Whether it’s designing watches, bootstrapping a business or working toward two master’s degrees, ASU Online student Tyler Fellman has always had a passion for building things. After completing his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering on campus at ASU, he accepted a job with Raytheon as a manufacturing engineer. Fast forward a couple of years into the workforce, and Tyler decided it was, quite literally, time to pursue entrepreneurship.
“I was really interested in watches, and decided to design my own because I couldn’t find something I wanted to wear that fit my price range and lifestyle,” he says. “After designing a watch for myself, I did custom watches in small batches and sold those off to people who were really interested. I then worked with suppliers to scale up from there.”
In May 2017, Tyler launched a Kickstarter for his business, Fellman Watch Co. The company strives to “create an affordable wrist watch that will survive generations of adventures.”
“I describe it as an all-purpose watch,” he says. “You can be camping one day and at the office the next. I assemble all of the watches in the United States using high-quality components. They are designed with a vintage feel.”
Currently, Tyler handles the entire assembly and selling process himself, and he hopes to keep as much control over the manufacturing as he can while pursuing the business at a larger scale.
In 2016, Tyler returned to ASU, enrolling in the online Master of Business Administration and Master of Engineering in Systems Engineering degree programs. He had taken a couple of online classes during his undergraduate career at the university, but fully realized the flexibility that being an online student could offer once he became a business owner.
“It was a perfect fit,” he says. “I was able to live over in Germany for awhile and still take my classes. When I was doing my Kickstarter and school, I had a couple of work weeks that were 100 hours for weeks in a row, but I’ve been able to balance things better since then.”
His primary reason for returning to school was to learn more about what it takes to be an entrepreneur, and as he began exploring the various opportunities available to students, he came across ASU Venture Devils. The program supports all ASU students, faculty, staff and community-based entrepreneurs, giving them the community and tools they need to succeed.
“It’s a really good environment to pursue your own ideas,” he says. “ASU Online provided the flexibility I needed to pursue both a venture and higher education. However, I knew I would be lacking the networking opportunities that an in-person MBA provides, and this was a significant reason I wanted be involved with Venture Devils. In this program, I was surrounded by like-minded students who were all interested in entrepreneurship. It provided a supportive community and relationships with founders of innovative startups. ASU provided me with the same resources as any in-person student receives.”
Joining Venture Devils has helped Tyler refine his business plan into more actionable steps and craft a pitch that has enabled him to earn seed money, including $5,000 in his first semester and $15,000 total through ASU. He was also connected with Altima Business Solutions as one of the inaugural ventures of the company’s eight-week summer accelerator program, the Arizona Prosperity Initiative 2X.
Though he has found success in pitching to investors, Tyler says staying small and bootstrapping as much as possible is his ultimate goal with Fellman Watch Co.
“I’m making revenue and have sold 400 watches, so a lot of people assume I want to do the big thing right away,” he says. “I think that can be great, but I’m taking a different approach where I start small and refine everything from there to validate my idea, and then scale up.”
His best advice for fellow bootstrappers in the Venture Devils program: “Take advantage of all the great resources and learn everything that you can from the mentors and workshops, while also knowing that there are many routes to take when starting a business. Ultimately, you have to do what you think is best.”