A former teacher, Matt now specializes in R&D for ecommerce business owners and helps guide merchants in understanding the importance of this digital-first world.
Yeah, you read that title right.
Hailed by Forbes as “the world’s fastest growing watch brand,” MVMT - the brainchild of college dropouts Jake Kassan and Kramer LaPlante - is now on pace to close out 2017 with revenues topping $90 million.
Not bad at all - especially when you consider Kassan was $20,000 in debt around the time he and his partner came up with the idea for their now majorly successful ecommerce business.
Now, don’t misunderstand: both Kassan and LaPlante had previously experienced success in the world of entrepreneurship. LaPlante founded and grew Articulate Wallets along with another college buddy, while Kassan began his entrepreneurial venture selling novelty t-shirts to teens and college-age kids.
But, at least in Kassan’s case, a number of setbacks led to an inability to scale his businesses past a certain point - and to his less-than-triumphant return to the “real world” of college and a job as a valet, working to pay off what now seems like a trivial amount of debt.
Of course, this story has a happy ending.
Had Kassan never returned to college, he would have never met LaPlante, and their “MVMT” (pronounced “Movement”) would never have been born.
But, here we are. Less than five years after the two partnered up in June of 2013, MVMT has:
- Sold over 1.5 million watches, sunglasses, and other similar products
- Generated well over $100m in total revenue
- Earned Shopify’s Build-a-Business award in the category of Jewelry and Crafts
Oh...and did we mention Kassan and LaPlante did all this with absolutely zero funding from angel investors or venture capitalists?
While MVMT’s success story might seem like an absolute stroke of luck, the truth is Kassan and LaPlante have all but guaranteed their successes from the very beginnings of their company.
In this article, we’re going to dive into the strategies Kassan and LaPlante used to turn the astounding growth their company has experienced from a dream into a reality.
But before we dig into the specific strategies the team used, we need to discuss the single, non-negotiable prerequisite all massively successful startups have in common.
Disrupting the Current Market
It’s no secret that most - if not all - markets are saturated with dozens of companies offering products or services that are virtually indistinguishable from one another.
In these industries, doing the same thing everyone else is doing and hoping to strike it rich is like launching a Hail Mary from the line of scrimmage every play of the game: it might work every once in a while, but it’ll more than likely lead to failure. Not only that, but when things do work out, you’ll have little to no idea why they did - and you won’t be able to capitalize on your successes in the future.
But, this doesn’t mean you need to completely reinvent the wheel when founding a new company. You just need to pinpoint the one thing you can do better than anyone else in your industry, and make the value of this unique selling proposition clear as day to your market.
In MVMT’s case, Kassan and LaPlante saw that they could offer high-quality, “chic” watches for a fraction of the price that most luxury brands do by selling directly to consumers rather than selling through (and spending money on) retailers.
“We wanted to be able to purchase affordable watches that appealed to a modern generation, but there was just nothing that was in our price range. It was either too cheap and not very appealing looking, or it was way too expensive and we just didn’t want to pay that much. We molded the two and took the best aspects of everything to combine it into one successful campaign.” - Kramer LaPlante
While you’d be lucky to find a “luxury” watch for less than $300, the most expensive watch currently offered on MVMT’s website will only set you back a mere $160.
Same materials; similar style; half the cost. Seems like a no-brainer for most consumers, right?
While Kassan and LaPlante had figured out the best way to inject themselves into the industry and disrupt the market, they quickly realized that a large percentage of their target consumer base was rather skeptical of a brand new, online-only company offering products for, at most, half the price they were used to paying.
So, they were faced with a new challenge:
Gaining the trust of the people they had had in mind throughout the creation of their business.
Rather than see this challenge as a roadblock, though, Kassan and LaPlante saw it as a pathway to success. In focusing on building a trusting relationship between their company and their customers, a movement - in a figurative and literal sense - was born.
The Four Essential Strategies MVMT Used to Gain Traction and Explode Their Following
While a lot certainly goes into growing a startup from scratch into a company generating $90m in revenue in a single year, it all boils down to a few main tenets:
- Generating a buzz within an industry
- Building trust within a consumer base
- Being present and active on the right channels
Here, we’ll dive deep into how Kassan and LaPlante embraced these tenets and implemented them throughout their business processes.
