Updated: Oct 22, 2019
In this edition of our Storyteller Profile series, I sat down with Aron Solomon and Peter Carayiannis of Mission Watch Company to discuss their professional backgrounds, how they ultimately came to create a watchmaking company, and how every timepiece tells a distinct story for its wearer.
Who are Aron Solomon and Peter Carayiannis?
Aron and Peter are entrepreneurs with diverse backgrounds spanning decades and a wide array of sectors. Aron, now based in Germany, has been building businesses since he graduated law school – from education to coworking, law, and beyond. Peter left law school and founded a corporate commercial legal practice that helps entrepreneurs achieve their goals – a path that would ultimately spark within him his own entrepreneurial spirit and become a catalyst for his newest endeavour. Now, based on a shared love for building things fused with a profound passion for quality timepieces and the stories they represent for the people that wear them, they founded Mission Watch Company, creating unique timepieces and putting them out into the world for watch aficionados to incorporate into their own story.
Check out our full conversation with Aron and Peter below:
TMC: Today I'm speaking with Aron Solomon and Peter Carayiannis. Thank you, guys, for talking with me today, I very much appreciate the time. So, most recently, you guys are partners in Mission Watch Company, but looking a little bit further back at you both, it looks like you've got a pretty diverse background. I hate to put people in a box like this, but if you had to give yourself a title, what would you call yourselves?
Aron Solomon: Peter, I'm going to defer to you to take the first shot at this one.
Peter Carayiannis: Thanks very much for putting me on the spot. Maybe we could do this a different way. Maybe I give a title for Aron and Aron gives a title for me.
AS: Yeah, that's good.
PC: I'm going to riff off of Aron's background and I'm going to call him the Chief Builder of Things… the CBOT.
AS: I swear the first word that popped into my mind, and I'm not just copping out because I can't think of anything, was “builder.” I think that’s probably one of the reasons why we gravitated towards each other with Mission Watch Company – we thought that, if anybody had a chance to actually build the watch company together, we could probably do it. But yeah, I think then we're both Chief Builders of Things. That's good. I like that.
CBOTs it is. Aron, looking at your background, you've got a mix of startups, law, coworking spaces, and the list goes on. Could you guys tell me a little bit more about your backgrounds. What you guys have done in the past, and how did you guys come to know each other?
AS: I went to law school. And I’ve got to tell you, man, I'm one of those people that hated law school. I hated every second of law school and if it weren't for my mom with whom I was really close… I called her multiple times and was like, “I'm not going to do this anymore.” And she was like, “You're staying in law school, you're going to be a lawyer.” So, I did, and I didn't like the practice of law.
There were parts of law that resonated with me, but I knew I was always an entrepreneur. I came from an education background. I did some things in law and I was always building things – things that maybe didn't fit, that maybe were a little bit ahead of their time. I've just never been comfortable maintaining anything. I’ve always had the energy to build stuff, but once it's built, just maintaining the same old thing isn't for me.
PC: I've got a similar but slightly differentiated background. I also went to law school, but I didn't really hear the siren song of my inner entrepreneur for a while. I graduated from law school and then really got onto a conventional path to begin a legal practice. I started practicing with a big Canadian law firm and started learning how to become a corporate commercial lawyer. In many respects, I enjoyed what I was doing. I enjoyed the fact that I had this really amazing opportunity to help people accomplish their goals and, ultimately, what I learned was that I was helping people accomplish their goals in business. That really started to nurture within me this entrepreneurial flame that was always there, but maybe took a little while for it to come out.
Ultimately, I really just simply did not enjoy the conventional, traditional, old-fashioned way of practicing law and that led me down a path to start my own law firm and to continue to work in that way. My law firm has always been about thinking, “what can we do next? How can we push a boundary? How can we develop some new service or mechanism or solution that will help clients?” And as I've done this, I've found that I've become more and more activated by the creative process that brings new businesses and new ideas to life.
So, if Aron's willing to call me a builder, I'll accept that compliment as high praise from him. I've met countless people over the years who think they have the next great idea and many of them have wonderful ideas but the real distinguishing feature between success and failure, I've found, has been not the idea, but the execution of the ideas. I've seen a lot of average ideas with excellent execution become successful businesses. I've seen a lot of excellent ideas with average or below average execution ultimately fail. And that is part of the process that really attracts me is figuring out how you can take a good idea and really bring it to life, make it real, and make it something that will then have a life of its own in the real world.
