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Philipp Man on watches, entrepreneurship and leadership

Philipp Man says his venture CHRONEXT isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, or even the watch. Instead, the goal of the luxury watches online marketplace is to cater to a traditional but sophisticated clientele who revere the precision of a mechanical watch.

Close up of vintage pocket watch Showing Gears;time concept

Philipp Man (MPhil ISO 2013)

Philipp Man (MPhil ISO 2013)

Philipp, who studied the MPhil in Innovation, Strategy & Organisation at Cambridge Judge Business School, co-founded the venture few months before he joined the class in 2013 – and CHRONEXT has since raised $52 million in venture funding. It now has 160 employees in five offices – London, Munich, Cologne, Frankfurt and Zug, Switzerland – with hopes to soon expand to New York.

CHRONEXT sells new watches from about 200 brands worldwide, and also re-sells preowned watches from private customers. Prices on its website range from £530 for a Raymond Weil Toccata women’s watch with a stainless-steel case and bracelet, to £218,360 for a Chopard Imperiale women’s watch with a rose gold case, red rubies and baguette diamonds with an alligator leather strap.

While nearly 50 of the 31,000 watches available online are listed at more than £100,000, Philipp says that CHRONEXT offers competitive prices compared to other retailers because it doesn’t own the physical watches so there are no storage charges. All watches, new or pre-owned, have a 24-month warranty.

When asked about trends in luxury watches, Philipp says the sector is quite conservative and change-resistant, but there are few things he noticed about regional preferences. For example, people in the US tend to buy more watches with obvious precious metals, while in Europe steel is more popular, and customers from Russia prefer platinum.

“Also, it looks like vintage or vintage-looking watches are now gaining more traction. Brands like Tudor are currently popular as well as Zenith – brands that became ‘cool’ a few years ago.” Also in vogue these days is scratch-resistant gold for bracelets by swiss watchmaker Hublot.

Philipp says he has been obsessed with watches for a while now. “I know it’s irrational because no one actually needs a luxury watch that can be very expensive. But at the same time it’s fascinating and really interesting, why people spend money on luxury items.”

Before coming to study in Cambridge, Philipp was working in oil and gas trading, but was thinking of launching his own venture. At Cambridge Judge, his final dissertation was about luxury watches, where he looked at price dilution in the secondary consumer goods markets.

When asked what makes a successful entrepreneur Philipp said it is someone who’s persistent and crazy about what he or she is doing. “It’s important to be passionate and realistic at the same time – you need to be aggressive and defensive in one.” He says that entrepreneurs are faced with problems that need to be fixed 24/7, and sometimes small things can create a domino effect if not sorted. “But that’s what I like about it – the constant challenge.”

What makes a good leader? “It’s important to admit when you’re wrong and take responsibility for your team, because usually the wrongdoing comes from bad leadership or lack of the organisational culture,” he says. “In terms of staff motivation, people need to know they’re part of a bigger picture, no matter what job they do. It’s not about the ‘what I do, it’s about why I do it.’ Your team needs to understand the bigger vision they are part of.”

As leader of an online marketplace, Philipp can keep very close tabs on CHRONEXT sales. “We’ve just sold 11 luxury watches as we speak. Maybe that doesn’t sound a lot, but in luxury it is and it’s a crazy feeling watching it happening in front of my eyes.”