Let’s start at the very beginning.
A Beginning Based in Crowdfunding
We mentioned earlier that MVMT never once had to rely on angel investors or venture capitalists for funding.
But we also said that - at least in Kassan’s case - MVMT’s founders weren’t exactly flush with cash when they were just getting the ball rolling, either.
Rather than going even deeper in debt, or hoping for a windfall from a well-off donor willing to take a chance on two relatively unknown college students, Kassan and LaPlante took a different route:
They looked to the people who would eventually become their biggest fans.
Now, it’s worth mentioning here that LaPlante had previously utilized crowdfunding techniques to successfully generate funding for Articulate Wallets (to the tune of $100,000 from 3,000 backers).
So the team wasn’t going in blind.
They were, however, blindsided when their pitch was rejected from Kickstarter not once, but twice.
Even worse, they weren’t exactly given a reason for the rejection, either. According to LaPlante himself, “Kickstarter is very vague with that sort of stuff...they basically said…’It does not meet our guidelines.’”
Rather than throwing in the towel or heading down a different avenue in search of funding, Kassan and LaPlante decided to check out another popular crowdfunding service: Indiegogo.
And they’re surely glad they did.
Within 20 days of launching their campaign, Kassan and LaPlante reached their initial goal of raising $15,000. Within 50 days, they had raised an incredible $300,000, becoming the second most-funded fashion brand on Indiegogo through 2013.
Despite not knowing exactly what went wrong with their initial Kickstarter campaign, the guys at MVMT knew their attempt at raising money via Indiegogo had to be ultra-strategic. Understanding this, they created an Indiegogo campaign that included:
- Information regarding MVMT’s mission and branding
- An accompanying video solidifying this message and asking the community to join the “MVMT”
- Descriptions of the products initially being offered, along with specs and quality assurance
- Warranty and satisfaction guarantees
- Call-to-action buttons for making pledges and placing orders
Again, as you can see in the screenshot above, their efforts clearly paid off. Not only did MVMT raise 1400% more than initially anticipated, but the average contribution per person ended up being a little over $75 - not bad, considering the product had yet to be officially released at the time!
When asked by Yotpo for some specific tips on how to implement a successful crowdfunding campaign, the guys at MVMT had three pieces of advice:
First, look to your immediate network to get the ball rolling. The whole “if you build it, they will come” thing doesn’t work, and you probably aren’t going to appeal to people who have never heard of you right from the get-go. Start by reaching out to your friends and family, and asking them to spread the word.
Secondly, set a relatively low stretch goal for your initial round of fundraising. When complete strangers (as opposed to those in your network) see that others are backing you to the point of almost reaching your goal, they’ll be more likely to trust you with their money.
(Additionally, reaching your initial goal rather quickly can be a huge shot in the arm for your confidence, as well.)
Lastly, when creating your crowdfunding campaign: Know your platform and your audience. As mentioned, MVMT was denied twice from Kickstarter for rather unclear reasons, but found massive success on Indiegogo. It wasn’t that Kassan and LaPlante’s idea was awful - it’s that they may have been trying to reach the wrong audience through their initial crowdfunding attempts.
One thing worth mentioning, as we move into the next section, is the fact that crowdfunding is also an incredible way to build social proof among your target customer base - a tactic which has been instrumental in MVMT’s explosive growth over the past four years.
Leveraging Social Proof
As we look at the role social proof played in MVMT’s ability to gain a massive following, we need to discuss why leveraging this proof wasn’t just a “smart” move for the team - it was an absolutely essential step in the process.
As we said earlier, Kassan and LaPlante faced a major challenge once they agreed to found a company based on selling watches:
Getting their target customers to understand that a lower price does not mean a cheaper product.
In addition to this challenge, the team also had to contend with the fact that they were attempting to infiltrate an industry dominated by giants such as Rolex, Citizen, and Timex. While the items sold by these brands generally fall on the expensive side (especially for college graduates and twenty-somethings), the trade-off is in the fact that these companies are well-established and trustworthy - something that Kassan and LaPlante had yet to prove about MVMT.
Lastly, these factors were compounded by the fact that MVMT began solely as an ecommerce business. As we’ve talked about before, one of the main challenges of running an ecommerce business lies in getting customers to make a purchase without ever physically interacting with the object they’re purchasing. When it comes to watches and other wearable accessories, this issue is exacerbated by the fact that customers aren’t able to try the product on before they make a purchase - and might not be willing to even consider doing so.
