EP 61 – Building the American Dream One Pocket Watch at a Time with RT Custer
Hey hey! Welcome back to The Bullpen Sessions! Today, I’ve got a great guest who you’re going to learn a lot from, but first, I want to ask you a couple of questions.
Have you ever thought that your business venture was impossible? Has criticism or adversity ever stopped you from following your dreams?
If you answered “yes” to either question, my guest’s story today will change your life. He and his small business recently overcame what seemed like impossible odds and are now thriving. I’m so happy to have my friend RT Custer on the show! He and his company Vortic Watches recently won a court case against the Hamilton Watch Company, a subsidiary of the multi-billion dollar Swatch Group.
Today, we’re discussing how RT and his CMO, Tyler Wolfe, started the Vortic Watch Company, how they make Vortic Watches, and how they beat the Hamilton Watch Company in court. Today’s message will inspire you to believe that nothing is impossible if you keep at it! You’re going to be absolutely engrossed in RT’s story, so let’s get started.
Who Is RT Custer?
RT is the co-founder and CEO of the Vortic Watch Company — a Fort Collins-based company that converts antique pocket watches into one-of-a-kind wearable wristwatches. If you’re not already familiar with Vortic Watches, make sure to check out their website after you’re done reading this post. They make some of the coolest watches you will ever see. I myself have a Vortic Watch that is absolutely gorgeous that you can check out here!
From an early age, RT had knowledge and experience in entrepreneurship because of his family background. He grew up in Pennsylvania on a Christmas tree farm that his great grandfather started in 1941. Three generations used the Christmas tree business as a side-hustle while also holding down full-time jobs.
RT studied industrial engineering at Penn State University, where he met the co-founder of Vortic Watches, Tyler Wolfe. After graduating, RT moved to Fort Collins to work as a Logistics Engineer for Walmart. He and Tyler started Vortic Watches in 2013.
After two years of building their business and selling exceptionally stylish watches, RT and Tyler received a cease and desist letter from the Hamilton Watch Company. The Hamilton Watch Company claimed that Vortic Watches produced counterfeits and used the Hamilton brand name to sell watches. RT and Tyler refused to back down, and after a grueling lawsuit that lasted five years, Vortic Watches beat the Hamilton Watch Company. You’re going to learn a ton from RT’s story about starting Vortic Watches and winning the legal battle against the Hamilton Watch Company, so let’s get into it!
Starting Vortic Watches
RT and I kicked off our conversation by discussing how he and Tyler started the Vortic Watch Company. They came up with the idea while playing golf at Penn State University. They got into a conversation about how most watches are now made outside of the United States, and by the time they reached the 18th hole, they had come up with their watch idea and business plan. Although they had a great idea, it took years to get the company up and running. They received their LLC status in 2013, but they didn’t sell a watch until late 2014, and they didn’t begin shipping out their first watches until late 2015.
They began their business on Kickstarter but found that they needed more than a good product to create a successful business.
“‘If you build it, they will come,’ [is] a hundred percent wrong. … [If you build the] greatest product in the world …. but no one knows you exist, you do not exist. … We hit launch, and then we were just like expecting to be millionaires. … And obviously, none of that happened. So we had to do all the other stuff you actually should do, which is call all your friends and family and say, ‘I just started a business.'” – RT Custer
You need more than a great product to be successful — you need to engage in self-promotion and reach out to people to sell your product. If no one has heard of you, how are they going to know what you sell? RT observed that talking about your product to people should be consuming more of your time than making the product itself:
“As much time as you spend building the product, spend a lot more on talking about it. … So that everybody knows like, ‘Oh, this is the watch guy. Cool. He runs Vortic Watch Company. It’s in Fort Collins, Colorado. They turn pocket watches into wristwatches. That’s cool.’ So talk about it, talk about it, talk about it [be] cause no one else will.” – RT Custer
Do you constantly talk about the product or service that you offer people? Does everyone know what you’re selling? No one else is going to sell your product for you, so get out there and talk about your brand to people in person and on social media.
RT and Tyler also had difficulty getting the initial capital to grow their inventory.
“Most of the issues we had were financing. … In order to make a product, you have to have a lot of upfront capital to buy the equipment or buy the raw materials. … Basically, to have inventory, you need money … There [were] a lot of times where we literally ran out of money, and it’s like, ‘Well, we have payroll to make.’ … At one point I sold my car … and I think I put three or four thousand dollars into our business bank account.” – RT Custer
RT was flexible and did everything that he could to never miss a payment to his employees. Starting a business will never go perfectly smooth, so you need to be flexible and willing to work tirelessly and make sacrifices to keep your business afloat. RT sold his car so that he could pay his employees. That sounds crazy, right? But it’s because of his sacrifices and hard work that Vortic Watches is now an immense success.
What product or service are you trying to sell? Are you willing to work hard and be tenacious to make your business become a reality? Guys, learn from RT, and never give up on growing your brand even when it’s incredibly difficult.
Converting Antique Pocket Watches into Wristwatches
Vortic Watches are some of the best luxury watches that you can find on the market. They are 100% one-of-a-kind as well as entirely American made.
“Everything inside the watch is a hundred years old, and everything outside of the watch is modern made in Colorado. … It’s a piece of American history on the wrist. It’s a story of American manufacturing on the wrist. We make one watch a day. So that’s it. We’ve just a few hundred watches a year.” – RT Custer
Vortic Watches are so special that they only make one a day. Just imagine that! Other luxury watch companies produce thousands of watches every single day. What’s so special about having a watch that thousands of other people have? If you want a luxury watch, you should definitely check out Vortic Watches.
