- Brandon Checketts
- On April 20, 2015
- 0 Comments
What we learned today will create a lot of future content. But for now I’ll keep my comments simple to what we actually did.
We started the day again early with another fantastic breakfast at the Westin with the goal of leaving at 7 a.m. We originally thought our train left at 8:20 a.m., but after getting a bit of a late start, and looking at our tickets, we noticed it actually left at 8 a.m. We’ve gotten pretty good at navigating the metro and made it to the train station at about 7:57 a.m., but were too late to board the train. Fortunately, another one came along 20 minutes later. Although we didn’t have reserved seats, we were still able to sit in the same vicinity after a little bit of “musical chairs” with those around us.
We arrived in Shenzhen around 10 a.m. and then took several metro trains for another 20 minutes to get downtown. The city reminded me of New York and it has a population of around 15 million. I am getting less awestruck with the city sizes and buildings as we have now visited several of them.
It was interesting to note that on the street level there are hundreds of retail stores, each with about 20 feet of street frontage; many of them in Shenzhen are for consumer electronics. About every third of fourth store sold (presumably) genuine Apple products, although I doubt they were official Apple stores. Many of them did a pretty good job of mimicking a real one.
We found our way to the Haxlr8r office to meet with founder Cyril Ebersweiler. Their office was quite amazing – a mix of co-working desk areas and workshop space where they can invent and tinker with products they are developing. Cyril and the Haxlr8r team have really got things figured out with bringing a product from the idea and rough prototype phase, to a prototype that is ready for manufacture and through an initial launch on Kickstarter. He gave us a lot of insight into why he chose to locate in Shenzhen, and about his process of developing a brand new idea into a salable product.
We spent the early afternoon wandering around Shenzhen and the amazing markets there for electronic components. Following our talk with Cyril, it was obvious why Shenzhen is such a perfect choice for developing prototypes. It was very eye-opening to see the thousands of small shops there that sell components for larger products. Each merchant booth was about 8 square feet and would generally be specialized into something like HDMI or USB connectors. Some only had stacks and stacks of flash drives. Others only sold stickers for products. My understanding is that these markets are where factories come to source components of the products they are assembling.
Our seven-person group split into two at this point to do some more specific investigating into a couple of products that our customers are interested in selling. I was able to follow one of our customers as they looked for some audio components. They found a headphone product that they wanted to source at the Canton Fair a few days earlier, but wanted to make some changes to the cables and connectors. As they browsed the market, they were able to view dozens of choices of cables and found one that they really liked. They found a few places with a smaller selection of connectors, but didn’t quite find what they were looking for with those. They needed something a bit more at the raw-component level than we were able to find. We visited about four of these markets in different buildings, but it sounds as though there are hundreds of these with various specialities, and degrees of complexity.
We spent a couple of hours at these markets and then caught an Uber to go to a factory where headphones are supposedly manufactured. We understood that the factory was near Shenzhen. After a fair amount of work back and forth, we were able to get our driver to call the factory and get more specific instructions (at least that’s what we understood to be happening…as we weren’t able to understand anything they were saying).
We “thought” we were on the right track, but after 30 minutes, I started tracking our route on Google Maps and it was clear that we were not headed in the right direction. After some difficult conversation with the driver, we learned that the factory was not actually where we thought, but instead in Guandong–almost two hours away by car. It took another 20 minutes for us to convince him to turn around and bring us back to Shenzhen. It turned into a bit of a joke that we would just say “Shenzhen” every couple of minutes to make sure that we were still headed the right direction. Although it wasn’t really productive, we all had a lot of laughs.
When we got back into Shenzhen, we found our way to Frankie’s Bar–an American restaurant in the city, where we enjoyed dinner and spoke English with our waitresses while watching some US sports. The hamburger was passable, and the chicken quesadilla and salsa were really good. One of the guys at the restaurant had been working with factories directly in China and showed us some videos he took of the factory we were trying to get to, so even though we didn’t get to see it, we at least got some sense of what the factory is like. We left shortly after Game of Thrones started and caught a taxi back to the bus station to board our 8 p.m. train back to Guangzhou.
The two groups caught back up and shared their stories from the afternoon with everyone. The other group actually make it to their factory and was able to browse around a bit and get some more samples.
When I typically think of factory, I tend to think it involves a lot of machinery and automation. But from what we’ve seen so far, I’d describe these small Chinese factories more as a warehouse where things are assembled by hand on long tables with a small conveyor to move parts from one person to the next.
Most everybody in our group was pretty exhausted by the time we arrived back to our hotel in Shenzhen. Tired, I took advantage of our last night at the Westin to jump into the incredible pool before catching up on a bit of work, packing up, and going to sleep.
Want more? Read the other China Demystified blog posts now!