Zero to CEO: The Journey to the American Dream

Zero to CEO: The Journey to the American Dream

When you think of “The American Dream,” what comes to mind? Maybe it’s freedom, family, or the ability to pursue your dreams.

Recently, our own R.T. Custer discussed his definition of the American Dream on Jason Sherman’s Zero to CEO series on YouTube. On the show, Jason hosts passionate entrepreneurs to discuss the secrets of their success. 

While on Jason’s show, R.T. shared great insights into adopting effective marketing strategies, and he also discussed what makes Vortic Watch Company special: our 100% American-made watches. 

The American Dream and Work-Life Balance in Owning a Business

The American Dream takes different forms based on your personal goals and values. In R.T.’s interview with Jason Sherman, Jason emphasized the importance of the American Dream and asked R.T. what the term means for him specifically.

“[When people use] the term ‘American Dream,’ … they talk about the house with the white picket fence, and to me, that means control over your life. [It’s] ownership of … a piece of real estate, a piece of land where your kids and the dogs can go play in the yard. And it means a sunny day … that you don't need to work. You don't have to do anything. You can enjoy life. … It’s freedom.” - R.T. Custer

To R.T., the American Dream means having the freedom to control your life and relax with your loved ones. This is a great observation about how the American Dream is more than just pursuing and achieving goals — it’s also about enjoying the little moments in life and appreciating what you have. 

R.T. Custer's family

With R.T.’s emphasis on having control over one’s own life, it makes a lot of sense that he became an entrepreneur and co-founded multiple companies, including Vortic Watch Company. Although, in theory, this gives him a great deal of freedom and flexibility, owning a business is hard work, to say the least, and often, it becomes a hindrance to having a healthy work-life balance. 

“We [talk] a lot about that term 'work-life balance,' and most people are saying it's BS, right? Like, there is no balance. Some people are saying it's work-life integration now. … I think it all goes back [to] freedom. Like, one of the reasons you become a business owner is to try to obtain freedom — maybe it's financial freedom, maybe it's freedom over your time, maybe it's freedom over just what you want to do that day.” - R.T. Custer

The irony of owning a company is that people start their business endeavors wanting the freedom and control that comes with being their own bosses, but running your own business takes so much time and effort that it’s challenging to find moments to relax and enjoy life.

“A lot of people aren't actually pursuing the American Dream or that freedom in their business ownership because they're tied to their business. They actually have less freedom than people working [a] nine-to-five [job]. … If you get to clock out at five o'clock and you don't have to stress about anything until 9:00 AM the next day, I'm a little jealous of that. I have lots of businesses [and] lots of people [who] rely on me showing up before nine and staying until after five.” - R.T. Custer 

Sometimes business ownership can seem somewhat paradoxical — you have the freedom to take time away from work whenever you want, but so much goes into managing and growing the business that you end up working far more than the average person. 

vortic new building opening day

That being said, owning a business is also incredibly rewarding, even though it often requires time-consuming hard work.  

The Great American Watch Companies: Pocket Watches Made in the USA

As you may know, R.T. started Vortic Watch Company along with his friend and fellow Penn State alumnus, Tyler Wolfe. They had the idea of starting a 100% American-made watch company while playing golf at Penn State. 

At the time, they didn’t realize the scope of their project and that they would create remarkable wristwatches from antique pocket watches. They began their business venture by researching the history of American watch companies:

“We did a bunch of research, and we stumbled on the history of what we call the ‘Great American Watch Companies.’ If you look back a hundred years ago, America was the Switzerland of the world. We had ten different watch manufacturing companies, and back then they were making pocket watches.” - R.T. Custer 

map of great american watch companies

Through the years, many people began scrapping older pocket watches to obtain the watches’ gold and silver. This was especially the case around 2008 and 2009 when gold and silver prices rose. 

Rather than allow these historic pocket watches to be scrapped, R.T. and Tyler decided to save the American pocket watches and convert them into wristwatches.

“We learned about … all the history of the old companies, the movements that they made, all the gears and springs to tell time in these watches. … We realized we [can] save those old pocket watches from being scrapped and thrown away and turn them into wristwatches.” - R.T. Custer

As R.T. and Tyler developed their business, they never strayed from their policy of creating 100% American-made watches. Rather than purchase new parts from outside of the United States — such as Switzerland or China — they refurbished old pocket watch parts that the Great American Watch Companies produced a hundred years ago. 

Although R.T. and Tyler had a great plan for starting an American watchmaking company, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. They worked hard to make their dreams a reality, and they faced plenty of adversity along the way, including a hefty lawsuit and global supply shortages. 

When starting a business, you need to be prepared to take on difficult challenges, but when you have a great idea for a company — like R.T. and Tyler's idea of creating an American watch manufacturing business — you can overcome hardships to deliver exceptional products through hard work and perseverance. 

Why Word-of-Mouth Marketing Is Better Than Paid Traffic

After diving into the history of Vortic Watch Company, R.T. and Jason discussed how to attract customers and get your business in front of the public. 

