Justin Kraudel on Building Careers and Connections
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In our fourth episode, Justin Kraudel, founder of MONTA and owner of the sports bar franchise, The Post Sports Bar & Grill, joins host Alana Muller to discuss the networking strategies he has used during different turning points in his career as a business owner. Tune in as Justin shares how to maintain professional relationships while changing career paths and owning multiple businesses. “Giving positive enforcement is critical in networking. Because if you're out there doing that, people feed off that, that's going to come back to you and you're always going to be thought of in a positive way.”
Alana Muller: Welcome to Enterprise.ing, a podcast from Enterprise Bank & Trust that's empowering business leaders, one conversation at a time. We'll hear from different business leaders about how they found success in cultivating their professional networks and keeping them healthy and strong. I'm your host, Alana Muller, an entrepreneurial executive leader, whose primary focus is to connect, inspire and empower community. We at Enterprise Bank & Trust thank you for tuning in to another episode.
Listeners, welcome back to Enterprise.ing Podcast. I'm thrilled to welcome today, Justin Kraudel. I'll tell you that, after fulfilling a lifelong dream of being a stockbroker, you'll have to tell us more about that, Justin. After fulfilling a lifelong dream of being a stockbroker, Justin Kraudel quit the finance industry after 13 years to chase another dream. That's owning a watch brand. Five years later, he says confidently he is two-for-two, in terms of dream fulfillment. Today, in addition to being the founder and CEO of MONTA Watches, he's also the proud owner of a sports bar franchise in St. Louis, Missouri, The Post Sports Bar and Grill. Justin, welcome to Enterprise.ing.
Justin Kraudel: Hey, thank you so much, Alana, and thanks for having me. I'm thrilled to be here.
Alana Muller: Well, I'm delighted. What I'd love for you to do is tell our listeners a little bit about you and these dreams that you're fulfilling. Tell us a little bit about MONTA Watches.
Justin Kraudel: Gosh, I could go on all day, all night, into next week. But, suffice to say, I'm just lucky enough to be living the dream and doing what I love. My personal motto is to do cool stuff and have fun doing it. It's been that way since I was a kid, whether it was finance, which I thought was really cool and I did have a lot of fun with it. But, following my passion for watches and then, as you mentioned, The Post, is just my side hustle, if you will. But, it's been going on for a long time. The resounding theme with all of these things is I've been fortunate enough to surround myself with the right people and that's been my key to success.
Alana Muller: I, of course, love that, because that's all about relationships. So, let's dig into that a little bit. As someone who has changed careers and, by the way, I can relate to that, what networking activities have benefited you? Specifically, what are the activities that bring you into contact with meaningful connections?
Justin Kraudel: Sure, so I'll break that into personal and professional. Which, to me, are basically equals in terms of professional happiness, and personal happiness. From a professional standpoint, this got really prominent and loud last year, during the pandemic. Because I turned everything to social media, which is where MONTA as a brand has excelled anyway. But, I started doing Instagram Live videos. I started posting numerous times a day, really engaging and commenting with customers and fans.Then, that also dovetailed into a lot more text messaging, direct messaging, InMail, email. Like I said, it was mostly a result of the pandemic, but for me, that's where I really excel. I have a pretty good memory for people's names and what they're doing and what they're about. So, leveraged that. Similarly, on a personal standpoint, I'm a big texter. My wife is always astonished at how many text messages I send and receive throughout the day, but it's also very efficient. So, it worked well and then, I still squeeze in a few phone calls or video chats here and there.
But, I think when you sum all that up, and I was thinking about this, is that I love seeing people win and succeed. What I do is, when I see somebody doing well or I see something on LinkedIn, if I know them personally, I'll send them a text, I'll send them an email. Or, if it's a really big thing, I'll give them a phone call, because I just love doing that for people. Seeing what they've accomplished in a job well done and that positive enforcement is critical in the networking. Because if you're out there doing that, people feed off that, that's going to come back to you and you're always going to be thought of in a positive way.
Alana Muller: Wow, oh my gosh. That's just so great. One of the things I wanted to ask you about is how you make your connections mutually beneficial. How you give back and show that mutual appreciation. I think you've just told us. I mean, are there specific instances or examples that you can share, on how you even discover the wins of your connections and how you acknowledge those wins to them?
