What Makes A Leader: Keeran Janin, Founder at Avantist Watches
Founding new luxury watch brand Avantist in 2015 –Bruneian Keeran Janin continues to cultivate his entrepreneurial drive, borne from growing up in Brunei, studying engineering and following his passion for design and creative arts.
While in London studying for his computer science degree in university, he worked as an apprentice to a diamond and gem dealer and became an accomplished jewellery designer. After graduating, he pursued a career in the tech industry, playing key roles in multiple start-ups in Brunei, Singapore, Silicon Valley (USA) & Switzerland. He established Avantist to embark into the luxury goods business with the goal of owning a group of watch and jewellery brands.
For Keeran, watches “in one sense are a tool to tell the time; but for my watches, they are more about how they make you feel - wearing a great watch can inspire a person to achieve amazing things.” His goal of building a watch company meant two years of immersing himself into the Swiss watchmaking industry, developing the best team and designing a beautiful, rare timepiece that would last generations. And, with the inspiring stories of iconic brand ambassadors woven into Avantist watches, Keeran and his team search for pivotal moments in history that can be integrated into the brand’s unique identity.
How did you get started in your field?
I started Avantist watches 3 years ago, before that I was heavily into tech startups - my background is in engineering and design, so watchmaking is a dream come true letting me combine both of my passions or engineering & art. Along with running a watch brand, I’m also the co-founder of Dart a ride-sharing company (similar to Grab) back in my home-country Brunei.
I’ve always been passionate about watches and building a watch brand has honestly been something that I’ve always intended on doing. A few years ago an app start up I was working on had failed and after closing it I wanted to a new venture. So I decided the timing was good to build my watch company - I travelled to Switzerland, looked up the leading independent watchmakers, designers, craftsmen and manufacturers – the best of the best - knocked on everyone’s door and kept persisting until I’d build up a network and team that could help me build these watches I have envisioned.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently career-wise?
I wouldn’t necessarily change or do anything different, I feel mistakes in the long run are the best things you can make – mistakes are what you learn from.
If anything I would have liked to have made more mistakes on different career paths – especially back in the early days of my career where the maxim ‘fail fast and fail often’ was more applicable (the older you get the harder it becomes to get away with saying that!).
Has your industry changed since you started in it and if so how have you adapted to it?
The watch industry has changed a lot in just the few years since I joined. I got into watchmaking right in the midst of the ‘crisis’ of 2015-2017, when Swiss Made watch sales around the world had plummeted and factories were only operating at a fraction of their capacities - a fact that helped me as an outsider get into the industry.
Back then it was possible for an outsider to arrive and pitch their idea to the really big hitters in design and manufacturing and make it happen. Today the watch industry is back to record highs, if I’d started now it would be much harder. Even after being established –we’ve had to now start designing and developing our own movements in-house (huge undertaking) to stay relevant not just in the eyes of our consumers but also our industry partners.
Life is full of challenges, what’s been your biggest professional one and how did you overcome it?
Finding (and maintaining) balance. Being a founder it’s a day-to-day roller-coaster of stress, excitement, despair, exhilaration and you can get completed engrossed at times neglecting everyone around you and also suffer burn out and neglect yourself.
I’ve found that giving the same level of importance to meditation & fitness as I do to work is the most effective way of finding balance. It has to be part of your daily routine and it’s non-negotiable.
Which business leaders do you admire?
Anyone who has been able to make money AND make a positive difference in the world through it or while doing it. People like Bill Gates who are using their fortunes along with their business minds to create companies that are solving massive world problems while still making profit (i.e. are sustainable) are amazing.
What qualities do you think you need to be a true pioneer?
The default answer to that question is usually a generic ‘courage to be different’, ‘dare to innovate’, ‘tired of the status quo’, but what I truly think is the common denominator amongst pioneers (in any field) is the a deep disliking of doing the something that already been done. Mystery and risk of the unknown scares many people – but for pioneers, that’s what gets you up in the morning.
Pioneers get bored very easily, pioneers need adventure.
On a personal level, who do you admire?
See question 4 ☺
What do you think are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
They are linked, my greatest strength is my competitive streak and nothing is impossible attitude no matter how challenging something may be or ambitious you may sound when you declare you’ll do it. On the hand this makes it very difficult for me (See impossible) to turn down an interesting task or challenge and I often find myself completely swamped.
If you had just one day to achieve something you had always dreamt of, how would you do it and what would it be?
Tough question.. If I knew how to achieve my kind of dreams in just a day - I'd be doing that every single day! I break down my goals into day-sized chunks and approach them that way - if at the end of each day I know I'm one step closer, then I can sleep well. My overarching goal though is to build a company that not only is financially strong and sustainable but can be used as a vehicle and platform for me to effect positive change to the world. (see question 4 ☺ )
Finally, any advice for future business leaders?
You have your big idea, keep it as simple as possible and find a good set of mentors who are/were in your industry and have been in your position before. A great mentor can mean the difference between success and failure
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