RT went into the fascinating history of the kinds of pocket watches that they convert into wristwatches. Between the years 1850 and 1950, ten major American watch companies produced a hundred million pocket watches. Watch companies largely switched to making wristwatches after World War II, so the production of pocket watches basically stopped entirely. RT primarily works with watches between the years 1900 and 1950 because watch companies were more industrialized, making it easier to find replacement parts for the antique watches. RT discussed the process in which they obtain and convert the antique pocket watches:
“We work with auctioneers, estate buyers, and things like that to buy hundreds of these pocket watches that literally don’t have a case or a home anymore, and then we restore them. So [we] meticulously take every single part, gear, spring and screw out and clean them and oil and put them back together and make them tell time again. And then we manufacture the case to preserve it. … So everything inside is old, everything outside is new.” – RT Custer
The Vortic Watch Company has an incredible initiative going on right now. Currently, they are selling antique World War II watches that benefit the Veterans Watchmaker Initiative.
“This watch is one of the … military edition watches. … This was a pocket watch that was flown on all the B-bombers in World War II. It was called the ‘Master Navigator’s pocket watch.’ And if you were a navigator on one of those flying fortresses, you had one of these as your tool to tell the time and then, therefore, see where you are navigation-wise.” – RT Custer
My man, is that not the coolest watch that you’ve ever heard of? The watches were literally worn by our brave American troops in World War II. It’s a one-of-a-kind piece of history, AND $500 of the proceeds go towards a great cause. The Veterans Watchmaker Initiative is a nonprofit that teaches military veterans how to become watchmakers. The Initiative recently dedicated a building in RT’s name for his generous work with the organization.
How can you be using your brand to help others? RT and Vortic Watches have contributed so much to helping veterans, and you can use your product or skills to help others as well!
Taking On a Multi-Billion Dollar Company
While RT and Tyler were growing their business in 2015, they received life-changing news: Hamilton Watch Company sent them a cease and desist letter. Because RT and Tyler were converting antique watches, some of the watches had the name “Hamilton” on the dial because the Hamilton Watch Company produced pocket watches in the late 19th century and early 20th century. RT and the company tried to resolve the issue civilly, but the multi-billion dollar watch company refused to resolve the conflict.
“We thought it was a miscommunication and misunderstanding. We were three guys in an 800 square foot office building getting sued by this massive company. … ‘[We said] Like, can we figure that out? Like, there’s gotta be a way.’ And then across years of conversations with them, we realized that, in my opinion, they were basically just suing us to get rid of us.” – RT Custer
Despite undergoing a lengthy and arduous legal process, RT and his associates refused to give up on their business. A goliath company attacked them, but RT stayed focused on the people who appreciated the Vortic Watch Company. He observed that rather than dwell on negativity and non-constructive criticism when building your brand, you need to focus on the people that support you.
“You have people that say negative things, like comments on the internet are always hard, but … you have to think about all the people that say positive things and all [the] people [who] love you and love what you’re doing and want to support you.” – RT Custer
Whenever you’re putting yourself out there to follow your dreams or build your business, you’ll always have people judging or doubting you. You’ll always have people criticizing you or trying to stop you, and in RT’s case, it was a multi-billion dollar company trying to stop him. It would have been easy for him just to give up, but he and his associates continued building their company.
After years of legal battle, the Vortic Watch Company was on the brink of financial ruin. RT and Tyler even considered filing bankruptcy in the business.
“We just found out that the lawsuit was headed to trial, and trials cost six figures usually, and so it would have been easier for us to just give up. And just for the sake of having all the information, I Googled ‘Best Colorado bankruptcy attorney’ to see how bankruptcies work.” – RT Custer
RT spoke on the phone with a bankruptcy litigator named Robert Latz, but much to RT’s surprise, the attorney wanted to represent the Vortic Watch Company in court.
“[Robert] saved the company. I was ready to give up, and this attorney believed in us, and he worked for free for months and months and flew to New York City and defended us in federal court. And … we won.” – RT Custer
I was actually with RT the moment he found out that they had won the legal case. We were on the 18th hole of a golf course when he received an email saying that they had won. His hand was shaking as he held the phone. That email lifted a huge weight off of RT’s shoulders. His employees now describe him as a new, happier person now that he no longer has the stress of the lawsuit.
Guys, RT’s story is so inspiring for anyone having to overcome adversity in business. A massive company worth 10 billion dollars took on a small business that only had a few employees, but the Vortic Watch Company won the case because they refused to give up. Never stop striving to grow your business or follow your dreams. There will be setbacks and people trying to stop you, but you can overcome them and build something incredible!
Why You Should Listen to This RT Custer Podcast Episode Right Now…
RT’s journey in starting the Vortic Watch Company and beating the Hamilton Watch Company in court was so empowering, especially for entrepreneurs and small business owners. Make sure to check out the full episode so you can learn more about RT’s journey. Also, make sure to check out his Instagram @rtcuster to continue following his journey with the Vortic Watch Company. If you want to learn more about the Vortic Watch Company or if you need an awesome luxury watch with historical value, check out their website here.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this Friday Bullpen Session post. If you enjoyed reading it, I’d appreciate it so much if you’d head over to Apple Podcasts, subscribe, and give me a five-star rating. If you have a family member, friend, or coworker who will benefit from RT’s journey and advice, share this episode with them, and tag me, @andy_neary, and RT, @rtcuster, with a screenshot of the episode and your greatest takeaways.
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Remember, don’t let people stop you from following your dreams or building your business. You can power through adversity and create something amazing!
See you next time!
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