On today's episode I'm chatting with Olivia Landau, CEO and founder of The Clear Cut.
Olivia’s business, The Clear Cut, is a direct to consumer jewellery business that’s completely disrupting the industry. They’ve flipped the traditional jewellery on its head through marketing, zoom call appointments and supply chain. She's a diamond expert, GIA Graduate Gemologist and 4th generation jeweller with social know-how and millennial charm. We learn about how she and her now husband came to start the business, the accelerator program that gave them the structure they needed to scale and what’s working for them right now.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
Olivia. Hi, thank you so much for being on the show today. Thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited. I'm glad I'd love to go back to the very beginning of your university days and learn about that time in your life when you and your now husband. Congratulations were I'm going to disrupt the jewelry industry with your idea for the Clear Cut.
00:04:44Edit Yeah, So I always grew up around diamonds gemstones. Um my family comes from four generations of diamond cutters and dealers from my dad's side and my mom, my dad started their own um, antique jewelry business. So I always grew up around it but never I really thought I would go into the industry myself, they always told me it was kind of a dying industry and I should focus you know my studies on something a little bit more practical. So I went to N. Y. U. And I studied Media and communication and I minored in east asian studies and I always thought I was going to be like a journalist or like work in media and I did a lot of internships in new york and that's really why I wanted to be here but realized through all those internships I didn't really have the passion that I originally thought I did. So upon graduation was a bit confused about the direction I wanted to take my career. So I decided that I wanted to extend my schooling a bit and you know I was always interested in you know gemstones and you know sparkly beautiful things from growing up around it.
00:05:55Edit So I convinced my parents to let me go to G. I. A. Which is the Gemological Institute of America and there's a campus here in new york to take the graduate gemologist course which is six months. So they agreed and I you know convinced them like I'll just go into like corporate like in the jewelry world something like that I just want to explore and they were totally cool with that. So I enrolled right after graduation and I fell in love with gemstones and diamonds and I think it was just always in my blood all along and really found my passion immediately. Um While I was there, I also met my now husband and co founder Kyle, he had come from a really different background and he was taking the diamonds course and I spotted him across the room and actually followed him home on the subway and you know, started tutoring him and we were doing our homework and um he had come from a Fair trade mining background, so he founded a Fair trade mine in Sierra Leone and his investors had sent him to G.
00:06:58Edit I. A. To learn more about diamonds. So he was there temporarily and then moved back to africa for a year until the Ebola epidemic. I went directly to work at Tiffany on their engagement floor and that's where I fell in love with um bridal jewelry specifically loved working with couples getting engaged, loved diamonds, and I really want to get my hands a little dirtier kind of work more with the product. So after Tiffany worked at a large diamond wholesaler here in new york and at the same time Kyle returned back to the US enrolled um after you know Ebola kind of shut down his operation, enrolled at business school in Colombia and a lot of his friends, it was kind of this weird phenomenon were in the market to get engaged all at the same time and they all knew that he had some sort of diamond background, so I would go to him and be like, hey, do you know a guy, then give me a good deal on a ring and I was that guy. So um, they would all like come to me and I'll help, you know, work with them to pick out their diamond, educate them and create like a custom ring.
00:08:07Edit And then I just started posting some of those designs on instagram and organically, people started following, reaching out, asking if I could make their rings. So it kind of took on a life of its own and it was a little like side hustle, like passion project for me, um I'd gone on, became a gemologist elsewhere, but it was kind of hard to balance, you know, this passion project side hustle blog and also my full time job. So Kyle was graduating from business school and as an entrepreneur at heart, I'm the risk adverse person. Um, he was like, we should just quit our jobs and like try the clear cut, like were young, like, what else are we gonna do this? So, um, I was like, I don't know, someone has to like have a job and like pay the rent new york is like, you know, expensive. So I told him, you know, I really would like to get into an accelerator that would really make me feel a lot more confident in my decision. Our parents weren't like, 100% supportive of us, like, jumping into this. So we applied to techstars, which is like a tech accelerator and there was a branch in new york and I said, you know, if we get in, they give you a little seed funding, um they give you kind of like this founder bootcamp, like one oh one for three months and I really thought I needed it, um but never thought we would get accepted, um but we did, and I had committed to, you know, it's like if we get accepted, I'll definitely quit my job.
