“We’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
I never understood that paraphrased quote by Thomas Edison, until Fledging.
Fledging is over. We have stopped selling and will stop offering support on December 31st, 2022.
Five years ago, Weida Tan had a great idea: Premium electronics that work well, last a long time, and are fairly priced. That was our mission: Premium electronics for everyone.
What a cool story. A Chinese exchange student landing in Pell City, coming to UAB, inventing a better way of doing business, and building the chance to change an industry.
Anyone who’s built anything understands how much of your life you pour into the project. The nights and weekends, the ecstatic wins and (less so) the devastating losses that so often happen the same day, the ever-present tension of “How much longer can we make it before…”, the spouses and children and partners and friends who only see you stressed or distracted for months on end.
It’s easy to think of this as a failure. After all, it didn’t work… right?
It’s only a failure if it was a bad idea. Amazing products that serve real needs, are built to last, and are affordable are always a good idea.
We’re celebrating an experiment well run. The result? That we couldn’t make premium consumer electronics for fair prices work.
In the end, we couldn’t solve archetypal challenges in our segment:
- Large inventory carrying costs relative to our small volume
- The difficulty of continuous innovation
- Crowded and expensive customer education
- Long B2B sales cycles
- Widget shops pumping throwaway products
We also ran into unexpected challenges:
- The COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences on supply chains, consumer spending, access to capital, the labor market, and people in general
- The first 2-quarter retraction of the consumer electronics segment since 9/11
- The founders exiting for essential personal reasons
What we invented was, frankly, incredible:
- The category-making MacBook SSD DIY upgrade kit
- The best Thunderbolt 3 external SSD in the world
- The world’s first integrated hub+case for tablets
- And our pride and joy, the Spruce Charger
Spruce brought our mission of “premium electronics for everyone” to life with a premium, mass market, high margin, future-proof, beautiful product. We built the first differentiated and high wattage GaN charger in the world… beating Apple to the 140 watt segment by 6 months, 3 ports, and a wireless charger, for a competitive price.
We built some duds along the way. The VITE Charger, a pocket-sized low wattage charger, was non-differentiated. A competitor 10x our revenue launched the exact same product the month we launched our crowdfunding campaign. Ouch.
Our team punched way above its weight:
- In a segment defined by a silent customer success inbox, we insisted on treating every customer the way we wanted to be treated
- Our operations team scaled so well that we could have supported 5x our sales volume
- Our R&D team turned ShenZhen, China into a force multiplier despite a raging pandemic
- Our Marketing and Sales teams built relationships with major partners including Motion Industries, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, Protective Life… it’s quite the list
- Top-shelf distribution partnerships in the USA, the EU, the UK, Japan, and Australia
- Facing once-in-a-century challenges, we grew closer, communicated better, and trusted each other more than ever
That team has advanced to senior positions with ZoomInfo, Hawke Media, Harmony Venture Labs, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, Southern Research, Optimal, Books-A-Million, Mercedes-Benz USA, Brasfield & Gorrie, XY Planning Network, and many other great companies. We’ll launch new ventures, help current ventures thrive, and invent and support products that people love.
We made some bad decisions:
- Panic-driven overstocking
- Betting on products that couldn’t be A+
- Overspending on paid ads before our messaging was locked in
- Underestimating B2B sales cycles
- Keeping team members far too long
- I couldn’t trust myself to trust my team to be as amazing as I knew they were… and the Spruce Charger supply chain took a 4-month delay because of it
And we learned, just, a lot. Enough to fill a book.
- Strategy, tactics, and how you need to know why something works as much as that it can work
- How to create a culture, and to adjust that culture around a pandemic, and to always recruit people way outside our weight class who challenge that culture to keep growing up
- How to make risk-adjusted bets (the expensive and inexpensive ways)
- The criticality of painful transparency, all the time, with your team, your customers, your investors, and your community… because too many people aren’t
- You can do 90% right but if something vital is hidden in that 10%, you can still shut down
We helped a lot of people.
- 70,000+ Feather SSDs saved customers up to 90% the cost of a new device while keeping old devices out of landfills
- 100,000+ customers who trusted us with the most important technology in their lives
- Customers and partners on every continent not made of ice
What I’m most grateful for is the amazing community that is Birmingham and the Southeast:
- People said you can’t raise money in Birmingham, or for consumer electronics... but we raised $1.6 million in seed funding mainly from Birmingham’s wonderful investment community, and made a new partner in New Orleans
- People and companies tripped over themselves to help us - advice, connections, business, and sharing their hard-won relationships
- Programs like UAB’s Commercialization Accelerator, Innovation Depot’s Velocity, Endeavor’s ScaleUp, and Bronze Valley challenged us to be better at every stage
- Innovation Depot provided a rock-solid home among fellow entrepreneurs
An experiment well run is never a bad idea. You may find a result you don’t like - such as that for consumer electronics to work here, we needed twice as much money and half as many mistakes - but that’s a good experiment, because experiments are designed to teach reality.
As the Fledging experiment ends, I want to thank:
- Our investors, who generously financially supported us
- Our advisors, who spent so much of their valuable time coaching us
- Our business partners, who took a chance on a scrappy startup trying to do things a better way
- Our customers, all 100,000+, who trusted us to revive their MacBooks, equip their lives, and power their worlds
- Our friends and family, who motivated, focused, and encouraged us during this adventure
I don’t have enough space to personally thank everyone who helped us, so to everyone:
Thank you for taking flight with us!