So, how did the idea of creating a watch company first come to be? How did you guys ever get to be in that position?
PC: What, you don't think it's the most natural thing for a lawyer who rejects the billable hour, to turn around and make a watch?
AS: That's awesome.
I guess there are lawyers out there who need a great watch to keep track of their billable hours.
PS: We'll make one for them. It'll be a metric watch and it'll only count things in increments of six minutes.
Listen, I've loved watches since I was a kid. I remember being given a Mickey Mouse watch and how excited I was by it when I was very young – maybe six or seven years old. I also remember how disappointed I was when the hands fell off the Mickey Mouse watch. I remember a number of watches that were given to me as gifts when I was a boy and a teenager. I do not have an expansive collection by any definition of it, but I remember all these watches that I've had or that I've experienced or that I've been around. I remember the moments around those watches, which has really created in me a bit of a love of watches and timekeeping and that emotional sentiment that they create.
Nobody really needs a watch, in the sense that there are timepieces everywhere. Your car tells you what time it is. Your microwave tells you what time it is. Your smartphone tells you what time it is. Yet there's something very human to mechanical time pieces. There is something that is deeply personal and intimate to be able to put this thing on your wrist every day. I love the infinite variety of what’s really just a very simple formula. You have, effectively, a circular face with indices going around the perimeter, and two hands and a second hand, and you go from there. I love that simplicity and that complexity built into same thing.
AS: From my perspective, and I guess the world can determine whether it's healthy or not, but I've absolutely been clinically obsessed with watches for the last 42 years. When I was a teenager, I got my first watch and it was a mid-1970s Seiko Speedtimer from Japan. The minute I put that watch on, I was just like, “holy shit.” I don't know what it was. Since that time, I have bought, sold, and traded actively for decades, over a thousand watches.
But what's even worse is that, even before Mission Watch Company, I’d think about watches all the time. I’d look at watches all the time. And like Peter said, I do have a cell phone. I know what time it is. In fact, as I'm sitting here on this interview, I am looking at my oven which has a really nice digital clock on it. I know exactly what time it is. But I'm just obsessed with watches. It's the design. It's the beauty. It's the brands.
I remember every one of those thousand watches I’ve owned. I remember every watch that I traded or sold that I wish I had now. Like Peter, I don't currently have an extensive collection. The one thing about people who are obsessed with watches is that we all search for this mythical thing that we call a Holy Grail Watch. Every watch lover talks about the Grail Watch. It's the one watch that you're going to buy in your life that's going to stop you from collecting watches because that's all you're going to want to wear. But it's such a myth because a real watch lover, no matter how great a watch it is, would never even want a Grail Watch because you want all the other watches in your life.
Do you guys look at these watches and you associate them with moments in time? Do you have a favorite watch story?
PC: I have one. So, I have a Tudor watch, a reissue of a vintage chronograph. It's a beautiful watch. My family and I were on holiday and it was the last day of the trip. My wife and I and my sons went into a shopping mall and we gave them each 20 Euros to treat themselves to whatever they wanted – ice cream, a t-shirt, whatever. These are young boys. I think the son that I'm talking about now was probably six or seven at the time so 20 Euros for them is bit of a fortune.
In the area where we were shopping, I saw a high-end watch store and asked my family if they’d mind if we stopped in. I was looking at some watches and my son was eye level with these beautiful chronographs. And a lovely lady who was working there started paying attention to this little boy who was staring at this beautiful blue Tudor chronograph.
She asked him if he liked the watch, and he said he did. She wondered which one in particular he liked, and he pointed right at this one Tudor watch and she asked if he’d like to see it. He said he would. Then she pulled it out and presented it to him… of course, it's monstrously big compared to his wrist. So, then, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled 20 Euro note and gave it to her, and he said to the lady, “I want to buy this for my dad.”
The next chance I had, I bought the watch and I'm holding onto it now. When he's older, when he's a teenager and he's ready to wear that watch, I'm going to give it to him with that story.
That's an amazing story. I feel the same way every time I buy in a decent watch. It’s something that you can maintain, that you can give to the next generation who might be able to get something from it – a memory that they created with you through that watch. So, the timepiece is almost kind of timeless in a way.
