Posted on September 19 2018
By Wes O’Donnell
Managing Editor, InMilitary.com and InCyberDefense.com. Veteran, U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of interviews with veteran entrepreneurs, military spouse entrepreneurs, andbusinesses that engage with the military community. Stay tuned for more in our In Military Entrepreneurship Series
I can tell you precisely when it happened – the day that I fell in love with high-quality, precision watches. In the summer of 1997, I was serving my first tour as an infantryman in the U.S. Army and watching the military thriller “Broken Arrow,” starring John Travolta and Christian Slater. Travolta, playing an Air Force bomber pilot gone rogue, was such a cool and likable villain that his performance threatened to derail the entire plot.
After all, why cheer for the good guy when Travolta’s character, Major Vic “Deak” Deakins, was so magnetic and deliciously evil?
During the course of the film, Travolta’s watch caught my eye. In this case, it was a Breitling Aerospace that retails upwards of $2,000 today. Multiple times during the film, I paused the VHS tape to get a closer look.
Later in my 10-year military career, I would come to value the utility of a well-built watch. My love affair with this functional fashion accessory continues to this day. I would ultimately make the jump and buy Deakins’ Breitling watch for myself arguing that maybe someday I too could be as cool as John Travolta.
Beyond utility, watches are a fashion statement. Even now, I believe that wearing clean jeans, a nice blazer, and a solid watch can get a man into any event.
Given my borderline obsession with well-built watches, it was pure serendipity that I stumbled upon George Fox, entrepreneur, watchmaker and designer with a purpose to his passion. I recently sat down with George to discuss entrepreneurship and why it’s important at the end of the day to have a purpose beyond just dollar signs.
Wes: George, thanks so much for your time and helping us kick off our entrepreneurship series here at In Military. First of all, I love your product. I’m a watch guy. I don’t spend money on myself frequently, but I do spend more money than I should buying nice sports coats and nice watches. I suppose there are worse things to spend money on. So, I have to ask…why watches?
George: Thanks for having me, Wes. You know, it wasn’t a career decision to go into the watch business. I spent time as a professional windsurfer, then I designed steel and glass furniture. It was a total fluke getting a job at Timex.
It was during my 10 years with them that I really learned the watch business. I was traveling all over the world, researching trends and building my network. At one point, I felt that I was good enough at my job to make watches myself and felt that I could be very profitable at it.
Ultimately, it came down to one question: What if I could make a really nice watch that was well-built and attractive, where design and engineering would be paramount and I would not have to worry about price? The answer to that question was my watch company, NFW Watches.
Wes: You’re clearly passionate. How do you find people to bring into your organization that truly care about the organization the way you do?
George: You know, we’re a small organization. But ultimately, you don’t have to know anything about watches. The most important things are a passion for what you do and the ability to learn. I’ll take a teachable yet passionate newcomer over a lazy watch expert any day.
Wes: I think a lot of our veteran entrepreneurs who are just starting out have one big question that they are constantly trying to answer: How do you build a successful customer base?
George: Social media has made it so easy these days to get a message in front of a very select audience, although Facebook lately is more “pay-to-play.” I think Instagram has worked great for us.
You know, if you have a great product, try partnering with a charity. I can’t stress enough the importance of doing good while making a profit. The idea of social capitalism – doing good for the world while still making money – is a great philosophy.
Wes: I’m reading a fascinating book right now called “Get Lucky: How to put planned serendipity to work for your business.” In other words, there are certain things you can do for your business that will increase the chances of something lucky happening that would result in a positive business outcome. How much did luck play a part in NFW’s success?
George: I’m not sure if luck is the right word, although that’s certainly the word many people would use. For me, it’s more about the notion that if you do good work, then more good will come to you.
For example, because of all the work we do raising money for veteran organizations, we were recently chosen as the watch company to build watches for the Medal of Honor recipients. That is something I’m very excited about doing!
Wes: What book are you reading right now?
George: I’m currently reading some fiction about a dog called “A Dog’s Way Home,” as well as a book about the nature of our spiritual journey called “The Instruction.”
Wes: Let’s switch gears and talk about your products. I saw your Munich line of watches and I fell in love. What type of custom work have you done in the past?
George: We have done quite a bit of custom work for select organizations. For instance, we made a custom line of watches for Reebok, for all the professional athletes that they sponsor. We also made custom watches for the Super Bowl, which went to players and coaches.
In addition, we make custom watches for all NFL referees as their on-field timing devices. We also make watches to raise funds for a variety of veteran support organizations, as well as for private companies.
Wes: I think that not only are the watches attractive and well built but in some cases, buying a watch at NFW supports a great cause. Can you tell me about some of veteran support organizations that you partner with?
George: This is why I say that NFW is “purpose-driven.” Back in 2011, I was approached by the 7th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They asked us to create a custom watch for them with their insignia engraved on the face.
That gave me the idea to offer these watches to the public as a way to raise funds for the Special Forces Association. This first collaboration between the military and a small business was the start of a series of charity watches that celebrate Operation Enduring Warrior, the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation, Honor Flight and first responders. Fifty dollars from each sale goes to the charities and nonprofits that support veterans.
I knew we were doing something special when Taya Kyle, Chris Kyle’s widow, said: “It’s great that the watches raise money for CKFF. But the best thing these watches do is every time someone wears one, sees one or comments on one, it helps keep Chris’s spirit alive.”
Wes: Circling back around to entrepreneurship, what advice would you give to college students or transitioning servicemembers who want to become entrepreneurs?
George: Keep that momentum from the military and don’t quit. In business, every day is a battle.
How many entrepreneurs gave it a shot and then quit? That next phone call could have been the customer that changed everything for your business.
I also believe in the law of attraction. Good attracts good, and that’s why it is so important to be purpose-driven in everything you do…especially in business.
Wes: George, thanks so much for your time, and everything you do for military and veteran organizations.