Justin Kraudel: Yeah, again, I go back to social media, I'm a fan. It's how I make my living now. Even on my personal account, posting about my daughter's birthday or posting about a promotion for somebody, or whatever it may be, I like engaging with that and reminding people. Like the old Jerry McGuire quote, "It's a cynical world." Gosh. Right now, what we've all been going through and everybody's been touched by it somehow, the power of positivity is just needed more now than ever. I've always been a very optimistic, positive type of person, but I feel like I've been trying to turn that into overdrive here lately.
I've seen multiple people who are going through tough times. I actually just got a text message about half an hour ago from a customer who's going through some really tough medical stuff. I noticed that he hadn't posted on Instagram in a month. So, I just reached out and said, "Hey, what's going on?" He's like, "Wow." He goes, "Thanks for thinking of me." Then, he laid that on me, he goes, "I don't mean to share too much." He goes, "But I'm really touched that you reached out."
I said, "Hey, man, I'm here for you. If you want to talk, whatever it is. I know a lot of people. If you need a referral for something, let me see if I can help you." My fraternity in college had a motto that was, "Give, expecting nothing thereof." That just stuck with me, so I've always embraced that. Then, really, really turned it up here lately.
Alana Muller: That's really wonderful and unique. I myself sometimes get on a soapbox about the fact that, at least in this country, we have a tendency to compartmentalize our lives. We have a home life, we have a work life and we have a community life. In many cases, ne'er the twain shall meet. We keep those lives very discrete and separate from one another and I've never quite understood that, because I hope for myself that I'm not a different person who steps outside my front door when I leave my house in the morning.
So, it sounds to me that you've done, really, a masterful job of bringing together those lives. Your ability to bridge the personal and the professional in that it seems not only meaningful to you, personally and professionally, but that your connections have noticed that as well.
Justin Kraudel: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I try to be the same person every day. What you see is what you get, be an open book. I think the harder you work, the luckier you get. If you combine that with just genuine, raw truth, I think you'll do really well. You can't go wrong.
Alana Muller: Yeah, that's really nice. Really nice. For you, when you made a break from a career in finance, which I also did myself, to a career in a luxury consumer product, how did your network react? What did people say to you? Were people supportive? If so, how? Then, sort of in kind, how do you show your own support to others when they're making career changes?
Justin Kraudel: Yeah, great question. The responses, the answers, were all over the board. From, "Are you having a quarter-life, mid-life crisis? What are you doing? You're crazy, you've got a good thing going." Just general bewilderment. Then, you had the opposite of the spectrum. People jumping out of their chair. I have a very good friend of mine who, the moment I opened up the idea, he just said, "Do it." I mean, I didn't even get to explain it fully. He told me a story of something he went through and how he regretted not doing the path he could have taken. He goes, "This is your chance. You have to do this."
So, I wrote an article on LinkedIn you may have seen, about this. The process as I went through and reminding myself every day of why I'm doing this. I'm a big fan of quotes, as you may have noticed, and so, I arrived at one myself. That is that the pain of regret is greater than the pain of failure. I just kept saying that to myself, over and over and over again. I knew that, if I didn't do this, and I saw my now-business partner do it by himself and see the success that I knew he would attain, I was going to be like, "Man. It could have been me and him doing this together."
It's easy to say now, five years later, that it's all worked out and it's come true. But, yeah, just a whirlwind thing to go through. I think, throughout my career, I've been able to surprise myself, over and over again. Whether it was in finance and like, "I'll never be able to pass the Certified Financial Planner Test." Somehow, I did it. "Wow. I surprised myself." "I would never quit to go chase a watch brand." Boom, surprise yourself. So, continuing to do that.
Alana Muller: Well, just for the record, I'm a MONTA fan myself. So, as soon as you have the women's version of the Atlas or the Noble designs in opalin silver dial, think of me.
Justin Kraudel: There you go. For sure.
Alana Muller: Yeah. I think that's pretty cool.
Justin Kraudel: I think the opalin Noble is ready for you right now. Two reasons, men's watches are going a little bit smaller in size, where women's watches are going bigger, there's a trend. There's this nice intersection. The Noble falls at 38-and-a-half millimeters, perfect size. My wife wears it, several friends' wives wear it.