AS: And you know, I'm going to jump on that. I'm a kind of a fan of watch ads as well. I’ve looked through watch ads for decades and one of the things is it's only super, super high -end watches – we're talking about, generally, $20,000 watches and above – that have used that as an advertising play. I'm paraphrasing, but the narrative is something like, “this is a watch that you will keep until you pass on to the next generation.” That's consciously one of the things that we tried to do in building Mission Watches. Why does it have to be a $20,000 watch?
Our watch, which is under a thousand dollars, is built for generations. There's no reason that someone shouldn't buy a Mission 1 and pass it on to people that they love. We wouldn't have built a watch that wouldn't have been built to that standard. This also kind of segues into my favourite watch story.
I don't have the watch anymore, but when I married my wife, we got married in City Hall in San Francisco. I had a TAG Heuer Carrera chronograph. We had this really cool photographer and I remember getting some pictures done of the watch and, even though I don't have that watch anymore, the memories of that watch when I see it in our wedding pictures is special. To me, wearing a watch in a moment is the important thing. Whether you have it a year later or 10 years later or whatever, it doesn't really matter.
But I remember it was such a perfect day in San Francisco, I remember all the things we did. And then we went to our favorite restaurant for dinner that night and I was wearing this TAG chronograph.
So, I think the things that we carry with us help mark moments of our lives and that speaks to why people who love watches – and statistics show watches are having a real renaissance – truly love watches. Again, I don't believe they love watches because they have a desperate need to know time. I think it has a sentimental value.
I feel like we’ve started to paint a picture of why you guys got into watch making, but I want to back up from that a little bit. How did you go about getting into it? I imagine building quality timepieces is a challenging endeavor from a mechanical perspective. So, how did you make that first step to get into?
AS: This goes back to a little story – and we don't really remember the full accuracy of this story – but before I left Toronto to move to Europe, Peter and I went to this amazing vintage watch store. It's super well-known and Peter had been there many times and acquired watches there. It was my first time. Like I tell everybody, it was better than being a kid in a candy store. We were in there for hours. I could've spent days there. I kept changing my mind about what I wanted, and I ended up leaving that day with a really nice Breitling chronograph.
That's when we really started a serious conversation about if could we build a watch. And you're right in your analysis that building a watch is hard for anybody. But building a watch when you haven't built a watch before or haven't done hardware is hard. Everybody in the world talks about software and we know software as a service. But a watch is a piece of hardware. And I can tell you that hardware is harder than software. It's super hard. It's hard every single day. It's a lot of fun. But the thing is, you don't know what you don't know and every day we learn things we don't know.
PC: Yeah, and listen, we've gone on a very deep dive into not only the watchmaking business, but even the lifestyle around watch making, because we also have to make this into a business and not just a little hobby. We want to really understand not only what it is that we love about watches, but what other people love about watches. Making hardware is, to Aron’s point, so challenging. It's real. It's alive. It's on your wrist. You can see it, touch it, feel it. If the weight’s off, you'll know it right away. But you don't know that the weight's not going to work when it's a drawing on a piece of paper or a rendering with a computer program. Right? You don't know if the proportions really are going to look proper till it's real. It's a real challenge to get that right.
In the watch business, the tiniest fraction of space makes a difference. We're talking about millimeters here. You have a 39-millimeter watch and then do the exact same watch in 42 millimeters or 43 millimeters, which is what? A grain of rice? But it's an entirely different watch, an entirely different product. One could be super successful and look beautiful and the other could be atrocious.
So, what's your design process? How did you come to design the Mission 1? How did you know that that was the one you were going to go for first, and then how do you go about actually creating that?
AS: I can't even tell you how many design sessions Peter and I had over time. We were very clear about one thing: there are lots of watch brands out there that make an homage to another watch. Like, if you think about how many Rolex Submariner homages exist around the market – I'm not talking about a fake or a copy, I'm talking about a watch company saying we want to make a watch that looks like the Rolex Sub, but instead of $10,000, we're going to do it for $200 – there's a gazillion of them. We had no interest in making a watch based on another watch. We wanted to make a watch that we would love and want to wear pretty much every day.
