October 14, 2020

Podcast: Ben Clymer on Building Media & Commerce at Hodinkee


Ben Clymer is founder and CEO of Hodinkee, a media and commerce company dedicated to the luxury watch market. What started as a personal blog thanks to a watch from his grandfather has turned into a highly respected business that can sell millions of dollars in watches in minutes.

In this episode, we went through the many different facets of the business, but a few things jumped out to me…

On dealing with a hyper conservative community

By and large, watch makers are incredibly conservative, with one watch maker telling Ben that the internet was for poor people. And for the most part, consumers can’t buy luxury watches online.

And yet, at Hodinkee, you can. He was able to convince them to do it because he went as high quality as possible with the images, video, etc. And then they partnered with people like Jay Z who is big in the watch world, which then got them coverage from major publications.

Ultimately, when running into enough barriers, he told the companies to let him put their money where their mouth is and buy product from the companies exclusively to sell online. And the rest is history…

On knowing when you need to add a team

Ben admits that one of his bigger mistakes was not relinquishing power sooner in the process. So much ran through him as the sole proprietor. But in 2015, he brought in people who had experience running a business.

In his opinion, there are two indicators to know when it’s time to add senior management. The first is if people are approaching you to invest. If that happens, in his mind, that means you’ve reached the point where you’re on people’s radar and have something worthwhile.

The second is when you reach a certain revenue target, you just need people to help support what’s going on.

On avoiding general pubs and going hyperspecialized

Hodinkee is an example of a linear commerce business, which is where you build a great audience through the media side and then develop products to sell to them. In Ben’s mind, no prospective operator should try to become the next GQ.

The future of business and media is hyperspecialized publications. If you want to learn about a specific topic, you don’t go to generalist publications. You go to the leading publication about that topic.

Even better, a strategic way to think about finding new niches is to look for forums. When he launched Hodinkee, there were a couple of really big watch forums, but they were all focused inward and talking to themselves. That’s your future audience.

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