Starting And Growing A Jewelry Business To $4.6M/Year

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

I am Nikolay Piriankov, the Founder and CEO of Taylor & Hart. We are an award-winning, disruptive e-tailer of custom-designed, ethical engagement rings, wedding rings, and fine jewellery, that capture your story. Our online platform, processes, and brand democratises bespoke jewellery, allowing us to offer this service at scale. Taylor & Hart's vision is to reconnect customers with the original purpose of jewellery - a personalised product that tells a unique story.

We design one-of-a-kind pieces for our customers at a speed and price point that is unrivalled. At a time when 45% of all couples are getting engaged with a customised ring, we see this trend as the most relevant one for our industry.

As a tech company, we are able to offer this service globally, making custom-design accessible and affordable to more people than it was before. We offer a bespoke design service through specifically developed technology online and instore, a clicks and bricks business model. Today, we’re 28 strong with colleagues in London, Sofia, New York, and Mumbai, all embodying one of our core values, “teamwork makes the dream work”.

We also believe technology (and mobile in particular) is a great enabler of what we’re trying to do, of course, but the end goal is to offer a personalised, convenient, emotionally rewarding service that’s also . Using the internet as our smarter shop window is what makes that possible.

Our customers can choose to meet an expert in our London or New York showroomsto get advice, perfect their design, receive a 3D printed replica and touch and feel the product before buying. Alternatively, customers from around the world have bought through us by still receiving a highly personal service via email, phone and even Skype and WhatsApp consultations. While we are based out of London, Taylor & Hart already sells across Europe, the US and UK, but we’re definitely on our way to global expansion.

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starting-and-growing-a-jewelry-business-to-4-6m-year Bespoke lobster ring

Recently we closed a seed round of £1M. The London based Garage Soho, an early stage investor and brand builder also supported us in the last round.

starting-and-growing-a-jewelry-business-to-4-6m-year London showroom

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

It all started many years ago in South Africa where I grew up, originally born in Bulgaria though. At the age of 17, I got a job as a sales representative in a diamond store tailored for Chinese customers. That was the first time when I developed an interest for diamonds. After finishing high school, I headed to the U.K. to study digital marketing.

During this period, me and my high school friend David Sutton decided to start several websites and e-commerce businesses while studying at the University of Manchester​. Some teenage experiments and years later I reunited with David and we decided to start a real venture this time. That’s how the brand Rare Pink ( the first name of Taylor & Hart) was born in 2013.

Think whether or not you need an investment and when exactly to make an investment round. An investment makes you grow faster and potentially bigger than growing organically, but you need to think about what you are getting into.

We realised there was a gap in the market ** ** for the bespoke engagement rings and jewellery product category. Additionally, when I wanted to propose to my partner, I found traditional jewellers weren’t able to incorporate my ideas, but I didn’t feel comfortable using an online retailer either. The existing offerings were too standard and expensive. I was frustrated in my attempts to find ethically sourced engagement rings online. A lot of people I spoke to felt the same. The young people want to express themselves and their own unique love story through a piece of jewellery and play a part in the design process.

David’s background was in the wholesale diamond trade and he had built relationships throughout the supply chain, cutting out all of the middlemen and going straight to the polishing firms in India, while I had experience in e-commerce and digital marketing projects. Together, we thought we could merge our skills and experience to sell diamonds and diamond jewellery online. We completely underestimated how difficult it would be.

It was around this time that we were fortunate to have our first Rare Pink bespoke design customer. His name was Piers, and I knew him through friends at university. Piers reached out to ask if we’d be able to help him create a custom-designed engagement ring. So we said yes.

This was our first insight into the huge impact of a custom design experience and we realised that this was the new direction we wanted to follow. It had allowed Piers to tell he & Jenny’s story. We wanted to be part of it and we wanted to tell other couples’ stories too.

Fast forward a few months, the website was geared up to deal with bespoke engagement ring enquiries and we were crafting all kinds of wonderful rings! Sales were growing and we’d successfully raised investment from angel investors and through crowdfunding.

