Archive for the ‘Current Affairs’ Category

New Products. New Companies. And…Finding Humor in All Situations. 3 Great Reasons to Look Forward to What 2009 Has in Store

By on December 31, 2008 | Category: Current Affairs | Comments Off on New Products. New Companies. And…Finding Humor in All Situations. 3 Great Reasons to Look Forward to What 2009 Has in Store

I'm pretty excited about 2009.  There is so much happening out there.  New products.  New companies.  And well…funny stuff.  Here are 3 great reasons to be excited for what 2009 has in store for us:

1) Sustainable, alternative energy technologies are making their way into consumer products.  Check out HYmini

Hymini both

HYmini is a handheld, universal charger/adapter device that harnesses renewable wind power / solar power and conventional wall plug power to recharge almost all your 5V digital gadgets.  $49.99 for the wind.  $24.99 for the solar. 

Husqvarna Automower Solar Hybrid

Check out Husqvarna's solar powered Automower (hat tip: Roshan Thomas' blog)  It's like a Roomba, but solar powered and for your lawn.  From the Husqvarna website: "Automower Solar Hybrid uses only the same amount of energy as a standard light bulb and is constructed from 90% recyclable material. It’s also been calculated that using Automower Solar Hybrid to cut the lawn in an average garden can save 40 hours of labour every year – the equivalent of an extra week’s holiday".  Price is $3000-$3500.  Pricey — but cool.

SolarGorilla Solar Charger

Solargorilla's laptop charger (hat tip: Roshan Thomas' blog) is freeing us from outlets.  With folks working on city and regionwide WiFi, and products like Solargorilla's out there, how long until we can truly take our work almost anywhere?  If we find ourselves working in "nature" more often, will that give us cause to think about nature more? 

  • Solar Gorilla is compatible with most notebooks, iPod, iPhone, PDAs, MP3/MP4, handheld games consoles, Sat Navs, Nokia, Mini Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, LG & Sony Ericsson and many standard cellphones.
  • Portable, fold-up design protects your solar panels when stored
  • 20V power socket out and standard 5v USB socket
  • Neoprone zip case (with additional compartment for tips)

Price range: $250-$280

Generally, products like these are still at the early adopter stage.  Many are still too expensive for mass market.  However, as these devices continually improve in functionality, ease-of-use, and price point, they will likely reach an ever-growing number of consumers. Consumers' gadgets will be increasingly powered through sustainable forms of energy in 2009.

2) New start-ups, and more importantly, empassioned, capable people, are tackling major, global challenges by providing products and services that will help to ensure that the remarkable developments of this century can support us far into the future.  A few pieces of evidence? 

  • Virgance:  Led by Steve Newcomb, a seasoned silicon valley entrepreneur, and Brent Schulkin, a young, enthusiastic, and creative entrepreneurial prodigy, Virgance is a for-profit company that takes new activism ideas and uses the power of online social networks to scale each idea into a large-scale, citizen-powered global campaign to improve the world. Founded in May 2008, Virgance is releasing a series of products that focus on using online social networks to create positive social change. 

Virgance's latest products/services:

  • 1Bog: 1Bog is a nationwide, community-based program that organizes residents locally (via the internet) and negotiates group discounts with solar installers, to help residents purchase and install solar panel systems on their homes.  In their first campaign, 1BOG was responsible for 20% of all San Francisco properties that converted to solar in the fourth quarter of 2008. We project a 300% increase within the first quarter of 2009.
  • Carrotmob: Carrotmob is a method of activism that leverages consumer power to make the most socially-responsible business practices also the most profitable choices. Businesses compete with one another to see who can do the most good, and then a big mob of consumers buys products in order to reward whichever business made the strongest commitment to improve the world.  View the video of their latest campaign.

Designers' Accord: Made up of over 100,000 members and representing 100 countries, the Designers Accord is a global coalition of designers, educators, researchers, engineers, and corporate leaders, working together to create positive environmental and social impact.  Their vision?  To integrate the principles of sustainable design into all practice and production.  By teaching designers how to practically incorporate principles of sustainable design into products at their inception, we will begin to see a gradual reduction in the problems we need to clean up after 2009.

It's a recession.  Many will hunker down, reduce risk-taking activities, and do what they have to do to survive.  Nothing wrong with that.  However, many will also see this as a great time to change course, take on a new challenge, and take a risk to solve problems.  In many ways, the opportunity cost of starting a company has decreased.  People that would otherwise be out making a good salary and have good job prospects right now, are finding that this isn't something they will be missing out on if they take a chance.  Also, scarcity often breeds creativity.  Jack Ma described the success of his $1.5 billion dollar IPO of, as coming from circumstances like these:

There were three reasons why we survived. We had no money, we had no technology, and we had no plan. Every dollar, we used very carefully.

