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This 26-year-old from Hong Kong is transforming a ‘dinosaur industry’

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As a young, avid collector of luxury watches, Austen Chu said he was scammed “over and over” when he bought timepieces from the secondary watch market. 

“Once, I purchased a watch which had a dented dial and the vendor told me that the dial got dented during shipping,” Chu recalled. And he believed it. 

But now, the 26-year-old says he knows higher. 

“I do know that is definitely bullsh*t … it was dented beforehand,” he told CNBC Make It.

“If I wasn’t so crazy about watches, I probably would have left the space after getting scammed the primary time.” 

Not only did his obsession with watches help him overcome those bad purchases, the experiences also propelled him to begin his own consignment-based platform for luxury watches, Wristcheck. 

The website boasts a list of timepieces value $80 million, all of which have been authenticated by in-house watchmakers, said Chu.

Began in 2020, the startup recently bagged $8 million in a funding round led by Gobi Partners, a Chinese enterprise capital firm that manages Alibaba’s Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund and the AEF Greater Bay Area fund.

Chu shared with CNBC Make It about how he turned a hobby right into a money-making business. 

Rejecting ‘buy low, sell high’

With regards to starting a successful business, Chu’s philosophy is easy: Start a business to resolve an issue, he said. 

The gap that Wristcheck fills has at all times been “very clear,” Chu said.

“The business model of the normal secondhand watch market could be very … normally it’s ‘buy low, sell high,'” Chu explained, adding that sellers were often getting the short end of the stick. 

“How is that right? You are hoping to get good advice from someone who’s an expert, but in the event you know nothing, they find yourself low balling you much more.”

The posh watch market is what he calls a “dinosaur industry” that may be “intimidating” for the younger generation to get into, Chu said.

In 2021, Wristcheck opened its first flagship store in Hong Kong — where consumers can have access to a curated range of pre-owned watches.

Wristcheck

By starting Wristcheck, Chu hoped to supply more transparency and accessibility to his peers. 

“It’s something that I wish I had. We try to provide you with a tech solution … that permits the following generation to change into more taken with the [watch] space in a protected way,” he added. 

For one, transaction fees are lower. Auction houses typically charge 26% from a buyer as much as 12% from the vendor, he said. 

In contrast, Wristcheck makes a hard and fast rate of 8% from the vendor and 4% from the client — but still allows users to bid for watches they desire to own.

A latest generation of watch-lovers 

“You understand if you love something a lot, you are also serious about it subconsciously if you’re asleep?” 

That is how Chu describes his infatuation for watches, which began when he was a toddler — and only got deeper in his teens. 

“I used to be 15, I fell into the rabbit hole of researching, spending every waking second mainly reading online and learning about watches,” he shared. 

“Obviously there is not any courses in university or in highschool that teaches you anything about these items, so it needed to be self-taught.” 

Chu disagrees with the favored belief that collecting advantageous watches is a hobby for older folks. The truth is, he insists the younger generation has more “wrist awareness” now — due to the introduction of Apple Watch. 

In our day and age, all the pieces is type of temporary. But with a watch it’s something that may type of last endlessly, it’s something you’ll be able to actually pass on to your kids.

Austen Chu

Co-founder and CEO, Wristcheck

“That was a giant turning point … It suddenly went from the lecture hall having perhaps 10% of the category wearing something on their wrist to love over 50% abruptly,” he said. 

“That was a moment that told me: ‘OK, watches are going to be cool for my generation.'” 

Chu’s hunch was right. In any case, Gen Z is projected to make up a 3rd of the posh market by 2030, on account of a surge in wealth creation and the influence of social media.

Wristcheck is attracting a tech-savvy, youthful crowd, said Chu, and 43% of its paying customers are under the age of 30.

“In our day and age, all the pieces is type of temporary. But with a watch it’s something that may type of last endlessly. It’s something you’ll be able to actually pass on to your kids,” Chu added. 

“I believe that is something that also resonates with our generation.” 

Let passion drive you

Chu co-founded Wristcheck throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, which was a leap of religion that appears to have paid off to this point. 

The startup said it’s experienced “75% year-on-year growth” in its total value of consigned watches, and claims to have been profitable in its first yr. Chu didn’t share the figures when pressed.

Austen Chu (left) along with his co-founder Sean Wong.

Wristcheck

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