In 2016, we went through an extensive branding exercise where we re-branded to become Taylor & Hart. While attending the Techstars Boston accelerator the same year, we realized that if we were really going to make a go of it, we had to re-invent and revolutionise the Rare Pink brand and offering. With this brand evolution, we focussed on bringing jewellery back to its roots, emphasising the storytelling behind jewellery creation. We wanted to enable more people to have access to that by keeping the price point low and by making it fun and accessible.

Taylor & Hart was born to unite the best of both worlds – transparency, the ability to design your own ring, and a personal touch. During the journey, I found that I wanted the best of what online companies offered (better prices, privacy, convenience), while still being able to talk to someone, see products in person and get a custom design. So, we decided to start a hybrid business model that offers the best of both. The jewellery industry is ripe for disruption, and that is what we are hoping to do, to challenge the “very traditional” jewellery industry culture.

The new identity as Taylor & Hart led also to 30% sales increase.

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Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Piers’ girlfriend at the time, now wife, Jenny, was studying in the field of nanoscience and he wanted something that would be personal to their story, but representative of her (and her attention to detail at the ‘nano-level’).

We went through many ideas together and once he’d settled on a design, the next step was for us to make it into a reality.

I think one of the greatest journeys in developing a company is the personal transition you go through as entrepreneur within the company.

While we had some great contacts in the diamond space, we didn’t have a network surrounding ring design or manufacturing at the time. The jewellery industry is quite notorious for being closed and not very welcoming to newcomers.

The doors aren’t wide open for newcomers - you literally have to kick the doors down to get started. After much searching, we found some great manufacturers who brought Piers’ design to life.

The design had beautiful floral, vine patterns engraved on the side and the diamond was set into what we call a tension setting, so that most of it was visible from every angle.

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Piers proposed to Jenny in the Amazon rainforest and she said yes! Jenny came back to us, sharing that she was touched that Piers had spent the time and emotional energy coming up with this creative idea. It meant so much to her.

starting-and-growing-a-jewelry-business-to-4-6m-year Piers and Jenny

The thing is it took the team almost a year to deliver this complex piece. We knew that we had something as long as it didn't take 12 months to deliver each item. The key to that was improving the firm's design software (replica rings are 3D-printed for customers to view online or try on) and creating a website, which was financed through crowdfunding and venture capital, led by LAUNCHub Ventures.

Describe the process of launching the business.

At first, we started without any external investors. We continued the diamond trading business and used the profits from that to finance our new fledgling retail business.

The first funds were put towards a website with a development company, but barely touched the surface of what was needed in terms of the technology and systems required. During that time, we paid ourselves almost no salaries and didn’t know how quickly we’d be able to get to market and grow the business. The one thing that was certain was that we had a small window of opportunity to make this business a success.

One of the first marketing techniques used was to collaborate with bloggers to create content. We used guerrilla tactics to form relationships, making contact through phone calls and emails to the desired bloggers. The content created by those who took part linked back to the website and assisted in building SEO.

We decided to grow the team and included Shane Hunt as co-founder, and Emma Carter, our longest serving design consultant. Together, we moved from Manchester to London, closing a chapter on student life and beginning a new, entrepreneurial adventure.

starting-and-growing-a-jewelry-business-to-4-6m-year Nikolay and Shane

In October 2013, Rare Pink was launched. To the outside observer, it probably looked much like most other engagement ring websites. It had rings, it had diamonds, and you could add diamonds to rings and place your order.

As a Rare Pink brand, we weren’t honestly improving on existing offerings. We weren’t giving customers a reason to choose us over other companies. We weren’t really providing the amazing experience we had imagined. We had to change something.

It's not easy to keep getting up after every failure, but the thing is, as an entrepreneur, you either enjoy the rollercoaster and choose to stay on or you feel sick and get off. I'm personally loving the ride. The challenges are mostly around finding product-market fit, at first. Understanding what it is your customer wants exactly and who they are. It is important to "bootstrap" for as long as possible. This means not spending much money until you're confident you have a business model that can grow. You also have to change and adapt as you grow and learn, both personally and as a company.

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Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

We are known for our outstanding service and for trying to build a “jeweller for life” relationship. It is never crowded on the extra mile, this is why our customers feel that we try harder.