Thankfully, some of my favorite business bloggers will continue helping us all to share valuable insights and resources with each other (Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin, Dan Harris of ChinaLawBlog, Tim Ferriss, and DesignSojourn). 

3) And finally, sense of humor doesn't go out of style, even in a recession.  I saw this short video before and loved it.  It's classic and worth checking out on this blog.

Happy 2009.

Product Liability and China

By on July 11, 2007 | Category: Current Affairs | Comments Off on Product Liability and China

If my dog was killed because he ate pet food from China that had toxic chemicals in it, because of poor quality control or lack of production oversight, I would be extremely upset.  If I brushed my teeth tomorrow morning and my teeth began to glow green, because chemicals typically found in antifreeze, made their way into the toothpaste manufacturing line in a chinese factory, I’d look funny.  But I’d also be pretty concerned and possibly very sick (nobody’s teeth have actually been reported to glow green).

The media is going nuts with all of the product liability issues being raised with Chinese imports.  The Wall Street Journal recently published the article Made in China: Sued in the USA.   See the article for just a sampling of the recent spats arising from these issues.

The media coverage is both a good and a bad thing.  It’s bad, because a number of protectionists in Congress and other industries are using it to voice and push an anti-China agenda in addition to using China as a scapegoat for a number of America’s economic woes.

For more on this, take a look at a recent Economist article published in May, entitled America’s Fear of China, the main points of which can be read here.  The article makes some great points in terms of what might be valid and invalid in terms of America’s agenda with China.

Detractors aside, the media coverage of these issues is a good thing because American consumers, and particularly retailers, need to become more aware of where their goods are coming from and in what conditions they are being produced–not in a hysterical and frenzied fashion as some might like us to behave.  But we need to raise awareness of these issues and investigate them more thoroughly.

Having personally visited at least 75 factories in China in the last year, I can tell you that factories in China come as varied as food retailers in the United States.  You’ve got Mom-n-Pop stores, farmers markets, vending machines, regional grocery chains, roach coaches, national grocery chains, and more.  Their setups, services, products, sizes, operations, management styles, locations, and customers come in every variation under the sun.  So do factories in China.

Consider the following as an example of the complexity of working with the right Chinese suppliers.  Two factories may exist in the city of Chanzhou, China.  They both are exactly the same–same number of workers, size of factories, types of machines, and products produced.  Let’s say they both produce shirts and jackets–garments.  Factory A has a very professional-looking website, someone who speaks decent English with customers, and has purchased a counterfeit ISO 9001 certification to validate their quality systems with customers even though their quality systems are not up to par with U.S. standards.  In addition, Factory A does not have a sewing needle detection machine or needle tracking program in place.

A needle detection machine, featured in the picture, is used by passing garment pieces over it to determine if any needles or pieces of needles are stuck in the garment.  A needle tracking program provides that every worker must sign in and sign out needles.  If a needle is broken during use, it must be taken back to the needle-person and exchanged for a new one.

Factory B does not have a website in English.  They do have staff that speaks an intermediate level of English.  They do not present any international certifications, but they have been working successfully with foreign customers for over 7 years.  They have and use their needle detection system as well as a needle tracking program.  A U.S. company emails both factories looking for a supplier.  They choose Factory A because Factory A displays the trappings of a good organization and they believe that such a factory would have good quality and safety control.  They purchase 10,000 kids jackets, for ages 3 to 5 years, from the factory and sell them in the U.S. market .  Eleven of the jackets sold contain sharp needle points.  Nine of them don’t cause any harm.  One of them pierces a 3 year-old’s neck and the child gets an infection.  Another needle gets stuck under the skin of a little boy’s arm and both require hospital attention.  The angry parents find Lawyer X, who agrees to help them go after the US company for its negligence and make them pay dearly for the harm done to these children.

Before the media blitz and all of the recent stories about Chinese product liability, my own little hypothetical story here may have seemed a little dramatic and far-fetched.  Now, not so much.  It doesn’t take much to strike up a conversation with a Chinese vendor these days and send them money to make your product.  Spare yourself from becoming a cautionary tale of Chinese product liability in the WallStreet Journal–do your homework and keep on top of quality.  Investigate what safety standards your product must live up to.  Understand how your products will be inspected: according to what criteria and when.  And, for backup protection, carry a product liability insurance policy.  This goes for suppliers in China or any low-cost country for that matter.  As one client cleverly put it to me in an email, just because Paris Hilton got all the publicity for going to jail, doesn’t mean that she’s the only Hollywood, teenie-starlet out there bending the rules.


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