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A digital customer experience coupled with rapid physical product creation – insights for product managers
Today we are talking about what Andrew Wolgemuth has learned creating a unique product business called Wove. Andrew and his co-founder and team have created a way for their customers to design engagement rings, experience their design in their home with a mock-up ring, tweak what they want, and then receive their one-of-a-kind custom ring. This is a digital business coupled with rapid physical product creation. Regardless of your industry, there are lessons you can learn from Andrew’s mistakes and successes. Before founding Wove, Andrew served as the Deputy Commander of a Special Operations unit in the United States Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:16] What was the insight that led to Wove?
Both my co-founder Brian and I experienced pain points when we were buying engagement rings. My childhood was centered around growing the family business, a small brick-and-mortar jewelry company. I worked with my parents to design an engagement ring for my now-wife, Sarah. I was stationed in Washington, and my parents were in Pennsylvania. They sent me numerous photos and videos of the ring, but when I saw it in person, I sent it back to my parents and asked them to rebuild it. I felt very bad doing this, but it was amazing to me that seeing photos and videos of a product doesn’t always translate into real life.
We’re creating a user experience for engagement rings similar to Warby Parker, the home-try-on eyeglass company.
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[7:12] What challenges did you experience trying to implement your solution?
When I talk with my team, we laugh because we feel like we’re building three different start-ups at the same time. We’re doing the in-house manufacturing focused on systems and logistics to create custom jewelry from scratch in a highly expedited timeline. We’re building a new digital product that’s the first of its kind for custom jewelry design online. And we’re doing the marketing and branding that’s so important for any ecommerce business. Sometimes we feel like we’ve bitten off more than we can chew, but it is coming together nicely, and we’re excited about the progress we’ve made.
There are a few consumer pain points with buying an engagement ring, and a lot of them are tied closely to different cultural tailwinds. If you’re buying a ring online, you’re buying without certainty. You’ll put thousands of dollars down, and you don’t know what’s going to show up exactly.
We send customers a replica ring first. We started the replica idea when I was in the Army, and I had many friends who were overseas in Afghanistan and wanted to buy an engagement ring but didn’t want to ship a $10,000 engagement ring to an Afghani address on some base so they could propose to the love of their life. Our replicas are shockingly realistic. They use imitation diamonds and non-precious metals. Our first replica rings were set to Army Rangers overseas who wanted to design a custom ring while deployed and be able to step off the plane back in the United States and drop to a knee.
[11:13] How do you create the rings so quickly?
The industry average for custom ring design is six to eight weeks. Advanced 3D-printing technology allows us to significantly cut down our timelines. Rings used to be hand-carved from a wax block then cast and polished. Hand-carving from wax takes a tremendous amount of time. We use new technology mixed with old-world craftsmanship. We design the engagement rings with jewelry designers. They send our clients a beautiful hand sketch of the design, and if the clients approve the sketch, it goes to our CAD designer who brings the sketch into a computer-aided design in about a day. We 3D print it overnight. Our 3D printer can print 300 rings in about three hours. We cast the rings in precious or non-precious metals, and our goldsmiths polish the rings and set them with real or fake diamonds, depending on if it’s real or the replica. We are generally building rings in seven days and getting them to clients in nine days.
My co-founder and I love building systems. It was a lot of what we did in the military and in college, so we invested heavily in building a CRM and a digital product that can support building custom jewelry in a rapid timeline. The systems have allowed us to do it quickly and in a way that is scalable.
[13:35] Tell us more about your customer experience.
Clients come to our website and fill out a short design quiz, which allows us to match them with a designer. We do a 30-minute video design consultation and then send them a technical sketch of the ring. We design it in CAD and print and cast it.
[16:45] What systems have you found critical to make this work?
The big one is the digital product we’ve built—an online design portal for clients. One of the most complicated things about building custom jewelry is ensuring communication is clear and concise and that we keep track of the different details that go into a final ring. Clients can log in to their portal and converse directly with their designer via live chat, share inspiration images to their vision board, and see exactly where their ring is in production. It’s a great interactive platform that we built from scratch. Nothing like it exists today in jewelry.
The system allows us to track our clients’ preferences in style and jewelry. There’s a lot of application we can take from that down the road for launching our own jewelry lines and being able to make recommendations to our clients on what we think they’ll like in the future. It has a ton of applicability to helping them design their engagement ring and making sure it’s done exactly the way they envisioned.
We built a complex CRM system that allows us to track every detail throughout the process and ensure we are up-to-date at every stage of production. It raises red flags when things are behind or we need to order more material.
The CRM is tied directly into our digital product, and the heavy investment upfront in the CRM and digital platform is allowing us to do this efficiently.
[19:28] How do you find and manage jewelry designers?
All our designers are in-house as full-time employees. We draw a lot of parallels to Peloton, which takes world-class cycling instructors who are getting underpaid and brings them into Peloton where they can promote their own style and be paid more. Similarly, we’ve hired some of the top jewelry designers from major name-brand companies. We give them a better quality of life and a more interesting job and compensate them better. We give them a platform where they can create a name for themselves through Wove, working with individual clients, which is exactly what they want to do. We’ve attracted a lot of top talent across the industry to come to a small startup.
[22:02] How did your product idea evolve?
We’ve rebuilt our product three or four times. You have a hypothesis of what you think the answer is, and you build that and try to test it as quickly and cheaply as you can, but your assumptions are almost always going to be wrong. Our first version of the product allowed clients to submit a picture and get a replica. There are million different legal liabilities with that, and we would probably have every jewelry company in the US trying to sue us if that were our product today. We knew 90% of couples figure out what ring they want through Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest. They have a picture and are trying to get a ring, so we initially focused on making that process as easy as possible. We found that to an extent our assumptions were true, but people want more of an experience. They don’t want to work with a pushy salesperson. A designer who is on their team is a much better process. A ring is probably the most expensive and sentimental purchase you will make in your life. You’ll wear it on your hand for the rest of your life, and it represents the love you share with your partner. We want this to be minimally transactional and an intentional experience. We’ve transitioned away from our initial model and made an interactive experience.
[24:52] What’s your pricing strategy?
We are less expensive than Tiffany or Cartier even though our quality is significantly better since those companies make jewelry on an assembly line. We have bench jewelers take each piece from start to finish. Every ring is made for an intentional couple in mind, which is special for our clients. Our prices are comparable to a brick-and-mortar jewelry store, on average $10,000-12,000.
We did a lot of price sensitivity analysis when we first started Wove, and we discovered if we sold the exact same ring as Blue Nile but offered the design experience and home replica, clients were willing to pay $1,600 more to Wove for that experience than they would to Blue Nile for the transactional click-to-buy experience.
We offer a flexible experience where we can meet couples at their pricepoint.
[28:50] How do you use the data you collect through your CRM?
What makes businesses like my family’s brick-and-mortar jewelry store special is the longevity of their relationships with clients. We know our clients and their preferences. If we got a new ring at my family’s business, I would know a customer who would love it and give their spouse a call and see if they’re interested. A lot of business is done that way. In an ecommerce business, where we’re selling our products in a very different way, we want to be the lifetime jeweler of our clients. We hope we only sell one engagement ring to a couple but continue to sell other jewelry to them. We were intentional going into our business to be able to learn about our clients and what their preferences are so we can serve them better in the future. We collect a ton of unique data points on their style and preferences.
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“Amateurs talk strategy. Professionals talk logistics.” – General Omar Bradley
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