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ModiFile: Aaron, the Capital of Custom


Some folks are residents of a town. Some live in a city. There are the romantic types who are classified as Citizens of the World, the animatronic types that are Citizens of A Small, Small World, and the Reddit types who are Citizens of the Internet. But Aaron Schwartz is the most awesome kind of Vague Citizen. He's a Citizen of Capital Cities. Wait, before you mention that a Citizen of Capital Cities isn't a thing (and then mention that San Francisco, Cleveland and all the others are most certainly not capitals of anything), listen to the credence: He was born and raised in Cleveland, the Athletic Despair capital of America; got his bachelor's from Columbia University, which is in New York, which is the Culture Capital of the World; worked in London, which used to be the Culture Capital of the World and still reigns as the Fish-and-Chips Capital of the World; got his MBA from UC-Berkeley, which is the Free-Speech Capital of America; and now lives in San Francisco, which is now, arguably, the Start-Up Capital of America. See? Told you so. But this profile isn't about anyone besides Aaron, Modify's CEO, Founder, Director of Player Personnel and connoisseur of fine action movies made between the years 1985 and 1994. Aaron, a self-described "customer service obsessive," founded Modify in 2010 with Gary Coover, a classmate from Haas. The idea? To create a super-affordable, super-dope, super-customizable watch with an unparalleled customer experience. If it sounds complicated, that's because it was. "We found a product that we liked, but then we had to build a company around that we were interested in. Think about two different attributes of Modify: One is customizations, custom products, that customization kind of let's everyone tell their story. So on that one attribute, there were companies I really liked, like Threadless, which has great customer interaction, or Cafe Press or Zazzle, where people can do one-off things that are important to them." "The other [attribute focuses] around service. I'm a Zappos fanboy, and I love any company that does great service." Like, for instance, Joe's New Balance, a distributor that Aaron gave rave reviews for recently replacing his defective kicks with haste, and picking up the cost. "They sent me a new pair overnight and a return label. It was awesome. I wrote them a letter in there that was like, 'You guys are amazing, you got a customer for life.'" Anyone who raves about someone else's customer service in this way isn't lying when they say it's something they care deeply about. But there was a bonus to caring about customers in such an involved capacity: They care about you. "So that was it: Threadless plus Zappos. Get your fans to build it for you, and then they can tell their story, but without being ostentatious." Aaron had the blueprint, but it's been the execution that has propelled Modify to heights. For instance, when you, the consumer, buys a pair of sunglasses or a watch, the normal profit margin on those glasses or watch is around 95 percent. But not at Modify. "Our margins are really low," said Aaron. "But we want people to feel incredible value. So you get this watch, you get a handwritten note with the package — that's not just like a b.s. note either, the goal of that note is to help us do a better job — and then [with the customizing options] you can get nine watches for the price of one." Which is amazing. But if Aaron is a citizen of capital cities, which is his favorite? "London is awesome. It's like New York, in that there are unlimited things to do, but it's a slower pace, and I think it's a more beautiful city. So it's a great walking city. I really like to walk and explore." For now, however, he's making super-dope, interchangeable watches for you, and specifically for you. And yes, that was a universal statement that implied personalization. Deal with it.  

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  • Aaron, you may recognize my name because my mom Lori Lebo Sferra used to babysit you. I love your watches and wear them everyday

    Matt Sferra on

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