“I did not like watches my entire life,” Digg co-founder Kevin Rose tells me. That’s an odd admission for a man who just launched Watchville, an app that aggregates news from top wristwatch blogs, and offers an atomic clock tool to help you set your timepiece and its moon phases.
But Rose explains, “My father passed away and left me with one really nice watch. It was pretty much all he could afford so he spent a lot of time and care on it, a Rolex.” That inspired him to learn more about wristwatches. Yet when the seasoned technologist looked for a way to keep up with his new hobby, “I realized in the luxury space, when you look for apps, there’s nothing.”
So Rose pushed his experimental mobile app development shop North to build something luxury wristwatch enthusiasts would appreciate. It’s a far cry from North’s first app, Tiiny, a much more traditional Silicon Valley invention that lets you share miniature photos and videos.
Tiiny is “interesting enough for us to build out the next few versions” Rose says with a bit of a sigh before acquiescing that it launched a little early. “I would say on scale of 1 to 10, I’d give it a 7.” That’s fine according to the North game plan, which aims to launch new apps every few months, give them time to sink or swim, and then abandon the failures to concentrate on ones with massive potential.
Compared to typical startup fare, Watchville’s market might sound bland, but that’s why there’s such an opportunity. Other app developers never gave it the time of day.
For the last year, Rose has travelled to watch events, met bloggers, and established relationships with the top brands. With their guiding hands, he built Watchville, which launched today. If your only experience with Audemars and Hublots are from Jay-Z lyrics, Rose’s app will school you.
Watchville for iOS pulls in news stories from top watch blogs with cheeky names like Perpetuelle and Haute Time. That includes hands-on reviews, buyer’s guides, and feature posts that will titillate timekeepers, whether they consume through the app’s Reader Mode or view the original articles through Watchville’s internal browser.
Collectors can synchronize their watches to the exact time using the app’s Atomic Clock. Little bell sounds count down the last five seconds of each minute so they can listen for just when to punch in the crown. And if their timepieces show the moon phase, they can set that too.
If it all sounds wildly esoteric, that’s kind of the point. There’s a small, diehard, but very lucrative community that Watchville wants to appeal to.
If it can build a loyal audience, there are plenty of ways to monetize. Watchville doesn’t plan to show ads or create its own content, but “There’s a bunch of things on the table when it comes to commerce or a marketplace”, Rose tells me, trying not to play all his cards right away. When pushed, he explains that traditional marketplaces like eBay aren’t adequately equipped for luxury goods. They need better reputation systems, he hints.
Watchville could just be the start. If the template works, Rose says North could spawn luxury apps for “handbag collectors, vintage Air Jordans, comic books. Our strategy long-term is to bundle these under a single brand, or a couple of apps”, the part-time Google Ventures partner forecasts.
“It’s a market that no one’s really touching. People are going after things more like Tiiny” Rose laughs. The trend in consumer apps of late is building for a mass audience, in hopes of squeezing a little money out of tens or hundreds of millions of people. But while it’s a more fractured and perhaps less sexy route to create something for just a handful of people to geek out on, apps like Watchville could become serious businesses if each user spends big bucks on their habit.
There are a lot fewer ones and zeroes here than Rose is accustomed to, but he still beams “the luxury good space is massive.”