Modify Watches CEO Aaron Schwartz spoke with us about his company and their drive to give back.
When “Spirit of Youth” task force member Erica Wolfort came to NRS staff late last month with a new idea to promote our annual benefit, we were all ears. It was then Erica introduced us to Modify Watches, a startup out of San Francisco that makes customizable timepiece faces and interchangeable bands. A cornerstone of their operation is that they partner with organizations from across the country- both for profit and nonprofit- to design, market and manage a line of timepieces featuring your organization’s colors and logos, with the majority of the profits going straight back to the organization. Erica recognized this as a great way to partner with an even better organization to promote and fundraise for NRS and we were inclined to agree! Modify Watches CEO Aaron Schwartz was recently kind enough to answer some questions about his company and their drive to give back.
Tell me what made the journey from Modify’s inception to its launch so “difficult and daring”. All things being equal, our journey wasn’t anywhere near as daring as a youth leaving her home. We started Modify as a small project focused on selling interchangeable watches, and we grew from there. We’re five years old as a business, and have taken a slow-and-steady approach. We’ve been able to grow by 1) focusing on customer happiness and 2) partnering with some amazing organizations. Nothing too difficult about working with great people and serving happy members of our community.
What informs your principle of wanting a transaction to be the beginning of a relationship? We are Zappos fanatics, and believe that the right way to build a business is to “WOW” our customers. There are so many things that you can do with your money – if you’re going to spend $40-50 with us, we just want you to know we’re grateful. By writing hand-written notes, sending packages as quickly as we can and, yes, apologizing when we mess up (it happens!), we just think that we’re giving our customers the respect they deserve. That benefits us in a big way because our supporters take the time to teach us how we can improve. They’re not apathetic, they’re passionate.
How did your team come up with the idea to partner with nonprofits, schools and other institutions? Why is this kind of partnership important to the Modify team? Our two most senior folks have been on nonprofit boards, and most of our team volunteers. We wanted to build Modify to make an impact in the community, and we thought that we could do a few things, not the least of which is help raise meaningful dollars for great nonprofits. Our idea is that by creating something custom, we can support a bunch of organizations – ones that our fans are passionate about, not just us. The added benefit is that by designing great products, we can turn supporters into advocates. If the watch feels good and looks good, you’ll wear it. And that will give you an opportunity to talk about your organization to everyone you meet.
Can you sum up Modify’s general attitudes towards philanthropy and giving back? We’ve always had the mindset that if we’re going to do anything for nonprofits, we want it to be meaningful. That’s why we donate watches to any organization that is having an auction (small cost for us with a $50-75 benefit to them!) and do all of our nonprofit work with a share of revenue, not profits. But we also didn’t want it to be just causes that our team cares about, but rather that the ModiFamily (our name for our community) cares about. We want to support the wider community, and we trust our fans to find organizations that merit great support.
After working with Erica Wolfort and other National Runaway Safeline staff, can you share what you think is important about the work we do? I am on the Board of Larkin Street Youth Services, a San Francisco organization that supports runaway and homeless youth. We have at least a basic understanding of the situations that lead to youth to run away from home. What’s amazing is that the youth who take this step often simply feel unheard, or if they are heard, then they feel judged. The National Runaway Safeline is so powerful because it’s a friendly place to call, with adults who care about the youth’s safety, health and happiness. They care about what’s next for these youth who are going through incredible trauma. Running away (or already being away from home) is a pivotal time, and the value of the work your team does cannot be overstated.
What are your plans for Modify moving forward? SO MUCH! We’ve transitioned from being a brand, to being the place for nonprofits and small and medium size organizations to do merchandise. By fighting on behalf of the “little guys,” we’re enabling people to wear the brands and tell the stories of the causes they are passionate about. We have about 300 partners right now, and our goal is to get to 1,000 within a few months, and then 10,000 within a year of that.
Get your NRS Modify watches here!