00:09:31Edit So once we did, I couldn't really go back on my word, and it was the best thing That ever happened to us, um that was January of 2018, so we started techstars then, and that's where we both committed full time to the clear cut, which, you know, at the time it was just building this direct to consumer, like custom engagement ring business, and now we've expanded to like, find jewelry, um and we've been growing exponentially over the past two years, which has been amazing, wow, it's such an interesting story and I think it's really cool that you went into the accelerator program versus like just going straight out and being like, yep, like, we're going to get funding, we already know what we're thinking and what we're doing and you were kind of like, we've proven the concept like, we know people want this, but we want to take this other route, which is really cool, definitely. Like an interesting move. Yeah, I, I had, I mean Kyle had founded a company before, but I never had and I think I, I just really wanted that support the network and you know, I think it was a great way to also be around other founders in the same position as you because I didn't know any other founders.
00:10:44Edit So it was a great community and a great way for me to like step into um, like the ceo founder role. Yeah, absolutely. For sure. Are you able to share a little bit about the seed funding that they gave you and how you use that money in the beginning to launch the business and get started. Yeah. So techstars, um, they give you, I think it was around 120,000 and it was for the three month program and it converts, but it was really helpful just to have that as, you know, we were profitable and I don't think we ever really dipped into it during the time, but it was just good because it gave us the confidence to take risks that we may not have been able to, without having that backup, you know, after quitting like our jobs. Yeah, for sure. I imagine that like, usually for people getting into the industry, it must be difficult because it's a it's like a high price of the cost of goods. So the barrier of that entry is higher. But I guess you guys had that kind of you know background with your families and that kind of thing that you have already understood the industry for anyone who is looking to get into the world of jewelry and in particular engagement jewelry, diamonds, that kind of thing.
00:11:55Edit How would you recommend getting started? Do you have to do these studies at G. A. And that kind of thing? I would say that it's always recommended because if your people are going to spend their money with you and you are going to be let's say an expert in your industry, you should um have some sort of background and education on it. So I would always recommend, you know, if not doing the full graduate gemologist program at least doing the graduate diamonds just having that based foundation is you know helps your credibility, helps you know your own knowledge with your own business. And I also think what's really helpful is actual tangible industry experience. I was really happy um that I got you know to play around and have like the experience in the retail like corporate retail setting at Tiffany and also more of like the wholesale industry. So I got to see, you know, two different aspects um that are big parts of the jewelry industry to really understand like where I could find my niche, where like I could, you know, better served this demographic of customers that wasn't being served.
00:12:58Edit So the more experience you have, the more connections you're gonna make and the better like your business will be. Yeah, for sure. And you guys obviously have a really great skew towards like the millennial woman, the younger kind of crowd, I imagine. Well, I know jewelry is typically a male dominated industry. What have you had to overcome and what challenges have you faced as a woman in this industry? And do you have any advantages? You know, playing in this space? It's tricky. Um So I think like the advantage is definitely nowadays the customer has changed a lot. So historically with jewelry, it was always in a heterosexual relationship, A man buying jewelry for their wife or girlfriend and you know, their partner probably has no say in it and it just shows like how much they love them or like whatever and they'll just be happy with whatever they get. Nowadays, couples are working together most of the time to make this huge purchase that she's gonna wear on her finger hopefully for the rest of their lives and it's a symbol of their relationship.
00:14:05Edit So women are much more involved in the process from start to finish even contributing financially. Oftentimes, so I think our generation is different. So as a millennial young woman, I think I get to speak directly to our clients. Like I understand who they are, like I know their needs. I know they're like aesthetic preferences. So that has definitely been an advantage than working with like an older man who may not know what a young woman wants to wear industry wise. Yes, it's always challenging because it's difficult to have people take you seriously when you're a young woman working mostly with 50 to 60 year old men, like, like my dad's age all the time, so you really have to kind of work harder and prove yourself and then over time you do gain respect, but it is a hurdle, constant hurdle. But I think I, you know, at least with some of our main partners, I have like proven myself at this point, but when starting out, you know, everyone's a bit more skeptical. Yeah, for sure I bet.
00:15:07Edit And I guess like now you have the results to back it up and you have the the amazing audience that you've built on social media and that kind of thing. But it does, yeah, it does take time. It's not um like you making it overnight, like some typical startups, it's like a grind constant, like proving yourself, but once you do, you know, appears off Yeah, for sure. I want to go back to the time sort of when you were finished textiles and you were kind of ready to properly launch the brand, Get out there, get the word out. What are the kinds of things you were doing in those early days to kind of build the business and what kind of learnings did you take from Techstars into that launch? So we didn't have a like proper like this is the day we launched. We had been, you know, iterating over time, especially because we did start off as like a hobby and a blog and kind of an instagram account. But what, and that's kind of what I learned from Techstars was like if you're not embarrassed by your launch, you waited too long.
