EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: WatchPro speaks to Kronaby’s Jonas Morän

WatchPro first featured Swedish connected watchmaker Kronaby in 2017 after a fascinating trip to the company’s headquarters in Malmo.

A year-on, and the business has produced a second generation of hybrid watches that show how adaptable its core technology is to shifting consumer demands for different apps. To find out the potential for today’s timepieces and a glimpse into what’s next for Kronaby, WatchPro publisher Daniel Malins spoke to the company’s head of product Jonas Morän for an update.

Jonas Morän was in the gang of 15 people that left highly successful mobile phone careers in 2015 and set up a company with the vision of creating gadgets that broadly slotted into the emerging  ‘Internet of Things’ category. The parent company Anima quickly settled on the idea of designing and manufacturing connected watches, and dreamt up the name of Kronaby for the brand.

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The team brought together all the disciplines required for a successful company, and they also found the financial backing they needed. Mr Morän was chiefly the head nerd of the business, but he recognised that technology alone would not get Kronaby off the ground. “I’d been working in the area of mobile, feature and smartphones since the late nineties. Working with consumer electronics products within a large company there are always conflicting interests and priorities that to some extent make products come out compromised. Kronaby was a great opportunity to create something we really believe in with a small and fast moving team,” he recalls.

The team was liberated from the corporate culture of the global mobile communications companies they all left, and were able to start with a blank piece of paper and a belief they could create something special. “To be able to sit down with a group of people that you know and respect for their expertise and proven track record and say: “what should we do?” That’s really an opportunity you don’t get that often. Early on we set a model that guided us: three intersecting circles representing competence, business potential and passion. With that as a guide we could have a discussion to determine if an idea hit the area where all three circles intersect or not. As a group Kronaby is very much something that we designed for ourselves,” Mr Morän describes.

Armed with a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering and almost 20 years working for Ericsson, Sony Ericsson and eventually Sony Mobile, Mr Morän had expertise in everything from R&D to sourcing of materials and components. He also saw product development right through to the point where he introduced them to customers, which gave him a much more rounded view of business and commerce than a typical techie. “Starting in R&D, I moved to sourcing after a few years and then ended up working with new product concepts for smartphones and accessory products. It has provided a great opportunity to see a company from several angles. And, maybe even more importantly, to meet suppliers, customers, partners and colleagues from all over the world,” he says.

Kronaby has taken an uncompromising approach to product development, corporate culture, project management, marketing, manufacturing, customer relationship management and service from day one. It is this focus and passion that has led to what is fast becoming a global success story. On the development side, Kronaby does everything in-house. “That means the people making the electrical and mechanical design are sitting at arm’s length from the industrial designer and product manager. A few paces further down, the UX [user interface] and App team are located. This enables us to always be aligned as to what the priorities are to create a great experience for our users, where the physical product and the software interact seamlessly. It also makes it possible to deliver performance like the battery life up to two years and excellent Bluetooth range that you couldn’t do if you’d have had isolated teams sitting in different parts of a large building or, even worse, at different locations,” Mr Morän explains.

Creating that development programme was a familiar project for Mr Morän that quickly created watches that were good enough to demonstrate to wholesalers and retail partners at Baselworld 2017, just 18 months after the company was founded. Speed was second nature to the Swedish team, but ran into quick sand when the business started working with the wider watch industry. “I’ve learnt that the watch industry is used to a different pace compared to ours. In several areas we have pushed the boundaries to bring Kronaby to the market in just over one year. In a few other areas we have learnt to slow down just a little,” he laughs.

Kronaby did not set out to reinvent watches that have been made for centuries by companies that now cluster in Switzerland. The company wanted to embrace many of the fine watchmaking techniques, and to create watches that sat comfortably in the same ecosystem; an important consideration because the plan was always to sell watches through traditional watch channels as well as working with fast growing ecommerce players. “I’d say the watch market, like many others, is facing a lot of change in the coming years. Globalisation and e-commerce are already changing the game. Technology is of course also a game changer for the industry. So observing the market with fresh eyes there is a lot of activity. I think there is a shared sense of urgency and some are acting, some aren’t. ‘The watch industry’ as a phrase spans a very wide range of offerings and I think the winners will be the ones that can offer something special with their brand. That can be in heritage and craftsmanship, or innovation and functionality,” Mr Morän suggests.

Kronaby faces the problem of every start-up business, which is to get its message out and to be heard. In addition, the company is operating in the fledgling connected and smartwatch space, which has not been universally embraced by traditional retailers or consumers. Mr Morän is frustrated that he can’t speak to every potential customer individually. “My experience is that if I get one minute with anyone, they immediately go: “Wow, I totally get it!” It’s so difficult to convey that one minute of conversation in a single image or short phrase. We need to be creative in the way we communicate our brand and products,” he says.

Unlike some start-ups, Kronaby is on the front foot with its sales and marketing plans, and will not rely solely on fighting for attention on social media (although this certainly is part of their mix). As Mr Morän describes, the concept and watches work best when somebody is out in the market talking about them, which is why the company is investing in people on the ground with dedicated sales teams in the UK, United States and Sweden.

Kronaby’s watches have been in the UK market for 18 months now, and retail partners are seeing them sell through, but managing a network of retailers requires constant investment of time and money to make sure the connected watches are sold the right way by in store experts. “In general our products do require a little bit of extra staff training compared to a traditional quartz watch that’s all about the physical product. As a whole I think the vast majority of retailers see connected hybrid watches the same way we do – it’s a natural evolution of quartz watches. We believe that connected hybrid watches will change the watch industry very much the same way that quartz did in the seventies,” Mr Morän says.

Along with incremental upgrades to the functionality of its 2018 models, Kronaby has also partnered with Barclays bPay this year to create stylish leather watch straps that have a contactless payment chip embedded. The chip, just like the one on every UK debit card, lets people tap and go with any contactless payment terminal, which includes barriers at train stations.

The upgrade since 2017 has not been dramatic from a technology point of view. “The fundamental technology is quite robust and we see that a Kronaby watch from today will still be valid many, many years from now. The great thing about having all development in-house is that we can work with the software to provide new functionality. That said, our latest movement also provides a scalable platform that can be configured with additional features in the future,” Mr Morän says.

The aim as the technology improves is for nobody to notice unless they want to. Kronaby, first and foremost, makes beautiful looking timepieces that a Swiss maker like Longines or Tissot would be proud of. The additional connected functionality is a bonus on the watch, and it also helps people spend less time staring at smartphone screens. “It very much focuses around “Connected not distracted”. Just looking at ourselves we feel that our smartphones are changing the way we are. From one end enabling productivity and connection to others, but in the other end distracting us from here and now as, well as long uninterrupted thoughts and conversations. We want to build Kronaby to be a combination of a desirable accessory you wear proudly at any occasion and a helpful companion that helps you keep focus and simplifies small tasks throughout your day almost without you even noticing it,” Mr Morän explains.

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