And, of course, no amount of guarantees made by a newbie company can truly alleviate a first-time customer’s worries that they’re being scammed (it’s not exactly unheard of on the internet, right?).
Knowing all this, Kassan and LaPlante knew they had to figure out a way to get prospective customers to trust that their products are of high quality, and that their word is bond.
So, they looked to the people who had already experienced the amazing things MVMT has to offer: their current customers.
Let’s look at some of the ways MVMT used the positive feedback they received from their initial customers as leverage to build trust among an even larger customer base.
User Reviews and User-Generated Content
It’s no secret that most modern consumers consult product reviews written by fellow customers when deciding whether or not to make a purchase.
The team at MVMT clearly knows this, too.
Case in point: they solicit reviews whenever an individual purchases one of their products - and they make sure to showcase on their website the most glowing pieces of feedback they receive from their satisfied customers. With the help of Yotpo, MVMT has generated over 5,000 5-star reviews from their happy customers.
But this is just one form of user-generated content that MVMT utilizes to showcase social proof regarding their products.
Along with soliciting product reviews from their customers, the team at MVMT also enlists their fans’ help in a more innovative manner: growing their knowledge database.
Again partnering with Yotpo, MVMT asks their most loyal customers for help in answering pressing questions asked by potential first-time buyers. This twist on an FAQ page not only ensures that customers get their questions answered quickly, but it also allows for exponential growth in terms of the amount and diversity of questions being answered, as well.
As we alluded to earlier, if these questions were to be answered by MVMT’s team, they’d generally be met with eyerolls (“Of course they’d say the visibility is top-notch...they’re the ones selling it!”).
But, when these questions are answered by individuals deemed “verified buyers” - people who have nothing to gain or lose by answering the question - the person asking the question is much more likely to trust the answer they receive.
MVMT’s Referral Program
Though not exactly anything out of the ordinary, MVMT also offers a refer-a-friend program that benefits the individual making the referral and the new customer being referred to the brand.
Essentially, for each new customer a brand evangelist generates, the evangelist receives $15 store credit toward a future purchase from MVMT. Additionally, the new customer will also receive a $15 credit toward their first purchase, as well.
While rather straightforward and status quo as far as referral programs go, it does add to the company’s “Join the MVMT” tagline - which we’ll discuss in the next section.
Clearly, the people at MVMT truly understand just how valuable their customers are to the success of their brand.
Kassan echoes this sentiment:
“Getting people truly involved with your brand is the most valuable thing you can do. You don’t just want customers, you want supporters, members and advocates; people who feel like they are a part of something and will stick with you and spread the word.”
Marketing via Social Media and Influencers
When it comes to building brand awareness for a startup, there may be no better modern tool than social media.
Again, Kassan and LaPlante have been on top of this since Day One.
In utilizing social media, MVMT has been able to use both influencer marketing and word of mouth in order to spread the word about their products.
Let’s take a deeper look at each strategy.
For the uninitiated, influencer marketing is the process of partnering with individuals and companies with enormous social media followings, enabling your own company to gain visibility among their audience members.
To jumpstart their influencer marketing campaigns, MVMT partnered with marketing agency Mediakix, who helped get the company’s products in front of over three million pairs of eyes within a single week - on Instagram alone.
(Source / Caption: Liza Herlands has over 38,000 followers alone.)
The process went like this:
- MVMT partnered with 62 influencers, who had an average of 47,000 followers each
- With those 62 influencers, MVMT created a total of 73 sponsored Instagram posts
- Potentially, around three million or more Instagram users were exposed to MVMT’s sponsored posts
After one week, the total engagement metrics were as follows:
- 6% engagement rate across the board
- 100,000 likes
- 2,800 comments
For the sake of argument, even if we assume that multiple “likes” came from a single individual, it’s safe to say that the “MVMT” saw incredible growth in numbers due to this influencer campaign.
As far as strategies go regarding influencer marketing, the MVMT team suggests the following:
- Work with both macro- and micro-influencers. On the one hand, macro-influencers can expose hundreds of thousands of individuals to your brand with a single post; on the other, “niched down” micro-influencers can get your brand in front of individuals who have a high probability of immediately becoming paying customers.
