At just 29 years old, Jordy Cobelens, CEO of the rapidly exploding watch company TW Steel, represents a young entrepreneur’s dream come true. With the sleek conversation-evoking look and the majority of the pieces under $1000, TW Steel is the growing trend among young professionals around the world. The Dutch watches are known for their over-sized frame and chronographs with unmatched sturdy designs and technology.
The watch industry is nothing new for Jordy, who has been in the business since he was 15 years-old thanks to his father Ton’s involvement in the industry. Ton became a Raymond Weil & Maurice la Croix distributor for the Benelux region in 1980, the same time that he started designing private label watches for airlines like KLM & Martinair. He went on to design and market a small Swiss-made watch that became popular in Holland and throughout Europe. In 2005, TW Steel was founded with Jordy as the CEO. In 2005, the father/son team launched with four watches called TW 1, 2, 3, and 4.
The sleek watches were well-received in Holland and TW Steel quickly expanded it’s product line to include more models, produced a catalogue and started mass distribution. Once the word got out, the watch sales and interest exploded. TW Steel now has an assortment of influential brand ambassadors including F1 drivers Dario Franchitti and David Coulthard. TW Steel also sponsors the 2010 Lotus F1 team and has created several F1 special editions with Lotus F1 branding.
Jordy Cobelen was cool and composed in a crisp blazer and jeans at an exclusive suite at the Thompson Hotel in Toronto, when he sat down with Notable.ca’s own founder, Julian Brass. The globetrotting entrepreneur admits his home is “30,000 feet in the air” and spends most of his time commuting between native Amsterdam and New York City. He offered insight about the rapid evolution of the company and some seasoned advice for other young professionals.
Starting off, Jordy admitted that the biggest challenge for the young company was dealing with different distributors that were apprehensive about the new product. An essential element to counteract this was building the team with the right people. Of course, until this was put into place, Jordy admits he “faked it until he made it” until the team was handpicked and actually established to manage the flourishing brand.
Speaking a little about his background, Jordy addressed a common source of contention among young professionals, at least in their early career years: the great debate between dollars and stability and passion. In his early twenties, Jordy turned his hobby and passion for creating music into a profession as a popular DJ. When TW Steel began to gain momentum, he owned a record store and bought a studio, and had just gone online with the record store. The decision to put it all on hold and focus his energy on TW Steel was not an easy one but his full-time involvement was needed at TW Steel to manage the growing brand. Jordy reluctantly accepted the importance of making money at the expense of pursuing his passion for music. The money came quickly indeed, but he was smart with it and recognized importance of reinvesting revenue back into the company once sales started to climb.
From climbing, they quickly skyrocketed. The watches had become coveted items virtually overnight (Jordy attributes some of the momentum to the pre-existing database of watch industry professionals) and it was time to switch the focus from building sales to maintaining the brand. This meant a change in strategy and a change in distribution. The partnership with Formula 1 has had a huge effect on the prominence of the brand that has resulted in quick momentum. TW Steel is now moving heavily into the entertainment industry. Most recently, Kelly Rowland selected two watches to launch her upcoming line with TW Steel.
When TW Steel started to go through the roof, it was now easy for Jordy to get back into the music industry after the five-year gap. He has been able to re-visit his passion and re-launch the event company as Steel Entertainment that he was once so fervent about. The re-vamped company now does management for DJs, manages record labels and throws events. Steel Entertainment is a division of TW Steel and is responsible for many event-based marketing initiatives. It seems like a dream come true for young professionals caught between the art and business world. He is now able to run and staff the entertainment company while continuing to run TW Steel.
When asked about the difference between the early days of the company and now, Jordy admits that the long hours, work-filled weekend and demanding schedule are still the same, but his role had shifted from being a Jack of all trades (including intense physical labour) to one that's more business-oriented. At the beginning, Jordy spent days packing the product himself, carrying boxes and managing the shipping and handling. Today, it’s more email, phone and office time coupled with business dinners, intense travel and networking events.
TW Steel currently has offices in Amsterdam, New York City, Thailand and Hong Kong. For many young professionals, the challenge of running a local business is consuming enough, let along a global company. As Jordy points out, doing business in the United States or South America is different than doing it in Russia or Asia. He stresses the importance of easily adapting to local markets and business practices and addresses the on-going challenge and importance of clear communication among the different offices in an effort to maintain the brand. Having a global public relations team definitely helps, too, he says with a smile.
It makes sense to have Jordy as the face of the fresh company. After all, TW Steel has a youthful feel, unlike other somewhat pretentious watch companies that tend to market to a slightly older demographic. TW Steel is a family-owned company that grew rapidly in a short period of time; they are young, aggressive and moving fast with marketing initiatives reflect this. As a high-end brand in the retail market, TW Steel does more youth-focused marketing, including throwing events that most high-end brands wouldn’t do.
So, what is next for the young brand? They will continue to expand their line, producing quality and conversation-provoking pieces, and saturate further into the entertainment industry. Jordy has faith in the company generating awareness from the power of social media, including from Kelly Roland’s Twitter influence alone. The continued work with F1 shows no signs of slowing, and Jordy is as excited now about it since one of the proudest moments of his career when the deal was signed and the TW Steel sticker graced the car for the first time.