Beating the world with a stick

It has been decades since Creative Technology took the tech world by storm with its sound cards and groundbreaking MP3 players.

In recent years, however, a handful of Singapore technopreneurs have been generating a fair amount of buzz in the digital realm. Based in Singapore or founded by Singaporeans, brands such as cult-gaming company Razer and video streaming service Viki have become leading players in their respective arenas. Viki, for instance, was acquired by Japanese company Rakuten for US$200 million.

Another homegrown entrepreneur hoping to join their ranks is Daniel Chin, whose company has developed the world's first USB flash drive with integrated Apple MFi Lightning connector. The device, launched this year, is able to link directly to the latest iPhone, iPad and iPod touch models.

Producing a product tied to the world's most successful technology brand - whose world-beating iPods led to Creative's eventual decline in the early 2000s - came with its own set of unique challenges.

Mr Chin, the founder of Sanho Corporation, based in Fremont, California, said: "As with all products that feature the Apple Lightning connector, we needed to submit the product for Apple's approval and certification. That process took us almost two years.

"We had to invest a lot of time and money in R&D for the product to meet Apple's stringent requirements, with no certainty that Apple would approve the product for sale. That's the risk of making a pioneering product."

The product was launched as a crowdfunding project on Kickstarter, the world's largest funding platform for creative projects. Such platforms enable the public to pledge money to projects of their choosing, and offer fledgling enterprises an alternative form of financing.

Mr Chin's product, the iStick, reached its US$100,000 funding target within three hours of its launch on Kickstarter. The fund shot past US$250,000 by the end of the first day; in 35 days, it attracted more than US$1.1 million.

He said: "I believe people recognised the usefulness of the iStick enough to want to support it and be one of the first to get it. We expected the response to be big, so we made every effort to ensure that as many people as possible knew about our Kickstarter campaign."

He has set an ambitious target of turning the iStick into a US$20 million business in one year's time.

Taking the plunge

Mr Chin had his heart set on entrepreneurship right from the get-go. Six months after graduating from university in Singapore in 2002, he co-founded EastGear, a distributor of camera accessories and GPS products for other brands. He soon realised that it made more sense for the business to be based in the United States, the largest market for consumer electronics in general.

However, his two partners did not share his vision, so in late 2005, he sold his share of EastGear to them and ventured to the US solo to find his fortune.

"EastGear was a distributor for other brands. I wanted to develop my own products under our own brand with Sanho," he said.

The first products developed by Sanho were memory card backup devices targeted at digital photographers. These were essentially battery-operated portable hard drives with memory card slots, used to back up photos and videos from digital cameras.

Sanho has since grown to a team of 15, with people in the US, Europe and Asia, as well as a network of distributors in more than 50 countries. It now has annual revenues of around US$10 million.

But it was the iStick that would put Mr Chin and his start-up on the digital map. The device was aimed at removing the hassle of moving content to and from iPhones and iPads. This unwieldy process usually required using cloud services, wireless networks or a lengthy synchronisation process with a computer.

"We wanted a plug-and-play solution that gave a fuss-free, quick and secure way to transfer data without the use of Internet or third-party servers," said Mr Chin.

Apart from the intrinsic attraction of the iStick's usefulness with Apple devices, Mr Chin said he believes that Sanho's track record as an eight-year-old company with a suite of innovative products - such as portable power and storage devices and what it claims as the world's thinnest HDMI cable - also contributed to the overwhelming response to the call for funds on Kickstarter.

It was the company's second time raising funds on the crowdfunding platform.

"Our early success on Kickstarter provided the buzz for even more media attention and enough momentum to bring us to the end," he said.

To promote the iStick, he and his team are making the rounds at trade shows and media events, such as this week's Macworld Asia in Beijing and next month's IFA in Berlin, Germany. Sanho is also working with distributors to promote and distribute its gadget in various overseas markets.

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