I interviewed James Filbird who discussed Collaboration with Seeed Studio - A Leading Hardware Supply Chain Solution Provider in China.
It’s good to speak with you again, James. Today I’m looking forward to hearing what you’re working on now. I know you’re
located in Shenzhen at the moment and working with some innovation and dealing with maker spaces, so I’d like to hear more
about what it’s all about. Could you please start by providing a brief background of yourself?
Yeah, sure. I’ve been in China now for a little over eight years, in Shenzhen. I’ve been doing business in China since 2002. When I first came here for a company that I co-founded in California, it was a product that was designed for children; it was real-world toy, it was a plush toy that had a connection to a cartoon universe, a virtual world. This was in the year 2000, where we were pioneering this concept; now there are a number of companies doing this. But that brought me to China for manufacturing our toy, and then I moved here in 2006, and I’ve been, since then, assisting American companies primarily—I have a U.K. customer as well—and helping them do business in China and setting up their supply chains, helping them prototype products, whatever their need may be.
In the past year I’ve been working very closely with a startup community here, with the makers. There’s a tremendous amount of entrepreneurs and engineers here in Shenzhen, and some of them are moving away from the bigger companies they work for and developing their own product, but they need help with marketing, branding, and getting their product into the Western world. That’s my focus right now, and that’s what’s got me more involved in dealing with supply chain issues.
You mentioned something called Seeed Studio. Can you explain what that is and the type of collaboration you’re working on?
Seeed Studio is very influential, perhaps the most influential company in China in their involvement in supply chain. China is like a supply chain manufacturer to the world. Seeed Studio was founded by Eric Pan, who lived in Beijing and then migrated to Shenzhen. When he first came here six years ago, he was amazed by all of the factories and the high-tech space and the community, the maker community. He became a very influential member of that community by starting working very closely with the manufacturers and the makers. He founded Seeed Studio six years ago, and he has done very well for himself and has a staff of 120 employees. I’ve been to their company a couple of times, which is about a 45-minute drive from where I live. Their specialty is helping makers develop their product, so they do prototyping.
They match you with the right factory to do their prototyping. But they do most of their prototyping actually in-house, and that’s hardware, software, and firmware. Once you’ve developed your prototype, then they’ll match you to the best factory based on your parameters. They’ve done so well at it that they have attracted some of the largest companies in America: Microsoft, Intel, and some other Silicon Valley companies.
Actually, they have asked me to help them find an office in Silicon Valley and help them establish a presence there so they can work directly with Intel and some of the other manufacturers that need help here in China, because they have developed a system that is very efficient and very effective. And because they are a Chinese company, they have an advantage in helping American companies find the best way to utilize resources that are available here.
Where do you hope this project will be in the near future?
What project is that?
The project you’re working on with Seeed Stuido.
You mean Betwine?
Yes. Can you explain what Betwine is?
Betwine is a wearable device. We’re now in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign. You could go to Kickstarter and just type in Betwine, and you’ll find the product. We have eight days left on our campaign. The product is unique in that it’s the first wearable device that allows you to directly, we call poke, communicate with other users. It’s a wearable device that can hang around your neck or wear as a wristband or, actually, you can put it most anywhere else, on a lapel or zipper pull.
This product is even now, and was, developed in association with Seeed Studio and then more recently with Innoconn, which is a new division of Foxconn; it’s an incubator model that takes on new projects to help them perfect their product and get it from alpha stage to beta stage and then into the mass-production stage. We’re the very first company to be run through the Innoconn incubator in coordination with Seeed Studio, so we have very good support from them, and we’ve got a very good product now because of their participation.
How do you see this changing the global supply chain, what you’re working on now, which seems pretty innovative and something different?
Well, that remains to be seen. Because of Foxconn’s knowledge base and experience in addition to Seeed Studio, they’ve come together to create a new process that is trying to implement a new way of developing the supply chain, a new way of prototyping and developing the product, and our product was the first one to be run through that system. So far, so good. We’re in the process of creating a brand.
We’ve sold over a thousand units; testing has gone very well, so the product seems very stable. If we’re able to continue our process of developing the product and then developing the brand, then we use that model to work with other makers who want to develop product and then, eventually, global brands. It’s going to have a very impact if we have good success with this product, not just with the Kickstarter campaign but, more importantly, the association of the partnership that Seeed Studio and Innoconn have brought to us.
So, are Seeed Studio and Innoconn, are they focused on mass-scale types of production? Is it focused on large production or a smaller type of production?
Well, obviously, Innoconn, which is a division of Foxconn, which is one of the largest manufacturers in the world—OEM manufacturers—I think they would rather, if there was a choice, they would rather see a large-scale production, but they also do small-scale. They work with you; that’s what Innoconn is all about.
You go to them to do the prototyping for the hardware, firmware, for the ID design, even software, and then you perfect the product through the Innoconn division. And then, of course, from there it goes to Foxconn if the product does well and they get big orders in. Foxconn would take on that business. They would probably opt for large-scale manufacturing since that’s more suited for Foxconn, but Seeed Studio, if you’re working with them, they can handle small production—1000 pieces a month to 100,000 pieces a month no problem.
Does Seeed Studio do anything with 3-D printing? I’ve been reading and hearing more and more about 3-D printing and the maker movement and making things on a smaller scale. Do they deal with that type of production?
Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been to their facility, and I think they have two or three 3-D printers and they also have laser cutters and they’re doing CAD and modeling. Right in their facility, they can do modeling. They do prototyping. They have a little mini manufacturing facility. They can make ic board, PCBA, and they have chip sets. They have parts and supplies right there in-house, so they can make a simple model for you; they can do the laser cutting of the product; some molding; and, of course, the 3-D printing.
They’re like a little miniature prototype studio. They don’t do any production, per se; they’re more of a prototype house. From there it would go to one of their participating factories that they work with within their own supply chain, which they have probably the best supply chain of their type in all of China since they’ve been at it for six years, and there are so many factories here in Shenzhen, specifically in the high-tech space.
Regarding your Kickstarter project, what would be the benefit for people to contribute to the project?
Well, there are two things I think. Number one: They get a really cool device that’s very different from any other activity tracker because it not only tracks your own activity, but you’re able to share it to the people that are closest to you. And then there’s another feature in the device that allows you to connect directly to other people through a mobile app.
For example, in the mobile app, I would click a button, and then that button would be like a poke or a tap on the shoulder. That would reach someone else and remind them, “Hey, you need to get up and get some exercise,” or, “Hey, how are you doing?” It just lets you know you’re thinking about them, so it’s a very nice gesture.
The product allows you to stay in very close contact from out at a distance. And then secondly, you’re contributing to a project that is innovative in the sense that it’s produced by the Innoconn and Seeed Studio cooperation, which is run through the new model and would have a great impact and show them that this product and this model has a very great chance for success. It would be very encouraging for everybody.
Thank you, James, for sharing today about your project and sharing these insights on what’s going on in Shenzhen with the Seeed Studio and Innoconn.
You’re most welcome. I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of your podcast and hope that there’s a benefit to those listening.
I’ll provide the link to your Kickstarter project as well so that anyone who’s interested could take a look at it.
Thank you very much.
About James Filbird
Owner, JMF International Trade Group Ltd. -
China Business Consulting; Mobile Hardware
& Software Product Development