Time and passion inspire wristwatch startup

How do you know it’s time to make a change in your career? Chase Fancher, BSBA’04, shares his decision to leave the corporate world and launch a boutique watch brand called Oak & Oscar. He credits his Olin business foundation with helping him clock out of the corporate world to crafting distinguished works of horology with his own startup.

Q: When and why did you launch Oak & Oscar?
A: Oak & Oscar was first launched in May of 2015. Its not the same old story that “I couldn’t find a nice watch in my budget…so I decided to make my own.” No, frankly, there’s a watch out there for everyone at every price point. You just have to find it.

For me, the decision to start is two-fold:  1) I wanted to spend more time with family.  2) I wanted to love my job and be proud of what I was doing. Oak & Oscar is about doing what you love and taking the risk of going out on your own.  You have to make big plans.

I previously worked in a ridiculously corporate environment and it just wasn’t me; very little freedom and flexibility. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great company and I enjoyed my coworkers I just couldn’t handle the 9-5 style job. Think “The Office” and you’ve got a decent idea of what I was dealing with…

My father really pushed me over the edge though. I remember asking him at Thanksgiving a few years back for advice on what to do. I’d already developed some designs and 3D printed prototypes and was at a crossroads. Either I keep pushing, which required putting some significant skin in the game and committing to make the brand happen, or pull back and let the dream slide. His response to me was, “What would you tell your own kid?  Would you tell him to remain in a stable job that you aren’t passionate about or go out and chase you dreams?”  I mean…come on.  Some of the best advice you can possibly give, right?  I was pretty much set on Oak & Oscar after that.

I wanted to take control of both my own future and schedule. I love that I can go to my son’s music class or take him to the park whenever I want now.  It’s really amazing to be able to spend time with him and my wife (who also works full time running her own small business).

Q: Have you wanted to be an entrepreneur since your business school days?
A: Definitely not. I first took the safe route of working for big firms – not because I thought it was the right path, but just because I thought that’s what you were supposed to do. You’re supposed to graduate, go work a 9-5 job, (which doesn’t exist by the way…), get married, have kids and retire one day. As mentioned above, I couldn’t handle the 9-5er any longer and had to find a way out. Luckily I love watches and have made it work.

Q: Where are you based?
A: Chicago, IL

Q: How’s business?
A: Amazing. I’m honored and humbled by the acceptance of my watches by the market and the media. I’ve successfully quit the full time job and haven’t looked back. We sold out of our first model in less than a year and just launched a second model in late July. Of which, one style sold out in less than two weeks. It’s been an amazing run.

Q: Any lessons learned at Olin that have helped you along the way?
A: Olin has given me a solid business background and understanding that allows me to take ownership of every aspect of the company. While I employ professionals to handle stuff like accounting, I can at least have a conversation with them and understand what’s going on. But, truth be told, that’s another thing I learned in b-school: do what you’re good at and leave the rest to the experts. I remember reading business cases about companies who had founders that tried to do it all and failed. You just flat out can’t do it all. Don’t even try!

I’ve also taken lessons learned from Olin’s retail analytics classes (shout out to Prof. Sneider), and of course consumer behavior and marketing classes. And you can’t forget Prof. Nickerson’s MGT101 class – possibly one of the most influential b-school classes of them all!

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