After a speedy start to its operations, the American niche watchmaking brand seems to have lost its momentum. What happened and what might other start-ups learn from the story?
You can consider Nooka the watchmaking equivalent of Esperanto, the language that was invented in the hopes that it would be an international way to communicate across cultures.
In the same vein, Nooka designed its watches based on a universal and intuitive way to display the time. For instance, rather than using traditional hands, Nooka watches display the time using a mix of lines, bars or dots to show how time progresses.
Unfortunately, neither Esperanto nor Nooka achieved the worldwide recognition and acceptance that was hoped for.
Initially, the American brand started off with a head of steam, setting up operations at the end of 2005 in New York City headed by designer Matthew Waldman.
The first watches to come off the line were the Zoo and Zot series, which captured the imagination of niche watch enthusiasts. The company expanded quickly - perhaps too quickly - and delved into other lifestyle products like sunglasses, fragrance, belts, and wallets.
The next move was to Tokyo, where the corporate office was established. Given the Japanese savoir faire for technological innovation and quirky and futuristic designs, the move seemed to be a logical choice. Waldman even managed to have a design commissioned by watchmaking giant Seiko.
But if you search for Nooka online today, you might notice that there is more information about the brand on its Wikipedia page than on its website. You can also find some of its watches offered on Groupon, the discount online merchant.
By 2014, the brand was looking for outside capital via crowd funding - usually we see pre-sale brands looking for crowd funding, not those that have been in operation for nearly a decade.
These examples are not necessarily signs of a brand on a continuous upward trajectory, which is unfortunate because the company truly offers something unique in the watch world. While the company received acclaim for its designs, it hasn’t wowed investors as it would have liked.
So what happened?
Part of the answer is most probably bad timing. The brand seemed to have peaked just around when the recession hit in 2008, which is usually catastrophic for any new brand that needs steady capital to grow. The fact that their products were too niche also helps make sense of the halted momentum.
If Nooka doesn’t get bought outright by a bigger fish, I’m sure that founder and talented designer Matthew Waldman will land on his feet and continue designing unique timepieces. That might just have to be under a larger corporate umbrella, and not as the head of his own company.