- Repost and share influencers’ posts featuring your products on your own social media pages, as well. This can allow you to engage with followers in the comments section on your “home base” rather than on just on your influencers’ pages.
- Use discount codes that relate to specific influencers (e.g., “lizaherlands15” in the example above). This will enable you to see which of your influencers are most effective at driving paying customers to your online store.
Social Media and Word-of-Mouth
Earlier, we discussed how MVMT leverages user-generated content on their own website. But they’ve also gotten a ton of value out of user-generated content that’s housed elsewhere on the web.
As we talked about in our post on using Instagram to grow your ecommerce business, many social media users will often use these platforms to share either their own content featuring a company’s products, or content created by the company itself. In turn, this creates additional visibility for the brand that would not have occurred had they simply used their own platform.
It’s for this reason, Kassan and LaPlante explain, that they “used as much social media as (they) could” when just starting to get the word out about MVMT.
In addition to the main social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter), MVMT also found incredible value through Tumblr.
Again, the team explains: “Tumblr has had the biggest impact. If you can get a few pictures on some big tumblrs, its spreads like crazy and can reach thousands of people.”
MVMT has also used Pinterest to spread word-of-mouth and gain visibility, as well. According to a case study conducted by Pinterest for Business, MVMT saw a general increase in average order value, a 20% increase in sales numbers, and a 100% increase in their conversion rates.
Much like the advice given regarding crowdsourcing, Kassan and LaPlante’s overall advice for social media is to know what’s expected on each platform as far as content and offers, and to know the audience you’ll be interacting with on each. In doing so, you’ll be able to tap into exactly what your followers on each platform are looking for, and be able to get it to them each time they log on.
Reaching Out With Email Marketing
No matter what you may have heard or assumed, email marketing is far from dead.
If you need more proof, just check out the results of MVMT’s partnership with marketing agency Email Aptitude:
- 27% increase in revenue
- 11% increase in conversion rates
- 67% year-over-year increase in revenue during the holiday season
Throughout these campaigns, MVMT’s email marketing strategy boiled down to three things:
Working with Email Aptitude, MVMT quickly realized their outreach campaigns would need to be consistent in terms of both the message being communicated, and the timing of the delivery of this message.
They began by creating an editorial calendar highlighting the purpose of sending an individual email (or collection of emails), and defining when the emails would be sent. This required MVMT to consider their customer segments to determine what message would resonate best with a certain group, as well as when this group would be most likely to engage with the email in question.
In creating a central purpose for each of their email campaigns, MVMT was able to come up with more targeted and focused calls to action, as well. In turn, these changes led to a 55% increase in email conversion rates as compared to that of the previous three months.
Along with timing in the more general sense, MVMT also utilized email to capitalize on the 2015 holiday season - to great success.
Beginning with an email announcing a flash sale the weekend before Black Friday and Cyber Monday, MVMT ensured those on their mailing list would know of every deal, discount, and offer the company was providing throughout the holiday season.
Delivering such targeted, opportunistic offers clearly worked out for MVMT, as the company saw a 192% increase in revenue over Black Friday weekend alone.
Personalization and Individualization
Going along with what we’ve already said about MVMT’s focus on sending the right message to the right person at the right time, the company began tailoring their email messages based on the recipient’s level of engagement with the brand:
- New signups were sent a drip campaign explaining MVMT’s mission and promoting current deals and offers
- Current customers were sent messages announcing new and upcoming products, complete with demonstration videos, countdown timers, and pre-order calls to action
- Non-customers who had subscribed to MVMT’s mailing list were sent messages full of social proof, such as customer reviews and product ratings
Across the board, MVMT saw a general increase in open, clickthrough, and conversion rates upon implementing these personalized messages into their email marketing plan.
The story of MVMT’s success, to be sure, is incredibly inspiring.
But it’s not just inspiring in that Kassan and LaPlante “finally” hit it big after a number of ho-hum, semi-successful business ventures.
It’s inspiring because anyone reading this can attain the same level of success MVMT’s founders have attained - and more - by following the team’s strategic plan.
In Kassan and LaPlante’s case, what started as a shared vision between two college kids has now become a movement.
What will your vision become?