Greetings, Social Edge readers, from Ned Tozun, President & Co-Founder of D.light. Sam and I have been working together since day one of this great adventure, when we paired up as graduate business students in the "Design for Extreme Affordability" class at Stanford University.
First, a quick introduction to me: I have an engineering background, having studied both Computer Science and Environmental Studies at Stanford as an undergrad. After that I started up several companies, including one focused on making customized music for children in the US, Europe, and Japan. I am an entrepreneur at heart; I love to come up with great ideas and bring them to fruition.
By far, though, D.light is the most exciting, meaningful, and challenging enterprise that I have been a part of starting. The scope of what we’re trying to do, and the pace at which we are attempting to meet our goals, is occasionally daunting but always motivating.
While Sam has been setting up the India office, in parallel, I’ve been establishing our Manufacturing and Development office, located in Shenzhen, China.
Almost exactly 20 years ago, Shenzhen was designated as a Special Economic Zone, an area in which the Chinese government deliberately invested significant capital to create a thriving economic environment that would attract foreign investment and foster domestic economic growth. By all accounts, they have succeeded tremendously in their goal. Formerly a fishing village, Shenzhen today is a bustling metropolis of over 15 million people. The city attracts workers from every province and corner of the country, many of whom leave their families behind to try to make a living in this fast-growing urban center.
Shenzhen is also one of the manufacturing capitals of the world, with nearly every product you can imagine, from textiles to electronics, produced within 100 kilometers of the D.light office. The pace and volume of growth and activity in this city is phenomenal, spawning a local saying that things here happen "at Shenzhen speed." Across from the 35-story apartment complex in which my wife and I moved into a year ago, a 40-story building has sprung up across the street in a matter of months.
The D.light China office consists of our product engineering and manufacturing team, as well as a small finance team for the company. About one-third of the staff are expats from Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and the USA and the other two-thirds are Chinese Nationals. True to the character of the city, we have staff from Hunan, Henan, Jiangxi, Jiangsu, Guangdong, and Heliang provinces. I appreciate that the cross-cultural experiences are not limited to the expats, as even our Chinese staff need to spend time understanding one another’s home regions.
There are many ways in which Shenzhen feels like the Silicon Valley of China: It’s the upstart business environment that is significantly newer than cities like Beijing and Shanghai; it’s full of young, well-educated professionals who are talented, adventurous, and ambitious; it’s the technology hub of the country, with everything from PDAs to mobile phones to watches to LCD screens to iPhones being designed, manufactured, sold, and shipped from here. Quality can vary widely, so supplier selection, vetting and monitoring is critical; but in short, it’s the perfect place for D.light to find the best manufacturing partners and suppliers in the world to provide affordable and high quality products for our customers.
And it’s certainly a fascinating place to have both professional and personal cultural adventures, such as learning the local languages and getting accustomed to the local cuisine (the residents of Guangdong are notorious throughout the country for their extreme love of eating every kind of meat imaginable). We also cater our team-building activities to appeal to both locals and expats, having organized multiple badminton competitions, karaoke nights, and team dinners.
This is the first in a series of posts I hope to contribute over the coming months, so stay tuned! Now that you have an image of where D.light China is, I will share some more observations about our role in helping D.light execute its mission.