Then the other thing, I heard somebody say this the other day, I can't take credit for it, but they said, "You don't go to the car dealership and say, 'Where are the women's cars?' Right? You don't say, 'Where are the men's cars?'" It's just you shop for a car. I think the exact same thing applies. You shop for a watch. If you're a woman and you want the big, jacked-up 4x4 pickup truck, great, go get it. Same thing if you want the 30-and-a-half millimeter Noble, come and get it,
Alana Muller: Of course, you know I think that's fabulous. So, count me in. I think that's so great. I want to continue talking about MONTA watches, but I want to sort of bring it back to this notion of relationships. I just think that the MONTA Watch philosophy is remarkable. In particular, my understanding is that you say it's about creating something valuable lasting and precise. You also say that your products have perfect finishing, but are never finished. So, can you apply these concepts to relationship building? If so, what has this meant for you?
Justin Kraudel: Yeah, just the constant pursuit of always doing better, always doing more. I love meeting new people and not knowing, the excitement of not knowing what's going to happen. Who they are, what they're about, how they're going to impact your life, whether it's personal or professional. I think the watch industry in general, and from where we sit as an independent micro-brand, as a smaller brand, that we have customers of all walks of life. I've met people literally all over the world.
I was just in Switzerland three weeks ago and was meeting with manufacturing partners and meeting new manufacturing partners. Some of these men and women, you have one meeting and that's it. But other ones, for some reason, you hit it off and you exchange numbers and then you start texting and emailing. The next time you're in their city or they're in your city, you get together. For me, that's what I love the most about networking, but also with the watch industry, is combining those two aspects and making genuine friends that I otherwise never would've met in this world.
You have this instant bond over watches. So, you can strike up a conversation with a stranger about their watch. Obviously, I have a very easy way in, to say, "Oh, well, I own a small Swiss brand and here's what we do." I'm shameless when it comes to that, which I don't mind. Sometimes the conversation ensues, sometimes it's short, but got to take your chance. You never know who you're going to meet.
Alana Muller: Love that. That's just so great, Justin, it seems that, in fact, I mean, sort of along those lines, you're concurrently pursuing several different interests and passions. Things that are important to you, and that includes watches to convening people in your sports bar. So, how have these various concepts supported one another? I mean, especially from a relationship and network-building perspective? Watches to convening people, what does that look like for you?
Justin Kraudel: Yeah, it's funny, when I meet people and they ask what I do, if I'm in a spunky mood, I say, "Swiss watches and sports bars." Then, they usually scratch their head and I say, "You've never met anybody that said that before, surely." But, the way the two have intertwined, it's pretty simple in the sense that it's a great place to entertain, at your own restaurant, because you know you're going to get good service.
Then obviously, I pick up the check. But, the other way around, I guess, I've done some charity auctions where we'll do a watch or we'll do a fantasy football draft party at The Post. Not necessarily a package deal, but side by side. I've also had the ability, now, to leverage some of my manufacturers from the watch industry, which is very basic things like printing or boxes, or something like that, for the sports bar. We actually just recently needed to reorder a bunch of our plastic 22-ounce cups and reached out to someone I knew that knew someone in that industry and made the connection.
I don't know if we have a deal yet, but we're working on pricing, just to see where it comes out. Back to that mentality of you never know who you're going to meet and how they're going to intertwine, the real shining moment for me will be, someday soon, when I'm at The Post and I see somebody wearing a MANTA and I can go over and introduce myself and buy their lunch or their drink and thank them for supporting both of my businesses.
Alana Muller: That's very cool. Very cool. What's great about it is that you really can bridge that divide, that they're not so different. That there's a human aspect to both. Especially today, we're in such a polarized time, polarized world, that these are two very cool, very non-political, non-biased areas that you can bring people together. So, I think that's pretty special.
Justin Kraudel: Yeah, and focus on the quality too. Everything we do at both businesses, probably more so with the watches. As I say, the perfect watch doesn't exist, but an excellent watch does. Similar in the restaurant industry. Things are going to happen, employee has a bad day and your burger's overcooked or your drink is warm, or whatever it is. But, it's all about how you respond and make it right and take care of the customer.
