Lessons in starting your own hardware business in China

Image credit: TechNode/Bailey Hu

Setting up an international brand from China might just be as challenging as it sounds.

At TechNode’s event on August 29 at Beeplus in Shenzhen, three entrepreneurs shared their experiences of preparing and launching hardware products in Shenzhen, long known for its efficient supply chains and easy access to parts.

But it’s not always easy going, as Brian Hirsh of Brightwood Lighting explained. While trying to work with local manufacturers, the American entrepreneur encountered “a different way of working with people” – in other words, the complex phenomenon of guanxi.

Image credit: TechNode/Bailey Hu

Members of the audience chimed in with their own observations, with one longtime resident claiming that, with some factories, “negotiations begin after you sign a contract.”

Despite grappling with cross-cultural relationships, though, Hirsh appreciates the network of like-minded entrepreneurs in Shenzhen’s startup ecosystem.

Cody Zhang, CEO of Youibot (优艾智合), added that convenience is another local advantage. With his robot company based near the city’s main tech markets, Zhang commented, “we can buy a lot of what we need in one building.”

Image credit: TechNode/Bailey Hu

Tully Gehan, leader of the local chapter of Hardware Massive, approached business from a different angle. Beginning with a discussion of open-source hardware such as Arduino microcontrollers, he progressed to the creative possibilities of shared knowledge and a “maker” mindset.

Gehan sees challenges in launching a global-facing business: “there are so many startups here,” but also obstacles to connecting with a user base that’s abroad. Still, he “saw potential” in Shenzhen even before it became China’s answer to Silicon Valley.

All the talk of hardware, of course, comes just ahead of the upcoming Asia Hardware Battle 2018, which will be staged in 12 cities, including Shenzhen, over the next 1.5 months.

Online registration for a shot at RMB 50,000, plus other perks, is (just barely) still open. Find out if your tech team is eligible and how you can enter here.