Only Taylor & Hart has a tech-enabled customer journey, sales process and the manufacturing capabilities to work with me, hand-in-hand, every step of the way, to create a high-quality personal piece of jewellery, at my price point, in my way.

Through empathy we listen first, seeking to understand before offering advice or guidance. The jewellery our customers buy and wear acts as a talisman, an anchor that helps them recall fondly the memories of the special moments in their lives. We also believe that expertly crafted custom jewellery that symbolises your style and story should be accessible to everyone who wants to declare their love. Everything we do is to guided by this belief.

The mixture of tech innovations and personal service allows us also to provide best of online and best of retail. You get the convenience & value of online shopping, with the touch-and-feel of buying in-store thanks to our showroom personal consultations. We built a unique in-house to provide solutions to the challenges of scaling “bespoke”. Additionally, an in-house Salesforce.com development integrates our marketing, sales, procurement and processes. An interesting point is also the browser-based rendering that we offer. It makes 3D designs look “real” on mobile and desktop. Furthermore, we are developing CAD (Computer Aided Design) and 3D ring printing in-house as well.

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Being an online jeweller alone was always going to be challenging because no matter how appealing our offering, it’s difficult to trust pictures on the internet alone. A personal service is what people expect from a jeweller and that’s how we’ve evolved the business into, what we call, a ‘clicks and bricks’ business model. That’s why our London, and most recently New York, showrooms are so important for both us, and our customers. It gives us a chance to meet our customers, but also gives them a chance to develop trust in the brand.

We also take pride in our ethical sourcing policy. With over 150,000 ethically sourced diamonds and gemstones to choose from, our customers have the peace of mind to know the materials used in their jewellery came from reputable suppliers.

Another big differentiator is the freedom we offer to our clients in the way they shop and in the products they can purchase- freedom to shop online or visit a showroom, freedom to choose a pre-designed ring or start from scratch and create a unique bespoke ring, freedom to communicate in the way you prefer and get a 24/7 client-lead shopping experience. All that comes in high quality and at better value than other options on the market.

starting-and-growing-a-jewelry-business-to-4-6m-year Bespoke sketching

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

2018 has been a great year for Taylor & Hart. We’ve doubled the size of our sales team and are on target to achieve over 100% YoY revenue growth. International sales have been a big part of this with 31% of sales coming from outside of the UK and 26% from the US alone. It’s also been important to adapt to consumer trends.

We’ve seen a significant increase in demand for gemstone engagement rings so we’ve invested time to develop a strong supply of gems that has allowed us to make some spectacular custom pieces. There has also been a clear “Royal Wedding Effect” with Trilogy’s being a lot more popular following Meghan Markle’s engagement to Prince Harry.

It’s not just customer tastes that we’ve had to adjust to but also their wallets. Compared to last year we’re seeing 10% less customers pay using finance options, choosing instead to buy outright. This seems to support the current consensus that UK consumers are becoming a little more cautious about how they spend their money. Regardless we continue to see more and more customers choosing to personalise their engagement ring in some way (now over 60%). We stand by the belief that jewellery should tell a story and continue to look for new ways to help our customers capture a little of themselves or the person they love in the jewellery they wear. 2018 was for us also about sustainability. We’ve spent the last few years figuring out a product-market fit and now that we believe we’ve found it, we want to make sure we can grow in a sustainable way and make the company a scalable business with healthy cash flows.

Something I would like to mention as well our latest outdoor marketing tube campaign that we made in November 2018. After months of brand development and refinement, we were very excited to share our brand vision with the world. This vision embodies our core values and guides everything we do. We’ve expressed it into a tube campaign, that was positioned at hundreds of London underground locations.

With this provocative campaign, we wanted to challenge the people and the commuters to really think about bespoke engagement rings. It was a very bold move for the company, but the campaign is already paying off and the first two weeks of November were the best in Taylor & Hart history for website traffic.

The tube campaign was all about brand exposure for us and that’s exactly what it’s done. We’ve got our name, values and story out to people that mightn’t have found us otherwise. While the campaign ended, we’re still seeing enquiries and walk-ins who spotted us from the tube campaign. We actually still have walk-ins from our first tube campaign, back in August.

