I do. Two simple words that bind a couple together for a lifetime. And to represent their love, humans have turned towards jewelry as a symbol of their connection. However, did you know that jewelry has one of the highest markups as a product category? Meet Holden, a customized wedding ring company that removes the middle man and offers personalized engravings without breaking your bank.
Co-founders of Holden, Andrew Lim and Simon Zhang, met in 2010 during Marketing 101 at Dartmouth College and became fast friends. Their friendship later expanded into them interning at MBI before embarking on a venture together. Simon tells us how “at the time I was marketing jewelry via direct mail at MBI and ended up tinkering with designs to create beaded bracelets that I liked. This turned into my first company, MUJO, for which I asked Andrew to join me 6 months later.” It was through running MUJO, an online fashion jewelry brand that the boys met many customers who were inquiring about customized wedding bands and so, Holden came into existence in April 2018.
“Our core hypothesis is that the experience is broken in the jewelry industry and we want to improve that.”
When it comes to choosing a ring, couples can be overwhelmed by design, price, and having that pushy salesman breathing down your neck trying to sell you on his new iridescent collection or even worse, judging your choice of partner. Andrew Lim and Simon Zhang wanted to create a new shopping experience where couples feel safe, attended to and satisfied with their purchase. Every ring on their website is below $900 (including lab-grown diamonds). Simon further goes to say how “at first, we didn't realize how big of a problem this was. If you look at the fine jewelry industry, it is worth $51 billion, but yet, it has not been disrupted in a very long time.”
“When we first launched we thought we would mainly target Millennials on the coast. However, what we found was that our customer is spread out across all 50 states and mainly consists of younger couples who are getting engaged or older couples who are renewing their vows. When customers enter the Holden experience they are able to opt-in for a free ring size kit as well as choose all of the features they want in their perfect ring. Hence, customers feel a stronger sense of attachment to their purchase.” When analyzing the jewelry market, Simon and Andrew noticed that only one type of inclusive couple is portrayed. Holden redefines what love means by highlighting diverse couples and relationships through their website.
“In the beginning, we spent most of our time online with our early customers to figure out product-market fit.”
Setting up a company is challenging. While most entrepreneurs tend to complain about production issues, figuring out product-market fit should be your highest priority and tends to take time to unfold. Andrew tells us that “in the beginning, there are so many things you have to figure out and prioritize. Make sure to give your early customers a lot of attention and understand why they liked your product, what got them interested and what would retain them.” As a result, Holden’s future product development is now based on customer feedback.
“Figure out funding through other means.” Holden launched as a bootstrapped company and has remained cashflow positive since. They just closed their first seed round and will be using the funds to ramp up marketing as well as expand into other product categories. The boys were also able to secure previous funding via winning pitch contests. When asked for advice on launching a D2C business, Andrew and Simon shared the following:
Set milestones you want to reach and within each milestone create objectives you want to hit. You should always be prioritizing the tasks on this list.
When finding a co-founder you should both have a similar design aesthetic in addition to your skillsets complimenting one another.
During pre-launch, you should play on your customer's emotions and the brand story.
In the beginning, try to do press yourself by reaching out to writers directly. They appreciate when you put a little bit of effort into knowing their topic of interest. (Holden was able to be featured in both Forbes and Business Insider for free).
Look for scrappy ways of launching that yield better results rather than needing a lot of money before proving anything.
About to pop the question to a special someone? Visit Holden in NYC to meet Simon and Andrew and let them know we sent you! Fun fact: Simon is 6”5 and can say the ABCD’s backward while Andrew is a coffee connoisseur and can brew coffee in 10 different ways!
Photo courtesy of Holden.