Alana Muller: Yeah, I think that's great. Tell us a little bit about an interaction that you've had with someone, personally or professionally, somebody who has had a meaningful impact on your life.
Justin Kraudel: This is a great one. Thank you for asking that. This is a very easy one for me, because it's my business partner, Michael DiMartini. I wouldn't be sitting here without him. The way we met is, talk about taking me back to my finance days and really embracing networking and trying to win new business and bring in clients, I thought of a creative way to marry my work and my passion with watches. I created, basically, a networking group of what I call Watch Nerds. I reached out to seven or eight of my friends, who I knew had a watch and had some interest. Said, "Let's meet once a month at a local restaurant or club or bar or whatever and talk watches."
The conversation will turn to other things, of course, sports, travel, cars, vacations, whatever. So, I started this, didn't go very well at first, but it progressed. Then, at that same time, I bought a black rubber strap from Everest, which is Mike's other company, his other business, for my Rolex. Had no idea the company was based in St. Louis. He reaches out to me, because he sees the order come in from a St. Louis address and says, "Hey, we should get together."
So, we do. I tell him about my little watch group, which he, of course, is adamant about getting involved in, because it's all of his customer base. Over the next several months, we just start hitting it off. We grab coffee together, we grab lunch together. I see him every month at my little watch meet up. Then, he starts opening up about his idea for MONTA with me. Then, that leads to, "Hey, you should quit your job at Morgan Stanley and come do this with me." It was kind of this joke, like, "Yeah, that's very funny"-
Alana Muller: Great idea.
Justin Kraudel: "That would be great. But, I've got a good thing going here." So, long story short, everyone knows how this ended. He convinced me to do it. I think back, that if I had not taken the initiative to be like, "I want to get together with some fellow, like-minded watch people." He and I probably never would've met and wouldn't be sitting here as the proud owner of a watch brand, having this conversation with you. Obviously your listeners won't be able to see this, but behind me I have these posters in my office. One of says, "Take the risk or lose the chance." That sums it up. Got to take the risk.
Alana Muller: I think that's neat. The other thing, though, is that you were both open to the notion of the connection, right? That you didn't know where it would lead, but we call it a risk and I think for many people, it does feel risky. But, what's the worst thing that could happen, in terms of a networking interaction? If you hate each other, never see each other again, but you obviously hit it off. I have to ask, is your watch group still meeting every month?
Justin Kraudel: They are. I'm very proud of that, too. It's grown tremendously. This was eight years ago I started this thing.
Alana Muller: Oh, wow.
Justin Kraudel: Yeah. Once I got in the business, the watch business, of course, to avoid conflict of interest, I handed it over to another guy who's really passionate about it. He's done a great job growing it. I still go to him every now and then. I don't want to be at every one, like, "Oh, here comes the guy who owns the watch brand who wants to talk to us." So, I show up randomly and I usually will actually bring a non-MONTA watch with me so I'm so I'm contributing to the group.
Alana Muller: Cool. That's good. Yeah, it's funny. I have a pal who is, you'd call him a watch nerd, I would have said a watch aficionado. I'm not sure, he might be both, but, I mean, on the side, he buys these grand old watches and he takes them apart, with the dream of putting them back together. So, I think it's pretty cool. If he lived in St. Louis, I'd send him to you.
Justin Kraudel: Definitely.
Alana Muller: He could be part of your watch club.
Justin Kraudel: Yeah. Anybody listening, if they want to get involved, reach out to me. We'd love to have more dedicated members.
Alana Muller: Very cool. In terms of somebody who is seeking advice from you, about how to grow or cultivate their own professional network, what would you tell them?
Justin Kraudel: I think what you've just heard from me is always do it for the right reasons. Don't be selfish, don't be, "What's in it for me?" Do your research, know what's going on around you. The story I like to tell with this one is, when I was in finance, every Friday, I would take the St. Louis Business Journal to my local, favorite little sandwich shop and go through it. I wanted to know what's going on, who's moving, who's shaking. St. Louis is small enough that you'll see these people out and about. At a restaurant, at the grocery store, at church, whatever it is. It used to drive my wife crazy, but I'd just walk up and if there was somebody I wanted to meet, I'd introduce myself.