00:16:10Edit So constantly just putting things out there, testing it, seeing people's reactions and being quick to iterate and you know, improve, not like waiting and waiting for everything to be so perfect. Yeah, for sure. And so once you were kind of like building that business, you were in the grind in the hustle. What were the kinds of marketing you were doing at the very beginning? I'm obviously aware your instagram was a big part of your success and it's obviously changed in the last few years to be more of a pay to play kind of tool. But what else were you doing in those early days to find new people and new customers? Yeah, so I think it was a couple of things and when we were starting out, it was, I mean we were just doing organic marketing for a long, long time. Like we weren't paying for marketing for a weirdly long time. So it was always creating, you know, relatable, organic interesting content. So I would always be thinking of new ideas for like educational videos or blog posts, also engaging customers to share their proposal stories are clear cut couples.
00:17:17Edit People love, you know, looking at what ring they got and like how they got engaged and things like that. People love love and people love diamonds and jewelries and learning more about it. So it's constantly and this is still a big pillar of like our marketing strategy, creating original educational content um around not only like the actual diamonds but around bridal and engagement um in general. So that's still a big thing now, you know, we do it beyond instagram is definitely like our main platform where most of our community is, but now we're expanding to like Youtube and Tiktok and um finding, you know, new people that are always interested in learning more. How's Tiktok going for you guys? So I was really hesitant at first because I was like, I don't know, everyone's so young, but it's been going pretty well recently. Um you know, people are really engaged in the educational content, learning more about diamonds. And I think, you know, it's kind of evolved as a platform even in the past couple of months where at first it's just people like dancing and doing funny things and now there is a lot of educational material being created on the platform.
00:18:28Edit So we're kind of fitting into this little niche there as well. Yeah, it's, I think it's um evolved in such a cool way and I really hope that someone buys the platform so it remains in the US. It's just such a, it would be such a shame I feel to lose chick dog. Yeah, I love it because it is like a very organic platform to people are like very authentic on it and I think that you know speaks to our brand, we're always trying to be you know, authentic transparent and it kind of fits well into Tiktok. Yeah, for sure. Absolutely lots of sparkle, lots of, lots of nice things to look at. I was wanting to talk about your kind of like your strategy in terms of being this really um new disruptive company online. You, I read that you do a lot of things like zoom call appointments and things that typically people would say, oh like I have to buy my ring in my town because I have to see it in real life, can you talk a little bit about that decision to be like, no, we're going to do this online and we're gonna build it strictly well, not strictly, I know you guys probably do appointments and things like that as well, but building this online presence where people can have their appointments with you over something like zoom.
00:19:42Edit Yeah, I mean like I said it happened, it wasn't like a strategy. I went into thinking like we're definitely going to do remote appointments mainly. But it just happened organically where we realized that most people that were reaching out to us for customer ring were not local in new york. There were people across the country and the world that may not have access to, you know, the quality or the craftsmanship at these price points in their town. But they, you know, are online, they're on instagram, they know exactly what they're looking for. They know they want a good value and they want, you know, that personalized attention, which if you go into, you know, your strip mall jeweler, your mom pop jeweler, there's a very limited amount you can choose from. Usually it's marked up really high and you're just gonna like plop it into a setting that's already made and there's nothing really like special or personalized about it. So before Covid, we were already like 70% completely remote and now we're like 99%. So it's something now we've seen the trend and we're like, okay, this is definitely the future, especially now, you know, not many people are as comfortable, you know, going into a jewelry store.
00:20:51Edit So what we do with all of our clients, no matter if they're in person in our showroom or if their remote is we always hop on a 10 to 15 minute conversation with them just to get to know them, understand their preferences, price point, you know, walk them through the process and then for all of our clients, we handpicked the selection of diamonds specifically for their needs. Right now we're working on some, some technology to help our, you know, elevate our remote experience because we really think that that's gonna be the future. But we send them right now videos, detailed descriptions um, of each of the diamonds. We work together to narrow it down, pop on zoom calls or google hangouts just to talk to them, show them their diamonds. And then we create a custom ring for each one. So it is a really hands on, personalized experience. I feel like sometimes going in person, you may not get to work with someone with as much knowledge or expertise that does give you as much attention. So even though it's remote and not in person, I think, you know, you still get that extra level of attention and you know, quality and detail and I actually feel like you have a layer that is super like lends itself to sharing for example, because if you're sending someone, like tons of videos on WhatsApp, they're going to like directly forward that on to their friend and be like, hey, what do you think?
