How did two law students turn a Carousell hobby into a watch dealership?
After getting a taste of business by trading high-end timepieces on Carousell, brothers Jarod and Joses Ng knew that entrepreneurship was their true calling and dove head first before they had even graduated from law school.
Two young men with a passion for something get a generous infusion of money from deep-pocketed parents to start a business around that something. It’s a tale as old as capitalist times, and not one that will appeal to those who had to build their empires with nothing but S$50 in the bank and a truckload of tenacity.
But it’s just a little different in the case of brothers Jarod and Joses Ng, whose hobby of trading luxury timepieces on Carousell turned into a successful watch dealership, Watch Capital, in just a matter of months. Their passion trumps their privilege, resulting in a dynamic duo you can’t help but want to root for.
An idle search for Rolex watches on Carousell four years ago led Jarod down a rabbit hole of buying and selling luxury watches through the platform for extra pocket money. Eager to try his hand at trading more valuable pieces, he roped in his younger brother so they could pool all their savings – about S$50,000 combined – to pursue this “hobby”.
Their father, a private investor and himself an avid watch collector, was happy to leave his sons to their own devices as long as they were making profits and on track to finish their law education from Durham University in England. But it wasn’t long before the brothers, now aged 24 and 22, knew they needed a tad more than the occasional loan from dad.
“We wanted to expand into a physical retail space because we were starting to trade watches that cost S$10,000 to S$20,000, and doing that in our condominium car park was quite shady, especially when trust and credibility are so important for this business,” said Joses.
“Our parents invested about S$1.5 million in our business, and we’re very lucky to have their trust,” Jarod added. “If I had taken the money to buy a nice car, my dad would have flipped.”
Today, the bright-eyed and Brioni-suited pair enthusiastically welcome patrons into their cosy showroom at 111 Somerset, which they opened in February 2021. But you would be wrong in thinking they didn’t have to hustle to get to where they are now.
“COVID-19 turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it allowed us to come back to Singapore to study remotely, but it also became a really hectic time,” recalled Jarod. “We were sleeping at 4am or 5am every night and had to be up by 10am to get everything set up for clients because we didn’t have any retail assistants then. By the time we were done with inventory and paperwork at the end of the day, we still needed three to four hours for study.”
“We believe in entertaining everyone that walks in and maintaining a non-elitist, non-judgmental approach. It is important for entrepreneurs to listen to their clients because they are the ones keeping us alive.” – Joses Ng
A business’ early days are always a grind, but Joses said it was never about delayed gratification and the promise of wealth at the end of the road. “We find more thrill in closing deals. The more money we earn, the more deals we can close, and we get more excitement out of that than just in buying stuff.”
“We poured every single dollar we had into this company, so we are literally both broke now,” quipped Jarod. “There are people out there who would invest in a business so they can take money out of it and buy nice things for themselves, but if I were given S$500,000 right now I’ll throw it all into the business.”
Their zeal is almost palpable. With speech that is almost incomprehensibly rapid, smiles gleaming like the rose gold Patek Philippe annual calendars on their wrists, and eyes coming alive with something you never see in the average nine-to-fiver, this wasn’t (just) the energy that comes with youth, but the hunger that emerges with enterprise.
Jarod was quick to point out that “some people have been put off by our age. We have gone into stores asking for four pieces of a certain watch and they’ll give us that, ‘are you serious?’ look.” But their sunny dispositions and perseverance have slowly won over their fair share of dealers, though they admit that their father’s previous patronage did help.
Clients too, have been steadily streaming in despite the bleak retail landscape and the two have lamented not having a bigger showroom when they see customers having to line up outside due to current safe distancing restrictions. “I think the reason people keep coming back is because our prices are relatively fair. Our margins are not that big,” offered Jarod. “I always tell our clients that everything in here is negotiable. Don’t be afraid to throw me a price. If I can work within it, I’ll give it to them for sure.”
Joses agreed: “We never take it in a bad way even if they lowball us. At least there’s an offer on the table – that’s how we see it. We believe in entertaining everyone that walks in and maintaining a non-elitist, non-judgmental approach. It is important for entrepreneurs to listen to their clients because they are the ones keeping us alive. So we are always telling our assistants to get to know our clients, talk to them, find out what they like and what they’re interested in.”
Growing up close as siblings affords them a fairly easy working relationship, and the two rarely disagree on anything for long. “The good thing is we don’t have inflated egos,” laughed Jarod. “I’m the one with the vision, where I’ll tell everyone I want our holding company to be worth S$1 billion in 10 years and I will push everyone to reach our goals.” Joses chimed in: “I’m more focused on the short-term, and I want us to open our head office and two more showrooms by next year.”
They might want to advance the business at different speeds, but the end goal is still the same: To get Watch Capital up and running and on auto-pilot so they can eventually expand into other businesses, such as real estate and medicine. And time, noted Joses, is on their side. “We can afford to take risks now.”
Jarod concurred: “I’m much less of a risk-taker, but I have told Joses that if this fails, we can always start again. I will work at McDonald’s if that’s what it takes to start over.”
“There are people out there who would invest in a business so they can take money out of it and buy nice things for themselves, but if I were given S$500,000 right now I’ll throw it all into the business.” – Jarod Ng