I think the key there for your listeners is do that tactfully. You got to be forthright and genuine. Don't be shy, dare I say, weird. You want to come at it with the right type of situation. I think if you're respectful and you're enthusiastic, people respect that and they're open to it.
They're not going to sit there and talk with you for an hour, but if you see CEO and say, "Hello, Mr. So-and-so, my name's Justin Kraudel And I read an article about what you did in the Business Journal last week and I think it's amazing you guys have been able to grow profits, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." I always have my business card and I'd give my card and say, "If you ever want to grab coffee, I'd love to hear more about your story." People like that, they want to tell their story. They want to meet new people, they want to dispense some advice, when they have advice to give.
Alana Muller: Yeah. Well, and as you've approached people in coffee shops, has anybody ever told you to get lost? I'm guessing not.
Justin Kraudel: Not get lost, because I think I have enough couth to my strategy, but you can tell when people are like, "Thank you"-
Alana Muller: "Thank you. Now get lost."
Justin Kraudel: Yeah. "I'm with my wife and kids." Or, "I'm just trying to have a quiet moment." That's why, I mean, you have to respect that too. But again, take, take the risk or lose the chance.
Alana Muller: Yeah. Love it. Love it. I always ask this fun question, sorry. I can't wait for your answer, but if you could meet with anyone for a cup of coffee, living, dead, fictional, non-fictional, who would it be and why?
Justin Kraudel: So, this is a tough one for me. Right now, I should probably say, is this living or dead type of thing, right?
Alana Muller: Yeah. Anyone.
Justin Kraudel: I should say Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill or somebody like that, given what's going on all around us in the world. But, I'm going to throw a wild one out here and this is probably somebody you don't know, maybe a lot of your listeners don't know. That's Michael Saylor and he's the CEO of a company called MicroStrategy group. The reason why I would like to meet him is because my finance background started creeping back in during the pandemic.
I became obsessed with cryptocurrencies, particularly Bitcoin. He is the leader in the space, far and away, as the CEO of a publicly traded company of embracing it on his balance sheet. Giving talks and very active on Twitter. So, naturally, I'm just fascinated by his take on that, but also I'm blown away, more than anything, with his conviction, to do something that most people say is crazy and so audacious, too audacious. But, he's had so much success with it.
I know it's still early. I don't know, he's probably like in his late fifties, early sixties, I just want to absorb, with a sponge, as much as I can about his conviction. That's the word I keep coming back to. Because if you're you have that much conviction about something, that just sheer feeling of being stoppable, I think, when harnessed the right way, is a very powerful tool in business.
Alana Muller: Okay. That's very cool. Yeah, nobody has said Michael Saylor yet, so I'm pretty excited about that one.
Justin Kraudel: Had you heard of him before this?
Alana Muller: Yes, I have, because I know MicroStrategy. But, you're right, probably a lot of people haven't. That notion of conviction, it's definitely one to consider, because people, when you can sort of see their passion and it comes through in the things they're talking about. Especially on that particular topic, I mean, there are a lot of people who I think don't understand cryptocurrency, including myself by the way. But, I think that there's so much volatility in it right now and uncertainty in a lot of companies.
So, the fact that somebody has schooled themselves, become as much of an expert as you possibly can in an emerging field. I think that's pretty exciting. So, what a cool choice. So, thank you for sharing that. Justin, I have loved getting to know you. I look forward to coming to visit you at The Post and wearing MONTA watch and getting to know you more. So, next time I'm in St. Louis, you can count on that. Tell our listeners how to learn more about MONTA and more about The Post.
Justin Kraudel: So, websites are probably the easiest for both. Montawatch.com, that's M-O-N-T-A, watch.com. Then, thepostsportsbar.com. You find both brands on Instagram and Facebook, of course. Then, you can also find me on LinkedIn and then there's further links to each one of those via LinkedIn. Or, just pick up the phone and give me a ring. Phone number is on the website.
Alana Muller: That's awesome. Justin Kraudel, thank you so much for being on Enterprise.ing today. It's so great to get to know you and I really appreciate all the great tips and advice you've shared with our listeners.
Justin Kraudel: My pleasure. Thanks again for having me.
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