00:22:10Edit Like, what do you think about this? Whereas typically maybe that wouldn't happen because you'd come in, you'd make the design, you talk about it blah blah blah and then you get the ring, oh, that's so cool and it's naturally a referral based business because you get engaged and then probably like your group of friends are in the market sometime soon and they're like, I love your ring, where did you get it? What was your experience life like? So a lot of our business comes from word of mouth too, so it's very important for us to you know, have the highest level of customer service, make sure everything is perfect because that's you know, part of our, you know, customer acquisition channel as well. And how long does that process take? Like from someone reaching out to you having a zoom call to them getting the ring, is it a faster lead time than usual or is it Well, so I would say the whole process, we usually like to a lot at least two months to it. So about like 123 weeks to pick out the diamond because it just depends on the client and then it takes about 3-5 or six weeks to create the ring because they're all handmade here in New York, depending on the design.
00:23:16Edit So cool. Yeah. Where you're at in the business now, what are the kind of challenges you're facing as you're expanding and as you're growing and doing the sort of numbers that you're doing at the moment. It is is like I always like to say, I'm like building the rocket ship as we're like halfway into space. So it's it's I'm like learning about all these things constantly while I have to also like know what I'm doing, which has been going on since the beginning of the business, but now every time I learned something and tackle the challenge, there is a new one. So now it's the scaling, it's the managing a team. Um you know, understanding those types of challenges which were different than like our original challenges of like, customer acquisition, who we are, things like that. So um I think like as your business grows, you're constantly challenged and constantly having to like learn and you know, tackle um new obstacles, but that's how I like have been feeling throughout this whole process, that I'm just like one step behind trying to like, catch up, have you been able to catch up a little bit due to Covid and not having kind of everyone in the one place or are you still like trying to swim?
00:24:31Edit What's so strange is that we didn't have much downtime during Covid. So there was like a couple of weeks that, you know, when this started in new york lockdown, that it was a little slow, but we've actually been busier than ever in the past couple of months. Um mainly I think because people can't go to their local jewelry store, they are just probably uncomfortable and maybe there was like some pent up demand, but now we're busier than ever, so I don't know what's going on, but I'm not complaining about. Yeah, I mean, it's a great problem to have. For sure. That's so cool. Congrats, thank you. Um What advice do you have for women who have a big idea, want to go after it launched their own business, You know, when I it was kind of, in my early days of my career, I always had, like, dreams to do something like this, but it was I was like, I'm not it's not me, it'll probably be someone else, like, I don't know, but you really have to I think if you have an idea, why not just try it out, like, the worst thing that can happen is that it doesn't work out and you can pivot and try something new.
00:25:35Edit So, I always wanted to start like, my blog and it was Kyle who really encouraged me and was like, you know what, why not? Like, just tried on your downtime. Like, it's not a huge commitment, like, if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. And like, it turned out to grow into this business that we both work in full time and that it's like my passion, so had I not tried it and taken that first little step, you know, you shouldn't be held back by feeling like embarrassed or like, the consequence of it not being successful because at least you had the guts to try something. Most people don't have ideas and they never see through and I never want to be that person. That's like, oh, like I could have done that when I see someone else do something because someone else will do it if you don't. So you may as well just take that leap of faith, you know, believe in yourself. And the worst thing that happens is you just pivot and try something new and it's not the end of the world because at least you tried for sure. Absolutely. And what's next for the business? What comes next after all this pandemic stuff goes back to a bit of normality.
00:26:39Edit I think that we're still going, I really feel confident in expanding the remote part of the business. And like I said, just making sure that we build out a little bit of technology that helps, you know, scale a remote process on the back end for a gemologist, making them as you know, efficient as possible. And giving the highest level of service to our customers. And also a way that we can handle the amount of inbound and customers that we are serving without compromising the quality of their experience. And also making, you know, the front end experience for our clients, you know, the best that they can best that it can be remotely. So that's for in the immediate future. And of course, um the long term goal is just growing to be, you know what back in the day you had like your local mom and pop jewelry store that you would go get your engagement from your wedding band from, you know, and then it would just be your go to place and kind of like your jeweler for life and then the next generation would go there and get all of their stuff there and that's what we want to be for this generation.
