64Facets is a fine jewellery brand specializing in pave, rose cut and old mine cut diamond jewellery. Vertically integrated, from cutting and polishing of rough diamonds to crafting a finished piece of jewelry, all done in house by an expert team of makers.
In the interview below, I speak to Gourav Soni, founder of the jewelry brand about his entrepreneurial journey so far.
Hi Gourav, thanks for agreeing to share your story on YHP. Can you give us some background information about yourself?
My family name, Soni, means 'goldsmith’ in Hindi. I was born and raised to be in the jewelry business that goes back several generations. No one knows who the first jeweler in our family was!
After completing college in India, I came to NY to study gemology and jewelry design at Gemological Institute of America (GIA). Then I went back to India to formally join the family business. We were privates label manufacturers back then. I spent the initial years understanding the business, the industry and my next move.
Tell me about the early days, the type of challenges you initially encountered?
In 2014, as a family, we agreed on launching our own jewelry brand. But the plan was to do so in the United States. Since none of us had ever lived here, it was kind of a bold decision! I got into Columbia business school in New York with the singular goal of launching 64Facets in the US. The biggest challenge was, where do I start? Who do I call? It was a blank slate, which was a challenge, an opportunity.
I got all sorts of advice initially - from ‘this is a bad idea’ or ‘the market is too crowded’, to ‘you should focus on your own store’ or ‘go online!’ I had 16 months to figure it out while I completed my MBA.
What is your company? And what are you trying to solve with it?
64Facets is a fine jewelry brand. We are vertically integrated. From cutting and polishing of rough diamonds to crafting a finished piece of jewelry, it's all done in house by our expert team of makers. The fine jewelry industry is facing troubles with mixing of unethically sourced and lab grown diamonds with ethically sourced natural mined diamonds. Large established brands like Cartier offer consumers guarantee against it, but they charge a massive premium for that. We provide the same guarantee, with the same quality and finesse in our jewelry, at an honest price.
How have you been able to fund it so far?
We started the US operations with $30k in cash and 40 pieces of jewelry (from the parent company in India) comprised of a random assortment to figure out product market fit. I kept the overheads very low - got a shared office space and did everything myself. That was key as it gave me a longer runway. Right after business school, I got two retail accounts - Neiman Marcus and Stanley Korshak. Sales took off soon after and we became self-funded in the US.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
We officially opened our first jeweler showcase in Neiman Marcus, Chicago in October 2016. Seeing our brand name on a beautiful Crystal name board gave me goosebumps. Here we were, next to major brand names - the likes of Bvlgari, Cartier, Piaget, Van Cleef and so on.
Everyone at the store were excited for this new jewelry brand. They couldn't believe how good the quality was at such great prices! We got a lot of attention since our diamonds are rose cut instead of brilliant cut (you can find out more about rose cuts on our website www.64facets.com)
It took a whole month full of expectations and anxiety for us to make our first sale at Neiman Marcus. It was a very proud moment. Soon after, we started selling in all the doors that carried our jewelry. It was then that we knew we were on to something!
How did you initially get traction?
Our jewelry stood out because of 3 factors - very different aesthetic due to using rose cut diamonds, high quality that was obvious to a keen jewelry buyer (and backed by the trust of the stores) and great pricing.
I personally visited each location, sheet time with the sales associates making sure they understood the product really well and were on board in trying to educate the market about this new brand. People had never seen anything like it before. Once we started selling, more stores wanted our jewelry leading to more traction actually different markets!
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
The top on the list is spending time in stores with the sales associates and customers. Nothing helps grow your business more than direct feedback. We learnt quickly and accurately about what styles were working, what price points were selling well, the good things about our line and, more importantly, the bad ones. The feedback was sent directly to India to be incorporated in our production process. Often, stores would be surprised with the speed at which we would fix issues with our product. Larger brands are not very agile and we took advantage of that.
The other strategic move was to grow slowly. We had tremendous initial success during the holiday season of 2016. There was a lot of pressure to add more retail doors and expand production. We took a more measured approach and grew slowly, one door at a time. It kept our inventory very efficient and ROI high.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
The power of the ask. I have been pleasantly surprised with how much people are willing to help if you just ask. At early stages of any venture, any voluntary help you can get from anyone is priceless. I met a lot of high profile luxury/jewelry industry executives during my time at Columbia. I would always ask them straight for coffee chats, lunches, even drinks. Most people (almost all of them) would agree.
At these one-on-one meets, I got their undivided attention and generosity. I asked them for warm introductions (which are how I got into Neimans and other stores initially), concrete advice on specific issues, and even to sit on our advisory board! Simply by asking for it. It's amazing.
What should we be expecting from yourself and your team for the rest of 2018?
The one thing you can always expect from 64Facets is constant improvement in our jewelry. Our name, 64Facets, refers to the pursuit of perfection in the Indian culture.
On the business strategy side, I recently partnered with 2 of my best friends and amazing entrepreneurs - Delphine and Amadeo who are bringing the brand to Europe and the Middle East. They are also taking charge of our online presence and direct-to-consumer initiatives. We are positive about popping up in more major retailers in European markets.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1). Don’t be shy/hesitant in asking for help. People are surprisingly more than willing to help. The worst outcome of asking for help is the same as that of not asking for help.
2). Keep expenses under check. Treat every penny like gold. The number one reason for failure is running out of cash. Low expenses = longer runway = more chances at being successful.
3). Work hard. There’s no substitution to hard work. You can have all the luck and charm and smarts in the world, but, it’s hard work that takes one the farthest.