So, the design process was super strenuous and super extensive – as Peter said, to every single detail. We're not just talking about measurements, but we're talking about the kinds of materials that we would want to use. We resolved from the beginning that if we were going to make a watch and we would love the watch, we knew that there'd be – since our Mission 1 is limited to 300 pieces in the world, ever – we knew that if we made a watch that we would love, 298 other people in the world would love that watch.
So, it was hundreds of hours of design work together and then running that by other people who knew better what they were doing at that point than we did, I think. But we wouldn't settle. We just have never settled for anything that wasn't exactly the way that we wanted it on the watch because then I don't think we would wear it.
PC: We didn't feel a need to make something that was mass-market. Obviously, anytime you build or make anything, you want it to go out in the world and for it to be well received. But we were looking to create something that would resonate with people who really loved watches. We didn't want to make something that was too out there or too niche or too esoteric, but we wanted to make something that was true to what we liked in watches. We wanted to make something that was simple. Where simplicity carried through the entirety of the design brief. And that helped us decide what to put in the watch or, maybe more importantly, what to not put in the watch in order to keep it simple.
Absolutely. So, looking at the next step of Mission Watch Company, do you have an idea of what the next chapter is in the story? What that looks like as far as the next time piece you want to put out into the world? Do you have a vision for what that is yet or where do you stand with the next step?
PC: Well listen, job number one right now is the Mission 1 and we are deeply focused on that. Beyond that, I think we have bold ambitions for the Mission Watch Company and the series of watches that could come after the Mission 1.
All different styles of watches speak to a certain language. And the best watches also speak to particular jobs and tasks that they can accomplish – the great tool watches out there. The Fliegers, the dive watches, the chronographs. These would all be fantastic watches that we would like to tackle but to be able to make them in our vernacular, to be able to make them as Mission Watches and to be able to make them for the audience and the family of Mission Watch owners around the world.
AS: Yeah, that's super well said. I would add, though, that obviously we have put in a good amount of design hours already on the Mission 2, and we have a lot more design hours to go. So, the short answer is we're not stopping with the Mission 1, but the philosophy and I think design perspective on everything we do with Mission Watch Company kind of remains the same.
I mean, we have our own little tagline that we use in our ads and in talking to people which is, that we make watches people love, and that's what it's all about. Now, whether it's 300 people who love the watch or three million people who love the watch, it's something that remains to be seen in the future. But you should buy a Mission Watch if it's a watch that you're going to love. I think that's a rule that everybody should follow in any watch, whether it's a $50 watch or a $50,000 watch. You should buy a watch because you're going to love it and you want to wear it and it makes you feel a certain way when you wear it.
Yeah, absolutely. I know with some of my watches, the moment you put them on, it just feels good to have them on that carries a certain mood with it. I feel like every watch I own has a story to it. There’s a history to it and it kind of represents something. Do you feel that that's the case with your watches?
PS: Well, I think at some level, yes, they should tell the story of craftsmanship. They should tell the story of attention to detail. They should tell a story of an honest watch, honestly made.
But going back to the beginning of the interview and the emotional and sentimental attachment that we have to these moments in time, where whatever watch was associated with whatever event – a wedding, a graduation, a success, whatever the case may be – ultimately, the story that each Mission 1 is going to tell is going to be the story it tells on your wrist, not the story we think it should tell. And then that'll go for all 300 watches that go out in the world. The story of the watch will be the story of the person who wears it.
Yeah, that's a great point and a great way of looking at it. My last question for you guys is this: what advice would you give to anybody out there who might something that they're passionate about, a story they want to tell?
AS: What I would say is that having your own personal mission is not a privilege. Everybody has a right to their own mission. Sometimes we get disconnected from our mission. But when I look down at my wrist and I see the word Mission, I can't help but think about what my mission is. And I think that everybody who wants to go out and do something should figure out what their mission is, and that will help them figure out a way to get it done. I've seen that, and I've helped a lot of entrepreneurs in my career, and I've been helped by a lot of people as well. Being true to your mission and defining what it is, that’s critically important.
One of the ads that we made a few weeks ago says, ‘we believe in you.’ We believe in you. We believe in people who we know and who express admiration for what we've done. We believe in people who know what their mission is and are trying to figure out how to get it done. And we know that you can do it.
To learn more about Mission Watch Company, visit them online.
And if you'd like to explore opportunities to tell your own story, get in touch and let's talk. Because every story has to start somewhere.