7 February 2018 Issue 21 Feb/Mar

Learning how to run a business (on the job)

Why the director of watch company Fears taught himself new skills instead of hiring experts.

When Nicholas Bowman-Scargill’s mother joked about relaunching the family’s 170-year-old watch business, he was fixing watches for Rolex. Despite working in the industry, this was a piece of family history Bowman-Scargill knew nothing about; Fears had, after all, been dormant for around 50 years.

In 2014, working around his full-time job at Rolex, he started spending his lunch breaks plotting in cafes and eventually took two days off work to sit in a library and write a business plan. ‘On reflection, it was a crazy time,’ says Bowman-Scargill, who is the great-great-great grandson of Edwin Fear, who established the company in 1846. Lunch breaks were spent learning book-keeping, and weekends on trips to Europe to meet potential suppliers.

Night course

While it’s not uncommon for founders with limited budgets to try their hand at essential jobs, Bowman-Scargill went much further. He attempted to learn specialised skills rather than hire expert help, a move that cut costs but risked overwhelming the new founder.

Manufacturers in Geneva demanded thousands of pounds for precise drawings of a watch dial. By learning how to use Adobe Illustrator, Bowman-Scargill reckoned he could do the job himself. He enrolled in a night course at a local university.

‘I think everyone else in the room was doing some sort of arts degree,’ he says. ‘Then I turned up in a suit, saying I needed to learn this to do technical drawings.’

Design, photo and web

He soon added a course on Adobe InDesign so that he could create his own catalogues and brochures. He took a one-day lesson in product photography using his father’s DSLR, learned Photoshop chops from YouTube videos, and gained HTML tips which he used to build the first Fears website.

Learning multiple new skills takes time, but Bowman-Scargill says he wouldn’t have been able to progress the business without them.

‘I feel pleased that I at least understand the mechanics,’ he says. ‘While I won’t ever know how to build an entire car, I’m glad I know how an internal combustion engine works.’