I jumped into the manufacturing game thinking that I was immune to the common pitfalls of manufacturing in China. Being young and bold definitely has it’s perks, but jumping in thinking that I could maneuver my way through manufacturing a product in China flawlessly on my first attempt was more than a bit naive.
It’s not impossible! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Just make sure to arm yourself with enough good advice and knowledge from people that have been down that road many times before.
Error No. 1 – I found my manufacturer on Alibaba
They spoke English and had a very “Yes, of course, we can” attitude to every request I had. There was nothing I could ask for that they would say was not possible. The communication was pretty responsive initially, but once they had my deposit, it was damn near impossible getting replies in a timely manner.
I eventually learned that 95% of the “factories” you deal with on Alibaba are just English-speaking agents working for many different factories. They have no clue what they are talking about in regards to manufacturing, and they will promise the world in exchange for a deposit.
Error No. 2 – Unrealistic tolerances in China are rarely discovered until it is too late
When one of these Alibaba agents says “yes,” it means it MIGHT be theoretically possible. Your tolerance requests might be possible, but they may also increase production costs by 30%. Your tolerance requests might be accepted and then just ignored.
Error No. 3 – Late-stage QC
Quality control needs to be done from the very beginning. I would have saved so much time and money if I was working with someone that knew the ins and outs of Chinese manufacturing from the start.
My initial prototyping phase was almost useless because it was near impossible to manufacture from the start. If I’d known what the factory’s limitations were from the beginning, I would have avoided a lot of headaches.
Error No. 4 – IP protection
Manufacturing everything at the same factory makes it way too easy for someone to steal your IP. Within 2 months of launching, I saw knockoff brands on Amazon (this isn’t enough time to reverse engineer my designs, manufacture, and ship). My factory was screwing me over by producing more, changing the logo, and selling them to private label sellers. They controlled my entire supply chain AND had my complete design files.
No single factory should have access to all of the information, regardless of how good of a relationship you think you have. The most effective IP protection is to manufacture individual parts at multiple factories and have them assembled at another factory. This increases the quality (more specialized), lowers costs, and protects your IP. This is how all of the tech giants like Apple and Microsoft do it.
My first product was a total failure. My second product was a near failure. The 3rd and 4th got better. Then I started helping some other friends and family tackle their own products.
Fast forward a few years, and I’m working with MorphoMFG in China with 1,000+ products under our belt. Learning the language, culture, and manufacturing process in China has taken us years and is the only reason we have been able to pull it off.
It’s still not a piece of cake dealing with the factories over here, but we have built solid relationships with our primary 30-50 factories that we use for dozens of products every year.
So could I have pulled it off my first product on my own? Yeah! There was technically a chance for everything to line up smoothly… but that was a pretty slim chance of success. Still, the experience of going through those massive headaches are incredibly valuable lessons, and I hope you can learn from my mistakes!