In just five days, and with a single email, Curtis Chavoustie raised more than $20,000. It helped launch his dream of designing luxury time pieces.
“The subject line might as well have been one of the biggest things I’ve ever worried about,” said Chavoustie, a 23-year-old Spanish student at the University of Florida, referencing the Kickstarter campaign he emailed to members of the UF student body on Sept. 2.
Brandon Parr was wrestling with fear as well.
“How much bigger of a network could we get besides the UF student body?” asked Parr, a biology student at UF, and Chavoustie’s lifelong best friend since the first grade.
The two moved to Gainesville in 2013 to pursue medical school. But that all changed with Chavoustie approached Parr with an intriguing concept.
“I grew up specifically loving watches,” Chavoustie said. “As I got into college, I realized what I was looking for was very specific and it didn’t really exist.”
Watch brands like Daniel Wellington are beautiful, but poorly made and too expensive, Chavoustie said. It struck him that he might not be the only one who thought that way.
He immediately consulted his lifelong confidant, Parr.
“He’s [Parr] the type to tell me when my ideas are wrong or impossible, but he looked me in the eye seriously and told me he was in,” Chavoustie said.
In January 2014, knowing personal laptops couldn’t bring their vision to life, Parr and Chavoustie slipped into the design labs at the School of Architecture on campus.
“We hopped onto one of those iMacs and within three hours, we had a very rough design, but it was our starting point,” Parr said.
During the initial design and weeks spent tweaking their model product, the two considered who would wear their personal interpretation of a modern, sleek timepiece.
“The only thing we had in mind was simplicity, simplicity, simplicity — keep it minimalist, clean, versatile, durable and affordable,” Chavoustie said. “We were keen on having a product that lasted. Anyone can make a pretty watch, but they don’t make it for the consumer.”
Chavoustie and Parr cite Patek Philippe, Cartier, Rolex and Vacheron Constantin as inspirations for their line. The product design also calls on the duo’s upbringing in the “nicer” area of Miami, he said.
“We grew up in a very affluent area of Miami where kids were wearing watches like those to school, and yet we couldn’t afford them,” he confessed. “It’s basically the premise of our entire company; it’s focused on the aesthetics of Swiss-made watches, but made affordable.”
In summer 2014, before the pair sent off their designs overseas to manufacture model units, Chavoustie and Parr had to finalize the brand image they worked so hard to create.
“We typed up every idea for the name of the brand on the model watch itself,” Chavoustie said, adding the name had to reflect the brand’s image of simplicity and minimalism.
“But when Curt typed ‘Parr & Co.’ on our watch design, we looked at each other and just knew,” Parr added.
There were many times when the team thought they would throw in the towel. Support didn’t come easy, including from those they counted on most.
“Our parents had seen us working on this thing so much initially, but they wanted us to forget about it,” Parr revealed, expanding on the difficulties he and Chavoustie faced at first. “Curt was getting into real estate and I was well on my way towards medical school. We really couldn’t go to them at first for help.”
Chavoustie hasn’t forgotten the first time when his parents gave his dream some credit.
“I remember sitting at the dinner table, telling my Dad that we were waiting on samples,” he recounted, adding that his father, a doctor in the Miami area, was steadfastly traditional and already experienced in the business field. “He looked at me and said, ‘Curt, you know those samples are never going to come, right?’ My sister started chuckling and I didn’t know what to say.”
Things changed, however, when Parr & Co. launched their promotional commercial for their website and took on some investors in late 2014.
“After he saw our commercial, though, he was asking how he could get involved,” Chavoustie shared, adding that his father enjoyed the video which showed off model pieces as well as introduced viewers to the brand itself. “They know that we have something to fall back on now, which is the best feeling. They’ve been super supportive since the launch.”
But Chavoustie and Parr also admit they ran into tension as the two friends mixed business with personal lives.
“When it’s a 50-50 partnership, and you’re doing it with your best friend, someone you love that much, it becomes sticky,” Chavoustie said. “It tested our friendship for sure, but at the end of the day we beat it.”
While the two will always test their friendship as co-owners, Parr believes that they have figured out the way to make sure business doesn’t become personal.
“We have this thing where everything we do must be two out of two – it’s not just up to one person’s vote. It’s two votes,” he said.
When it came time to fundraise for the launch of Parr & Co., the two quickly agreed taking on various private investors wasn’t the way to go.
“I saw that Kickstarter, in the past few years, has been a great tool for fashion designers and people who want to creatively make something,” Chavoustie said, enthusiastic about avoiding loans and private investors so early in the game. “It’s the best way to get funded and raise inventory. No one’s going to raise $20,000 by asking someone, not if they don’t have a platform.”
It wasn’t only the Kickstarter page that allowed the business to take off.
“People knew how long we were working on this, and after a while it kind of just became smoke in the mirror,” Chavoustie said. “The day that we announced the launch, everyone was like ‘no way.’ We relied on all of our friends to share the message.”
The message did spread when over 50,000 students and faculty opened their inbox to the well-designed Kickstart invitation almost two weeks ago.
Chavoustie shared a story of a former professor congratulating him about the fundraising campaign, telling him to “get out of here” so he could run the company fully — without Chavoustie knowing he had seen the email to begin with.
In spite of the pair’s graduation in December, Chavoustie and Parr have taken that advice to heart and are looking forward to taking their dream to the next level.
“For me, medical school is dropped. I’m all in,” he said. “This is all I have now.”
The two have long-term plans that brings them to the opening of their e-commerce site backed by a fully operational fulfillment center.
“We want to be direct to the consumer,” Parr said, defending the decision to remain in the online marketplace. “We want to be the one to do the customer service and that’s how we feel comfortable.”
They plan to debut a new line of five to eight models featuring automatic movement — a line that Chavoustie is already working on and plan to release in December along with the launch.
“If you’re thinking of doing something, do it now,” he said, sharing advice for his peers at UF and those at colleges nationwide. “For anyone who’s inspired and in college, set yourself up now: it will be harder to do so when you leave.”
While it’s clear that the “battle is far from over,” Parr looks forward to his future — wherever it may take him.
“We have dreams for building on this company up our sleeves,” he said. “I see us creating different lines of timepieces under our brand as we go. But only time will tell.”