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In 2018 we also launched our debut ready-to-wear jewellery collection, featuring necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings. Crafted in 9ct and 18ct white, yellow and rose gold, these pieces are modern and wearable, easily taken from day to night. Our existing customers were asking for additional product - they fell in love with the brand from their engagement and wedding ring journey and would come back and ask what else we had. It’s also another way to introduce people who aren’t thinking about getting married or are already engaged and married to the brand.

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As for our mission for the future, it’s to become people’s trusted jeweller, for every important moment in their life. We want to tell their stories and that’s why we decided our slogan would be “Storytellers at heart”.

Our vision is to create a brand that is loved and known around the world for its friendly service, high quality custom designs and transparency - a brand that, thanks to our lean business model and innovative approach, is accessible to more people than traditional luxury jewellery brands. In our opinion there is no brand that is widely known around the world for this bespoke design experience and yet when asked so many people are saying today that they got engaged with a customized piece. We want to be the company that disrupts the status quo to deliver a vastly superior customer experience, to build a “jeweller for life” relationship with our customers.

As we grow, our vision is to expand our brand offering around the world, in more showrooms and more languages. Our strategy for expansion has evolved and most recently we gained an understanding that our model for growth will be one where the sales team will be centralized in one or two locations, but we can hire and train people specifically, only for doing consultations, on many locations.

Our approach isn’t one that needs to have physical store in every country, but we are more focused on the question “Which is the next best city for us?”. We first looked at some major cities in the UK, of course, like some of our competitors have done. Then we realized that for our kind of brand and for our offering, the next best city, the next 5 best cities actually, are all in the USA. We started this expansion in November and the milestone is training and adding colleagues to the team who are specialized only in consultations and not necessarily in the entire bespoke service.

It’s important because it’s a far simpler role and it’s far easier to onboard someone just for consultation than it is for the entire sales process. The sales function and the whole design experience will remain with the core sales team. Of course, we also want to give designers more scope to design other bespoke products - not just engagement and wedding rings. In the future, we’d love to expand into signet rings with family crest designs, custom pendants and earrings, cufflinks for gents and more...

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Over the next five years our strategy will be as quickly as possible to set up a showroom location in each one of the next five big cities, as said all in the USA. The step after that will be coming back towards Europe and it’s major cities.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I think one of the greatest journeys in developing a company is the personal transition you go through as entrepreneur within the company. It’s something that not a lot of people realize. Your role changes so drastically. My title was CEO when I started as it is now but my tasks and skill sets through the different periods have changed so drastically.

Initially most people start a business, of course with no employees and get to be the doer, a position defined by the “E-Myth” book as a technician. I remember when I was doing everything from sales, through production to marketing. I really enjoyed it. It was a very comfortable and cozy role. Once we’ve grown as a company and hired people, I started being in a totally different position.

As a leader, you need a totally different skill set and need to learn how to help the company to be at its best. You have to acknowledge that fact and change with it. During this change, at times, you might feel out of your depth. The position of a manager and entrepreneur is just so different than the technician one. The first one is more of a strategic “big picture” position and the second one is more project focused. It’s all about making the leap from short to long-term thinking and you need to be patient and honest with yourself during this transformation.

Additionally, it’s a whole new responsibility to be a manager of people, to be a good listener, to inspire and get the best out of them. It has also a lot to do with emotional intelligence. It has been one of the greatest journeys within the company and I am still learning how to be good at that role. I see it as a wonderful challenge to further develop as a human being and as an entrepreneur. I like that you have to change as you grow and learn, both personally and as a company.

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What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We are very tech orientated company so we use many different tools some of which Salesforce with Pardot, Zapier, Slack, Hotjar, TrustPilot, Buzzsumo, Intercom, Google Analytics and Cloudflare. Two of the most valuable ones for me would be Salesforce and Zapier.

Salesforce is very well known, relatively expensive CRM tool and right now is the absolute foundation upon which our business is built in terms of data. It’s very important for our sales process and production process as well as essential for understanding data and connection those different aspects of our business with each other.