00:27:44Edit Oh, that's so cool. I love that for the technology piece of the puzzle. Is that going to be like something on the website where it's kind of like more you work through like a customizable something or other on the website or is it something like behind the scenes like what's the technology piece? Can you share? I'll share a bit. It's basically just elevating and our current remote process and now we do it, you know via email, but we're going to have everything on a platform. So after a phone call, you know, you won't be corresponding via email, you'll be on like a remote selection platform instead. Cool, How exciting. I can't wait to see. We are up to that. I bet you can't wait. We are up to the six quick questions. Are you ready to go? Yeah. Ready Question #1 Is. What's your wife, what's my why? Um why not? No. Um my why is I, I want to be part of like, it's more than just a product we're selling, we're part of someone's, you know, one of the biggest moments in their life and one of the most expensive purchases in their life and we why is because I want to make it perfect for each and every one of them.
00:29:03Edit I want them to have an amazing experience and to start their life off, you know, with happiness and joy. Oh, that's so sweet. I love that question number two is what's been the number one marketing moment that made your business pop? I would say when we were just graduating from techstars, we got this big feature in business Insider about how we sold a $70,000 engagement ring through instagram DM and I think that was a big eye opener to a lot of people that didn't know that this was going on in the industry and really, you know, brought a lot of people's attention to be like, oh, this is like a new way that I could chop from my ring or that like my friend could. Um so that was probably our earliest biggest piece of press that really helped us. That must have been such a thrilling moment, Very unexpected, but very awesome. Yeah, I love that for you guys. Question Number three is where do you hang out to get smarter now, nowhere, But um actually hanging out, this is like so cheesy, but like hanging out with my husband Kyle is where I go to get smarter because he reads so much and I feel like he knows a little bit about everything and I am not a huge reader, I don't really watch the news.
00:30:25Edit Um, so whenever I'm around him, he fills me in on whatever is going on in the world and keeps me informed and knowledgeable about like current events and whatnot. So if I wanna get a little smarter, I'll, you know, hang out with him for a little bit, shout out to Kyle, Hey Kyle, question number four is, how do you win the day and that's around your am and your PM rituals that keep you feeling productive, happy, successful on top of life. I love cooking and taking like a little bit of time to like decompress. So in the morning, I don't have a lot of time for breakfast, but I always have to start my day off with like a lemon water just to feel like hydrated and like ready to go for the day and after work. I need to take the time to like cook a nice dinner that's like healthy and it just makes me decompress and feel like slightly creative and yeah, that, I mean, I don't know, it's not that cool, but like that really helps me. I mean that's your am and your PM rituals.
00:31:26Edit It's fab, totally fab Question number five is if you only had $1000 left in your business bank account, how would you spend it? I would spend it on people, I always believe so much in investing in your team and your people and they are, you know, the backbone of your business and I would definitely, you know, If I had only $1,000, I would not put that into ads, I would put that into like our employees and make sure that they were happy and successful at you know, doing their jobs. I love that must be so nice for them to hear that back. Yeah, I'm going to make you listen to this episode. You know how much I appreciate you. Question # six is how do you deal with failure? And it can be around a personal experience or just your general outlook and your kind of mindset and approach. I mean failure is inevitable, especially when you're embarking on creating something and I think what I've learned is failure is normal and it's totally fine.
00:32:32Edit But what you have to do is learn from your failure and improve upon it. So you know, if you make a mistake, just make sure like you implement a system around it so it doesn't happen again and that you can just be better next time and I think failure is a great way to learn and grow for sure. Thank you so much for being on the podcast. I have loved talking to you. Thanks for having me, this is so fun, It is so fun. I love it. I actually just had one more follow up question and it's more just because I actually just want to know what's on trend at the moment, what are people buying, what's, what's the cool stuff? So I'm seeing. So the main trends right now are antique stones are huge, so like anti cut diamonds, like old european, old mine like elongated anti cushions, things that like have been around and were hand cut back in the day, um limited in market, but also timeless and unique. Those are really in trend. Also since Emily Ratajkowski got engaged, the two stone to our um our rings are huge.
00:33:39Edit So we've been doing a lot of two stone engagement rings of different shapes, different, you know, positionings, which are really cool and unique. Also, yellow gold has made a huge comeback um a few years ago, it was like always platinum or white gold um and yellow gold is definitely, you know, here to stay and it's probably one of our most popular medals these days. So I think I think like dainty yellow gold, more unique things with a classic twist. I love it, definitely all of that is my vibe. Thank you so much Olivia, You're welcome. This is so awesome. Thank you so much for having me.