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Winton Watch Company: How two strangers met on a train and started a business

Not many people make lifelong friends on a train, let alone start companies with a person they met in Coach C. But that’s the story of Chris Holder and Simon Hebb, pictured left to right in the photo above, co-founders of The Winton Watch Company.

“My day job is in financial services, so I was forever trogging down to London,” says Simon. “Chris has a background in PR and also had to go to London on a regular basis. We often took the same 7pm train home to Thirsk and Eaglescliffe respectively and kept seeing each other. Eventually we got chatting, and we’d send each other a text to see if we needed to save the other a seat.”

Among the topics covered on their commutes to and from London were watches. “Whenever Chris noticed that I was wearing a different watch, he’d ask questions about where I’d found it and what its history was,” says Simon, who started collecting watches in his early thirties.

When lockdown brought an end to their regular business travel, both men had much more time on their hands. And decided to turn their attention to watches. The Winton Watch Company launched in February 2021. It currently sells two models of handmade, Swiss watches. Chris, 45, and Simon, 40, use Starling to manage their business finances.

Choosing a business co-founder

What makes Simon and Chris suited to running a business together is their different yet complementary backgrounds and skill sets, combined with a shared passion for beautiful, well-made watches.

Simon has experience in finance and managing relationships with suppliers, while Chris’s strengths lie in PR, marketing, and the day-to-day business admin. In addition to The Winton Watch Company, Chris runs a PR and communications company, which also banks with Starling.

At the moment, The Winton Watch Company offers a range of men’s watches, with plans to offer women’s watches in the future, as the brand develops.

Choosing a business name

When it came to choosing a name, the co-founders worked together to find something that set the right tone. Both live and work in North Yorkshire and are close to the hamlet of Winton, which also happens to be the surname of an engineer and entrepreneur they both admire.

Chris says: “Alexander Winton was a Scottish engineer who went to work in the US in the late 19th century. He ended up selling the first American produced car, was the first person to drive across America and set one of the first land speed records. He is often forgotten in the history books. Winton was someone who pioneered innovations but didn’t shout about it.”

For both Simon and Chris, Alexander Winton represents understated innovation, which is exactly what they strive for in creating their watches. Their two current watch models are also named after modest pioneers: Mary Anning, a nineteenth century palaeontologist known for the fossils she discovered in the cliffs along the Dorset coast, and Joseph Swan, who developed an incandescent light bulb, an invention that enabled London’s Savoy Theatre to become the first public building in the world lit entirely by electricity.

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