Zapier, on the other hand, is a tool that allows you to take different data and send it to other tools. We use it for automating our business so that more and more of it runs automatically, allowing us to focus on the customers. It’s saving us a lot of time and in the long run, we believe this might be a huge advantage over our competitors as the bespoke process itself is difficult to scale, because of the human element. However, we believe that exactly technology is how we are going to be able to achieve this scalability.

starting-and-growing-a-jewelry-business-to-4-6m-year 3D design of a ring

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

For sure an inspirational podcast is the Startup Chat with Steli and Hiten. You can find there really great bite-size snippets for the different parts of the business. It is also very easy to scroll through and find really fantastic brief insights into their knowledge, skills, and contacts for how to grow and develop your business.

When talking about books, the game-changing ones for me have been Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't by Jim C. Collins, The Lean Startup by Eric Ries and Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares, which was a great source of structure for how to grow your business once you reach a certain size.

For me Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Al Switzler has been an amazing book, not just for the company but in my personal life as well. It’s a great introduction to the importance of emotional intelligence and how to better develop it.

Delivering Happiness, a book by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh was another source of motivation. It inspired our customer first approach and our decision to have a fully transparent internal and external policy. It is about going the extra mile in a world with so many different options for customers.

There are only few ways to differentiate yourself. For example, we don’t want to be the kind of brand that differentiate itself on price alone, but also ethical sourcing, which should be a hygiene factor. Delivering happiness was a fantastic introduction to thinking in that direction.

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Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

I think the first advice would be to really spend some to time thinking about how to get quickly your minimum viable product. In our case, our minimum viable product was too minimum, which is always a possible risk.

We assumed that customers will be willing to buy loose diamonds online, without an engagement ring. The reality was that we had a very good understanding of the diamond supply chain but not of the jewellery space. Big problem is that most people get stuck in thinking and spend a lot of time away from customers, building features and products, based on their own assumptions.

The reality is that many of those assumptions and features will not be actually needed at all by the customers. That makes the invested resources in the process a waste. It also means much more time before taking your key learnings and making revenue. My suggestion here would be to reduce the intervals between learning, developing a business model, product ,testing it out and then going back with the learnings and improving it further. Reduce that interval to the shortest possible. This advice is really well explained in the Lean Startup book. Testing and moving quickly is essential.

The second advice is about the importance of your team. Many people talk about it, but it can’t be understated. Build a great team. No one succeeds on their own. Focus on the team and not on the strategy for growing your business. Think carefully about this point, especially if you are going into business with friends. One of the things I always suggest is to analyze whether you have a complimentary skill set with your friend, so that you can focus and develop the different parts of the business. It’s very helpful in sharing the workload but also for avoiding having gaps in the variety of skills needed for a business.

Another big learning and potentially a lesson, is connected to the investment topic. You need to think whether or not you need an investment and when exactly to make an investment round. An investment makes you grow faster and potentially bigger than growing organically, but you need to think about what you are getting into. It’s like a rollercoaster. Once you get on, you can’t really get off until the ride is over. The investors are, of course, looking for return on investment, which makes them ambitious, demanding and full of expectations. The constant pressure to grow can be a very stressful for a company and the people working in it, including founders.

The last thing I can give as a piece of advice is to find a mentor. Having someone who can see the bigger picture from outside the company and who understand what it means to build a successful business can help you make fewer mistakes, correct mistakes quickly and can be extremely useful in times of high stress or uncertainty.

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Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are always looking for people who have an entrepreneurial vision. At the moment most of our marketing team is in-house, but we’d be interested in working with people in content. We want to internalize our content creation including podcasts, video creation, photography and various other content projects.

The idea is to give the people who work in the company the opportunity to champion these projects. I want to give them the capacity to create great content and in the long-term, to make it part of the wider company culture. These roles can be full-time or part-time.

Many of the people who have joined the business, started because we saw a huge opportunity for them to join the company without necessarily being 100 % sure at the time what role they’d fit into. Some people move around as well, some have changed various departments, applying their skill sets and passion for the customers in different roles.

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Where can we go to learn more?

-  
Nikolay Piriankov,   Founder of Taylor & Hart

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