It started out where many great stories start: as a procrastination project. Open source developer Jesse Vincent decided that messing around with a new keyboard design was a better thing to spend time on than whatever he was supposed to be doing, and thus Keyboardio was born.
Their heirloom-grade keyboards of solid maple and with sculpted keycaps are unique to the eye and to the touch, but that's only part of the Keyboardio story. Jesse has moved further down the road of turning a project into a product and a product into a company than most of us have, and he's got some insights about what it takes. Particularly in climbing the learning curve of off-shore manufacturing, which will be the focus of this Hack Chat. Join us to learn all about the perils, pitfalls, and potential rewards of getting your Next Big Idea manufactured in China.
Keyboardio is raising funds for The Model 01: an heirloom-grade keyboard for serious typists on Kickstarter! With a hardwood body, mechanical switches & custom-sculpted keycaps, it's a dream to type on. It comes with source code & a screwdriver
Jesse Vincent12:37 PM Other things that have gone wrong: The factory opened molds before we'd signed off on the design. Our LED supplier decided to retool, resulting in a 4+ month delay in the LED supply, our wood supplier decided not to actually CNC both sides of the wood, figuring they could use a dremel on one side instead.
Kelly Heaton12:37 PM I've been told that Shenzhen is surprisingly expensive and difficult to navigate unless you know people there. How do you recommend that a newbie get started (in their quest to become a "Shenzhen regular")?
Jesse Vincent12:37 PM @Kelly Heaton it doesn't have to be expensive. If you want a western quality of life, you can spend all the money.
Kelly Heaton12:38 PM Western quality not necessary... Local suggestions?
Jesse Vincent12:38 PM But really, the way to learn is to do. Go. Take the subway. Explore the city. Street crime is basically a non-issue for westerners.
Jesse Vincent12:39 PM I'm a 6 foot tall dude, so I DO NOT have a reasonable take on how it is for western women traveling alone, but I'm led to believe that it's still generally very safe. I'm happy to try to get you better answers offline.
duclass12:39 PM The subway is awesome - very easy to use for non-Chinese speakers
Hi everyone, looks like we can get started. Thanks for tuning in after our week off. I want to welcome Jesse Vincent from Keyboardio to the Hack Chat today. He had a great idea for a topic: Manufacturing in China. Really looking forward to hearing his insights on off-shoring.
Hi Jesse - can you maybe start us off with a little introduction?
Guille12:00 PM Hello, thanks for this chat! Is it too difficult to go to Shenzhen and interview factories for projects of a few hundred items? Like electronics, injection-molding plastic parts, general assembly. What would be your approach in this case? Would you try to arrange meetings via mail before traveling? (I guess you'd miss a lot of options by relying on google searches)
Jesse Vincent12:01 PM Sure thing. Hey everybody. I'm Jesse from Keyboardio. For the past...almost six years my partner Kaia and I have been designing and manufacturing computer keyboards. We had a pretty successful kickstarter, followed by a wildly interesting manufacturing adventure.
Jesse Vincent12:02 PM This is the first physical product we've made. At this point, we've shipped thousands of units and are hard at work on a couple new products.
Jesse Vincent12:03 PM Indeed, Google is not a great way to find a factory in a far-off land.
Kelly Heaton12:03 PM @Jesse Vincent who handles your final quality control and order fulfillment? I am also curious to know what issues you've had with importing larger quantities of goods from China -- especially under the current administration.
Jesse Vincent12:04 PM There are a few ways to get started: Sourcing consultants are often a good option. Another option is to start reaching out to factories via global sources or alibaba. I could write for hours on just this topic
Jesse Vincent12:05 PM @Kelly Heaton We have a third-party QC contractor in Shenzhen who does inspections based on a quality stsandard I wrote with him. The first time through, I actually sat next to him doing inspection to train him up.
Jesse Vincent12:06 PM We use a company called EasyShip for fulfillment directly from Hong Kong. We don't currently fulfill from the US. Luckily for us, Keyboards still have 0 duty when coming from China to the US
Jesse Vincent12:08 PM @Valentin The factory we've used to date is what's called a CM or Contract Manufacturer. In China, it's sometimes called an "assembly factory" -- they specialize in keyboards and mice.