read, meet with people smarter than you, engage with other entrepreneurs. Your job as an entrepreneur isn’t to get caught in the weeds. You are tasked with steering the ship – so avoid the temptation to become a silo.[/quote]

Crown & Caliber is the first exclusive buyer and consigner of watches on the internet. Its proprietary process makes selling a luxury watch lucrative and easy. Before Crown & Caliber, people looking to sell a watch were forced to sell through Craigslist, Ebay, or go to a second hand jeweler. If you have a luxury watch you are looking to sell, you can visit their website and submit a quote request. Their team will then contact you with a Cash Offer and a Guaranteed Consignment Offer. If you like either of these offers, they will send you, at their expense, prepaid and insured shipping materials. Their customer service team will be with you every step of the way.

Hamilton Powell is the Founder of Crown & Caliber; based in Atlanta, GA. With a background in private equity, Hamilton brings a unique approach to a traditional industry. Hamilton sat down with us and explained some of the reasons for Crown & Caliber’s success.

Where did the idea for Crown & Caliber come from?

In 2011, I sold a couch on Craigslist. A man in a van showed up with $400 cash to my office at 9:00pm. It scared the heck out of me. So I started thinking about the downsides of Craigslist and it led me to search for common categories that are more valuable, and therefore even scarier to sell, than couches. I typed in several search terms and when I typed in “Rolex” I was dumbfounded. I knew there had to be a better way to sell a watch. I wondered why in an age where people can use the Internet to buy and sell virtually anything from cars to iPhones, why was there no safe, secure way for watch owners to sell their valuable watches.

What does your typical day look like?

If there ever comes a time when a day around here becomes “typical” I will want to do something else. We are a young, fast paced company – with lots of different initiatives. I have about 20 different hats I wear.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Most ideas are simply solutions in search of a problem. I think great ideas start with listening to the customer. If the customers are telling you something, even if not directly, you have to listen and provide a solution for them. Take the time to then run the solution by a handful of your customers. If it passes their smell test – then it is something that is worth pursuing.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Frugality. Once upon a time (think the 80’s), accumulation used to be looked upon favorably. The younger generation these days frowns on excess and is way more practical. Instead of accumulating a bunch of watches, we have seen a shift toward owning, enjoying, then selling. That bodes itself well for our service.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I think that many entrepreneurs are silos. I believe that plans often fail for lack of council. By engaging with really smart people, we have been able to grow much faster than we would have – and also have avoided some major pitfalls along the way.

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

In college I interned for a NYC venture capital firm. I will never forget my first day, hauling my boss’ furniture across Central Park. It didn’t take long to learn that I wasn’t hired for my brilliant brain, but rather my ability to perform manual labor. Each day, my main responsibility was to go down to Starbucks and fetch my boss’ favorite drink, which I still remember: a Venti soy tazo latte, with no foam. It was a good experience because it taught me humility.

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

A successful startup is all about focus. Early on, we were amazed at the opportunity for our service. There were so many different applications for it – and we pursued a lot of them. In retrospect, it would have been helpful to be more focused.

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

Get out of the office. Read, meet with people smarter than you, engage with other entrepreneurs. Your job as an entrepreneur isn’t to get caught in the weeds. You are tasked with steering the ship – so avoid the temptation to become a silo.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

The thing I am most proud of in our business is our culture. When we started C&C, we began first by defining our culture. Our culture is defined by a simple phrase: “We live for the line, not the dot”. Every one of our team members believes in this. What does it mean? Well – simply that we are all alive for a very short period of time (dot), but there are things we can do during our time that will outlast us and continue to positively affect others (the line). So we focus on those things, like treating our customers as human beings, not transactions – like our relationship with MAP International – how we treat each other at C&C – all of these kind of things will outlast all of us. Having a strong culture has allowed us to recruit incredible talent. If you are in a customer service business like us – you will live and die by the talent of your employees.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Early on with Crown & Caliber, we operated under the “if we build it, they will come” mentality. We built a great site, had an incredible team, and offered a awesome service. But all of that didn’t matter if people couldn’t find us. The element we were missing was PR/Marketing. We were confident that if people just knew about our service, the response would be massive. So we invested in PR/Marketing. Just as we thought – customers came a-comin’. I think many entrepreneurs are so involved in the product or service, they fail to pay attention to the delivery of the message. This was a big failure of mine. Fortunately, crisis averted.

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

The best idea I have heard recently was from an inventor. As he said: “One day, I was standing on the edge of my toilet hanging a clock, the porcelain was wet, I slipped, hit my head on the sink, and when I came to I had a revelation! A vision! A picture in my head! A picture of this! This is what makes time travel possible: the flux capacitor!”

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I had 5 concussions playing soccer in high school. Yes – that explains a lot.

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

PR, SEO and PPC – these are the three ingredients to success in the world of e-commerce. I think too many people watch The Social Network – and believe that anything online-based is easy. It just happens. For some reason the same principles that apply to brick and mortar don’t apply to online retail. That is simply not the case. You have to be seen (PR), you have to be found (SEO) and you have to advertise (PPC).

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

Every Good Endeavor, by Tim Keller. The reason I like this book is that it gives great perspective on the purpose of work. There are many polarized opinions on work. One end of the spectrum is that we should work as little as possible. The other end of the spectrum is that we should base our self-worth on our work and therefore work as much as we possibly can. I have found this book to be very important for me personally.

List three experts who have helped you as an entrepreneur who you think other entrepreneurs should follow.

1) Blue Ocean Strategy by Kim and Mauborgne: This is an awesome book every entrepreneur should read. In essence it encourages you to “Create not Compete.”

2) The E Myth by Gerber: A must read for any small business. This book discovers the reasons why most small businesses fail.

3) Hodinkee: No matter what industry you are in, you have to identify the thought leaders. In the watch industry Hodinkee is definitely the voice of the industry. Our entire team reads the Hodinkee blog on a daily basis.