“One [way to advertise is] doing stuff like this [show] and just being an evangelist of what we do. [I] try to get on as many podcasts as I can. … [Also], I have a PR company that helps with storytelling, [and] I was lucky enough to get into Entrepreneur magazine last year. And then we do a lot of events, like, basically trade shows to try to get in front of watch customers and people [who] like watches.” - R.T. Custer

R.T. emphasizes the importance of getting the attention of your target clientele and customers wherever possible. That’s why he works hard to be a guest on different podcasts and shows to discuss Vortic Watch Company and why he goes to events that he knows fellow watch enthusiasts will attend. 

However, not every business owner is ready to discuss their company and products on podcasts and shows, so what is their most valuable marketing tool? According to R.T., the answer is word-of-mouth. 

“Our most practical and cheapest and best way of marketing is just word-of-mouth. We make a really high-quality product that we stand behind. People love it, and they talk about it.” - R.T. Custer

When you have exceptional products or services to offer the public, word-of-mouth becomes one of your strongest assets. Fortunately for us at Vortic Watch Company, our watches speak for themselves in terms of originality and quality:

“When you walk around with a watch, … people are like, ‘Oh, tell me about that.’ It's a conversation piece. That's how we market it, and I think that gets us a lot more legs than paid traffic on Instagram.” - R.T. Custer

In addition to word-of-mouth marketing, video marketing is also an invaluable tool for bringing more public awareness to your products and brand. Even filming your day-to-day business operations or manufacturing can be incredibly interesting for viewers, especially if you work in a more niche business that people don’t usually come across. 

building a watch company podcast filming

For example, R.T. and Tyler created a YouTube series called Building a Watch Company on their channel Custer & Wolfe, where they share fascinating insights into building the only current 100% American-made watch manufacturing company.  

If you own or market a company, what interesting insights do you have to offer the public? Consider what makes your brand unique and showcase your business’s processes and procedures to draw in new customers or clients. 

Are Email Campaigns Effective?

R.T. and Jason concluded their discussion of exceptional marketing practices by zeroing in on email campaigns. R.T. is incredibly enthusiastic about using emails to market products, and he feels it’s an incredibly underutilized tool. 

“One of the things that I'm really passionate about that I've learned just by trying and testing is email marketing. … I feel like it's one of the biggest missed opportunities that a lot of my friends [who] are business owners talk about. And when I share this, people are like, ‘Oh man, I really should do that.’ … It's almost free marketing.” - R.T. Custer

Email campaigns are especially effective because you don’t need to pay to get your message in front of people. You can simply collect email addresses and send out regular messages to inform the public about your products and services. 

R.T. discussed how our marketing workflow involves drawing people to the website in order to collect email addresses:

“We do all those [marketing methods] of trying to get people to the website, and then once they're on the website, we try to obtain their email address. Our email list has gone from about 3,000 people [around] four years ago to now over 40,000 people.” - R.T. Custer

From there, our company sends out automated emails showing the behind-the-scenes of our watch refurbishing and conversion process, and we also deliver fascinating information about the history of American watchmaking. Additionally, we share some of our new products along with our weekly company newsletters. 

vortic watch cases and types

R.T. observed that one of the main reasons why email campaigns are useful is because you’re in more control over who gets to see your company’s information: 

“I can share all of that information for free on social media to anyone that wants to listen, but I don't own that audience — Instagram and Facebook own that audience. That's [only going to] make it to maybe 5 to 10% of our followers. When I send the email, it's gonna hit your inbox whether you open it or not. … The people that care and the people that are in the market to buy a watch, they open the emails, they read them … [and then] they buy a watch. I've been doing it for about three years, and I know it works.” - R.T. Custer

Even if you have millions of followers on social media, there’s no guarantee that your posts will reach your potential clients or customers. For example, according to the site Quintly, an Instagram account with over 200,000 followers will, on average, only reach 2.3% of its audience via stories and 13.8% through posts. That pales in comparison to email campaigns because your email is guaranteed to reach the audience as long as it doesn’t end up in their spam folders. 

Email campaigns are an invaluable tool that most small businesses fail to utilize. 

Visit Our Social Channels and Website for Even More Vortic Content

In addition to offering exceptional marketing advice, R.T. and Tyler share fascinating insights about running a small business and manufacturing American-made watches across our different social media platforms. If you’d like to learn more about the behind-the-scenes details at Vortic Watch Company, check out Custer & Wolfe on YouTube and follow our Instagram page. 

custer and wolfe youtube banner

As R.T. noted, you’ll have a higher likelihood of keeping up to date with Vortic news through our newsletter, and you can sign up on our website

Finally, you can check out some of our exceptional, one-of-a-kind watches, including our American Artisan Series, Military Edition, and Railroad Edition watches, on the Vortic website. We also offer a pocket watch conversion service. You can send in old pocket watches, such as family heirlooms or collectibles, and we’ll convert them into wearable wristwatches! 

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