Timeless Ambition: Engineering Freshman Starts Own Watch Brand

Watches keep mechanical engineering freshman Reed Stephens up at night.

Article by Deanna Narveson of the LSU Daily Reveille, published on February 8, 2015.

Watches keep mechanical engineering freshman Reed Stephens up at night.

Not because they tick in his ear, but because designs and ideas for his new watch brand, Ambici, run through his head long after his school day is over.

Stephens got the idea to start Ambici, a company selling watches with faces and bands made of natural woods, with his 16-year-old brother Riley last summer. The months since then have been a race of juggling his first year of college, designing watches and learning how to finance a business.

“My family went on vacation over the summer and I had nothing else to do, so I started looking into how you start your own name brand, and I found a manufacturer,” Reed said. “[My brother and I] were looking into wooden watches because it’s a small market, but there’s few competitors.”

He said they were also into wooden products because the Stephens’ father and grandfather were carpenters. Some of Reed’s earliest memories were of woodworking with his father, and he’s always liked making things.

“I like the moving parts, that’s something that’s intriguing,” Reed said. “On the outside it’s just ticking, and on the inside it’s all these moving pieces. For guys, we don’t really have anything we wear. Girls have jewelry, necklaces — but guys, we have watches. I just thought it would be cool.”

Reed jokes about being a nerd and asked for a 3-D printer for Christmas last year, which he then used to build an engine he’d worked on for months using the program AutoCad. He said his friends tease about not having much fashion sense.

“[Making] watches is never something I expected myself to get into, but now this is just the start,” Reed said. “We are looking at making other wooden accessories, too.”

Reed started emailing a manufacturer based in China who develops the watches for Ambici based on designs the brothers come up with.

They narrowed it down to four main designs with different types of wood to start Ambici. The inside of the watches are cased in metal, because the wood shrinks over time and could break the crystal part of the watch.

To make their first 500 watches, which will come in a few weeks, Reed needed $12,500. Using a KickStarter campaign pre-selling the designs, he and his brother gathered $21,000, and Ambici was underway.

The name of the company, its slogan and logo all come from the word ambition, one of Reed’s favorites.

“The word Ambici is actually Albanian for the word ambition,” Reed said. “The logo, it’s called a Greek triskelion. It’s a symbol for competition and human progress, and we like that because part of the profits we make goes to Alzheimer’s research.”

In 2004, the Stephens’ grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She moved in with the family six years later because she needed help with most aspects of taking care of herself.

That’s the best part about starting his own business, Reed said. The brothers decide where their profits go. The brothers officially signed Ambici into existence less than a month ago and will focus on growing their business for the next several months.

Each batch of the watches that comes in will go to fund the next batch until they have enough cash flow to produce more styles and types. Reed said they hope to have them in some local stores and online.

Their first few watches shipped from the manufacturer while Reed was already at school, so he drove home to Mandeville, Louisiana, as soon as possible to see them.

“Its cool to see everything that you’ve been doing on a screen actually become reality,” Reed said.

He and his brother share the duties of Ambici, almost they way they shared chores growing up.

Reed said he knows Ambici shouldn’t take precedence over schoolwork, but sometimes it does.

“I’ll be like ‘ah, physics homework or watch design,’ and I’ll push the physics homework off,” Reed said. “The night before last, I couldn’t sleep. It’s almost an obsession at this point. Before it was just something I wore on my wrist, and now it’s a business.”