James Filbird is happy to say that in the last 3.5 years working LinkedIn, even behind the Great Firewall of China, he has been able to garner 75% of his business purely from LinkedIn. He is projected to do $3 to $5 million this year. Most of this is from his connections and business from LinkedIn. James thinks LinkedIn is a godsend. It is a great tool to do business.
There are great people there who are serious about doing business. You can make good friends and business partners from LinkedIn every day. James is very happy LinkedIn has not been blocked in China.
How can individuals create innovative new products and bring them to market?
Creating an innovative product is just as hard as bringing one to market. There are many requirements needed to successfully get a product in a brand name store on brand name store shelves, or on a well branded web property such as Amazon.com or Buy.com. There is a lot of work to get it from a concept to an online retailer or distributor:
a) You need a well thought out product that many people can use regularly, is affordable, built with good quality and improves their lives in some way.
b) You need to get it patented in the countries it will be sold in.
c) You need to get a good source you can trust and have confidence in, who can assist you in developing and prototyping the product.
d) You need that person to find a capable and reliable manufacturer who will act as your long-term partner. This partner will ship good quality products to you when you need them and at a price that everyone can make a good profit from.
e) You need a seasoned sales rep who can handle the many tasks needed to get your product ready for retail, of which there is a lot.
f) You need a sales rep who can get you in front of the retail buyers and distributors.
g) You need someone to manage the supply and value chain to assure your product arrives to buyers as they expect, and services the sales accounts properly.
What are the challenges?
The challenges are simply accomplishing all of the above as efficiently, cost effectively and precisely as possible. This is what James has been doing for his clients over the past 5 years.
How do you protect IP?
There are two real clear distinct obvious ways which seem to be the safest, in James’ experience.
1. Get a USA patent, if you are in the USA. If you are in Europe, get a European patent. Other country patents where you intent to sell a product in. If you have a really hot product then you would want to opt for a world-wide patent. This is more expensive and time consuming. However, it protects you throughout the world. At least start with a patent that originates from the country you will be selling the product in, preferable from the country where you are from.
2. Work with a manufacturer that won’t steal your IP, or copy or compete with your product. This is what James takes most care in. One example of doing this is having a relationship with the factory. You have done business with them in the past. You know that they come recommended to you. There are certain procedures that they will do to protect your product from being leaked internally within the factory.
3. Another method that is very effective if you have various components of the product. You would have the components produced by separate manufacturers throughout China. None of them would know what the complete product does or looks like. All they produce is one part of the product. The product is then shipped to a central location where it is assembled and packaged under a watchful eye. In this particular case James works with an American company that has been doing this for 10 years. They are very trusted and capable of doing the packaging and assembly and making sure that IP is completely protected.
These 3 methods are the ways where you can maintain a level of control. In China you need some control. There is obviously a lot of copying going on in China and it is done shamelessly. James has not had any products copied up to this point. What he is doing seems to work for him.
What are some of the issues faced with finding and working with suppliers?
In no order of importance, the following are some of the issues:
5. Contractual Agreement.
James is able to overcome all of these because he works very hard at sourcing good manufacturers. They are all certified and have business certificates. Some of them are even public companies. They have been in business for a long time, export product and do OEM and ODM for Western countries. They export goods to Europe and America and have relationships with those types of buyers. The manufacturers are also big companies. James does his due diligence by meeting with them, getting on their good side, and then he sees how they work. There are subtle and not so subtle nuances here which you need to look out for. The Chinese do things much differently than how things are done in America.
It is important you have someone on the ground that understands business acumen and the business culture so that you can have a more effective means of getting your product produced the way you want it and preventing it being copied. You need to prevent being taken advantage of in any shape or form.
James takes great care in finding and partnering with the manufacturers that he works with. He always has written business agreements with all the Chinese factories he does business with. The agreements are written in Chinese and English. English has precedence. They are pretty succinct. There are some protections in China in terms of the court of law, which has developed over the last few years. James has a few Chinese attorneys in China who do handle cases between Chinese and western companies so they can litigate and try to settle the matter in court. James tries to mitigate it from going to court by doing due diligence and selecting good manufacturers. He also has written contracts between his company and theirs.
Tell us your story and the success you have experienced.
James attributes his success to being in China, which means everything. He understands the culture of the business and people. Being in China and meeting with businessman face to face makes all the difference. He speaks their language and knows their country, thereby earning their respect. To Chinese this is very important.
Many people living abroad try to do business in China by making a visit or two and sending some emails and trying to enforce and force manufacturers and businessmen to do things. It doesn’t work because they are not on their turf. They don’t get respect and the Chinese know that the foreigners don’t have any power in China.
When James represents foreign businesses in China it is a lot different. They know he will be busy in their factory. They know he has an attorney, a registered company, and he has a colleague who is very seasoned in business who is Chinese and speaks the language. He knows all the ins and outs and knows what to look for. They are the ‘dynamic duo’ in China. It helps them mitigate any potential issues down the road.
These are the types of things James can do for clients who have new products, or just looking to source a product.
James was born in San Diego and grew up in the Los Angeles, Orange County area all his life. He also lived in Michigan and Colorado for a period of time. He worked 15 years at a company called Steel Case, which is the worlds’ largest office metal manufacturer. He left them in 1992 and went into the financial investment and banking industry services. In 1996 he got involved in the Internet and started his own business in 2000. James launched a toy company which at that time was very innovative. This led him to China in 2002 doing some sourcing for their product. After the company was sold in 2005 he decided to move to China in 2006.
Since then James has been working primarily with inventors. James is an inventor himself. He likes the challenge and doesn’t want to deal with commodity type of trading in terms of exporting and importing. This is a very competitive cut throat industry which he doesn’t want to be a part of. He wanted something challenging and creative since he likes working with creative people. He has a partner in America as well as partners all over the world. His partner in America has 16 years experience working with retailers, getting product into stores.
James’ partner introduces product to him and he gets it manufactured, prototyped and mass-produced and exported to America. His partner then gets it into stores. They have a very good symbiosis. At this point in time he works from his home and is pretty much a one man show. He has some assistance and a Chinese colleague. However, he does most of the work himself because of trust and because he is the only one who knows how to do what he does. He hasn’t trained anyone.
James is happy to say that in spite of the fact that in China many websites are blocked, namely Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and most of the blog sites. Fortunately, LinkedIn is one website that is not blocked by the Chinese government. He first joined LinkedIn a little over 6 years ago. At that time LinkedIn was a simple posting of a resume and possibly some RFQs. It wasn’t much to look at.
However, about 3.5 years ago when the global recession hit, James started his business full swing. He couldn’t have started his business at a worse time. At that time Youtube., Facebook and Twitter were still working in China. Yet, he never really focused on those social media platforms. LinkedIn was always his favorite choice. He treats LinkedIn just like a real-life networking event. You meet people and exchange business ideas and name cards. It is networking 101. Every day he is online on LinkedIn connecting and meeting people, particularly people who want to do business with him in some way.
About JMF International Trade Group
JMF can perform the following services for you:
· To improve sales, further develop marketing efforts and brand development, and establish a distribution network for your product line.
· Coordinate with you in the production, manufacturing, sales, marketing and distribution functions as they relate to your line of product(s).