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Microbrand U Workshop Graduates: Interview with Zack Rackovan of Ardor & Forge

It’s been 4 months since our first seminar took place. It’s time to catch up with some of our trailblazing participants and see where they are with their Microbrand start-ups.

We chatted with Zack Rackovan of Ardor & Forge, to ask him about the process of launching a Microbrand watch business, his progress, and his challenges.

This is what he had to say:

1. What were your main takeaways from the Microbrand U workshop?

I spent roughly 2 years researching, attending business seminars, paying for online webinars, and even went through a 10-week business accelerator program at Penn State. Personally, the biggest takeaway from the workshop was validation that I was on the right path. Having a coaching team who is incredibly familiar with the Microbrand landscape critique my plan, was very helpful before proceeding any further. Sharing some of the obstacles I had faced up to that point, and hearing that those obstacles weren't uncommon was comforting.

Discussing how Chris Vail of NTH handles those issues was extremely beneficial.

I think the workshop holds a ton of value for anyone thinking about starting a product development business, whether that product is watches or not. It took me 2 years to hunt down all the information I was looking for, through various sources and with varying degrees of success. Even then, it was sometimes difficult to translate general business practices into something Microbrand specific.

With Microbrand University, you get all of the information in 2 days, from a group that knows what they're talking about, and it's specifically tailored toward starting a Microbrand.

2. What progress have you made on your own Microbrand, Ardor & Forge, since the workshop?

Just before the workshop, I had brought on a supply chain specialist to help me identify and evaluate manufacturing partners. Since the workshop, we have found all new suppliers and begun working on a new set of prototypes.

I've also made progress on a social media marketing and launch strategy, started building a new website, and continued to fill in knowledge gaps on issues like logistics, quality control, and warranty services.

3. What struggles have you had? What were some unexpected challenges?

My struggles are always time and money. I have a full time job, I operate a design shop part-time, and my wife and I have 3 kids under the age of 5. Finding the time and making the financial commitment to something that isn't helping us put food on the table is a challenge, but I really believe God has a plan for us all, and I believe Ardor & Forge is mine.

It takes a lot of sacrifice, discipline, and also a lot of flexibility, to balance everything that I have going on, but if I can build Ardor & Forge into the vision I have, then every minute and dollar sacrificed will have been more than worth it.

4. What kind of support did you receive from our team after the workshop?

Directly after the workshop, I had a few more questions I needed clarified, and Chris has always been extremely responsive and transparent with anything I've asked.

He set up a private group on Facebook where we've had the chance to discuss issues that have come up, or additional thoughts Chris might think could be helpful. The advice definitely didn't stop after the 2 days were over. I also took advantage of the 1 hour digital marketing consult with Josh from River Avenue Digital, which was really helpful to get a few of my specific questions answered regarding social media marketing, and I was also able to bounce a few ideas for packaging concepts off John Keil of WatchGauge, who is a 20 year veteran of the watch industry.

All of them have been responsive, respectful and supportive, which I think speaks to their genuine desire to help others, and the industry as a whole, with their combined knowledge. It's a great team to be connected with, and I feel like through the process, we've even become...possibly...friends.

5. What are your current launch plans including any shows you may be doing?

We're on schedule to have a new set of prototypes by the end of August. If all goes as planned, we should be on track to start accepting pre-orders toward the end of October, with delivery in March of next year. I plan on exhibiting the prototypes at the District Time watch show on Oct 12 (I'll only be there on Saturday), and if you're local to central PA, I'll also be set up at the CRE814 Maker Fest in Altoona, PA on Sept 21.

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