Nomad In China
August 28th, 2019 | Words By Bryson Smith | Photos by Nick Walden
This past July, the entire Nomad team left our HQ in Santa Barbara for a company-wide trip to China & Hong Kong. Like the vast majority of the consumer electronics industry, we manufacture our goods in China. As a company, we wanted our whole team to understand what it takes for our products to move from concept stage to actual production and finally to finished goods. In the eight days that we stayed in China, we visited our factories, learned about manufacturing processes, worked to improve our quality control and met with business partners who many of us had only ever met over email. We also went to a wedding, explored the wet markets of Guangzhou and the electronics markets of Shenzhen. The trip was an ambitious whirlwind of activity with each member of Nomad learning something new about an aspect of the company they had never seen in person.
"When I told people that we were bringing all of Nomad on a week long trip to China, they thought it was crazy, but then when I explained why, they thought it was genius. It was still a little crazy though."
We flew from LAX to Hong Kong, landing on the other side of the world at 7am on July 25th, 2019. We left the airport and headed over to the Nomad warehouse in Hong Kong. Despite the jetlag, everyone put in a full day's work. We checked out the views of Hong Kong from the warehouse roof and caught up on everything work related. We then spent Saturday exploring Hong Kong, eating dim sum and checking out the nightlife. We left Hong Kong on Sunday morning, and after a taxi ride and two different buses, we made it across the border and into mainland China. After one more bus ride to our first hotel, we had made it. Next stop: a wedding. The original impetus for this trip was, in fact, this wedding. The son of the owner of one of our oldest factory partners was getting married. Our partnership with this factory runs deep so the owner, Joe, invited all of Nomad to attend the wedding. There were about 500 guests in total, so all thirty of us comprised six percent of the guests.
We arrived at the wedding, met the bride and groom for the first time and took photos with everyone before getting down to the serious business of eating a traditional Chinese wedding banquet and drinking Baijiu with all the tables closest to us. For those that don't know, Baijiu is a Chinese liquor made from Sorghum that literally translates to "white wine," but it sure doesn't taste like any white wine that I've ever had. Baijiu is the best selling liquor in the world, although it is rare in the USA. While not everyone at Nomad loved it, we did our part and participated in the wedding festivities by drinking Baijiu with the other guests well into the night. We ended the night with some late-night food from a local spot. I don't know what anything we ate was called, but it was delicious.
After shaking off the combined haze from the wedding night and jet lag, we hit the road for a two-hour drive to visit one of our factories in Zhongshan. Fortunately, I was able to sleep most of the ride. Our ever-vigilant customer support team, led by Chloe Ferrari, spent the drive doing their best to answer customer questions and help out with order issues. Way to go CS team!
When we arrived in Zhongshan, we went to the offices of Maxwise, the factory that makes Base Station Apple Watch and Base Station Hub, among other things. We broke off into groups to tackle specific issues, from shipping to product quality to environmental sustainability. We then toured the factory and checked out some of the quality control processes that we put our products through, from tension tests to coil checks on our wireless chargers. As a company, we do all of our own original design. We never "white label" products. This is when you take a generic product that a factory already makes and add your logo. Instead, we design everything from the ground up, which gives us lots of control over design, meaning that we get to build the products we actually want. However, it also means that every Nomad product has hundreds and hundreds of hours of design work, troubleshooting, and in-house testing behind it. Everyone, not just our product team, has valuable feedback when it comes to making our vision reality, and this trip dialed us into the production side of things like never before. We ended our visit with Maxwise with a big dinner before making the drive back to our hotel and turning in for the night.
"The opportunity to meet people I work with through email every day was invaluable. Even better, I became friends with them too."
The next day was our first workday in Shenzhen. Shenzhen is truly the beating heart of electronics production; everything from iPhones to pacemakers are produced there. The rate of growth is hard to grasp even though the signs of it are everywhere you look. More skyscrapers, scaffolded with bamboo, seem to rise every day. Bao'an, the district of Shenzhen where Nomad cables are made, had one main dirt road in 2005. As of this trip, there are paved freeways, more high rises, and a new subway stop. It's like if Los Angeles had been built in 10 years. The human landscape has changed rapidly, as well. As of 2019, around 12.5 million people live in the greater Shenzhen area. In 1995, the population was just over 2 million people. All of this growth and development has utterly transformed the city. Shenzhen continues to change rapidly; the place Nomad visited this July won't be the same this time next year.
Our first workday in Shenzhen was spent at Madcow, the factory whose owner had invited us to his son's wedding. We saw a lot of our new friends from the wedding at work, some of them still shaking off hangovers from the weekend's festivities. In a similar vein to our trip to Maxwise, we broke off into different groups focused on solving specific problems or improving workflows. After a long day's work, we headed to a seafood market with the team from Madcow for another big group dinner. This one was especially interesting as we picked out all of our seafood at the market before it was taken upstairs to be cooked. I don't think anyone from the Nomad crew had ever been to this many banquets before.
The next day we headed to the third factory that we work with, Supercase. Supercase produces all of our leather goods, so we worked with them on issues that we have noticed with our cases and Apple Watch straps. All the invaluable feedback that we receive from the Nomad community really came to bear here as we were able to have face-to-face dialogue about product improvements. There are a lot of exciting new products coming from Nomad soon, and this trip allowed our whole team to help get everything dialed in before those launches. Be on the lookout for new stuff!
"It was amazing to see how much of our production is automated. I knew that some of the processes were mechanized, but the scale was way beyond what I imagined. At the same time, I was struck by how much manual labor goes into making our leather goods."
After our visit to Supercase, we spent the night in Guangzhou and of course had another obligatory banquet. We went back to Shenzhen the next day and spent one more night in China before heading home. On our last night in Shenzhen, we managed to escape the banquet schedule and check out some of the night clubs in Coco Park, a famous mall in Shenzhen. Even Coco Park, a relatively new development in one of the most developed districts of Shenzhen, had changed tons since Nomad began. Brian Hahn and Noah Dentzel, Nomad Co-Founders, first visited Coco Park when it was little more than a mall with some expat bars. Now Coco Park is full of craft breweries, restaurants that serve global cuisines and night clubs frequented by locals who grew up in Shenzhen.
After our night out in Coco Park and Futian, we once again did the two bus dual border crossing shuffle back into Hong Kong. After a brief visit to our Hong Kong warehouse, we headed to the airport and flew back to LA. Over 15 hours later, we arrived back in SB, tired and happy to be back home. Nomad's week in China left us all more fluent in the aspect of our brand that matters most: building reliable tools for the modern Nomad.
"By bringing the whole team to China, we were able to address problems and uncover opportunities right at the source. Whether it was our support team sharing specific quality control feedback in the raw [to the team in charge of the actual production of the units], the finance team resolving pain points that were little more than cultural differences in business procedures, or a new member of the product team having a profound realization of the potential we have from our supply chain partners to bring new products to market, the trip was invaluable across every department. One thing that really stood out for me was an experience we had at Supercase, our leather goods factory. Our logistics manager noticed a huge time-suck on the production line of our AirPods cases. He asked about it on the factory floor and a new tool was CNC’d and put into production all while we were still on the trip."
-Noah Dentzel, Nomad CEO & Co-Founder
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