Getting a product manufactured is hard – there’s a reason most never attempt it. But for inventors, entrepreneurs and aspiring crowdfunders this isn’t an option, it’s make or break and do or die.

As Kickstarter consultant, someone previously on the outside who’s just entering the fray and trying to put together a product, I’ve learned a great deal and lost countless hours to massive mistakes. This post will cover the common misconceptions about Alibaba, mistakes I’ve made sourcing my sustainable standing desk and other tradeoffs to avoid when looking for product partners.

The 7 Habits of Highly Ineffective Alibaba Sourcing

Over Planning

Perfection’s pretty terrible if you think about. Whether you’re crowdfunding a company or just launching a startup, it’s all about being lean…just ask Eric Ries.

Kidding aside, it’s critical to consider. Look, I’d heard again and again, the importance of minimal viable and making sales… somehow it just failed to click.

And with Alibaba it gives you access to EVERYTHING. It enabled me to plan packaging, perfect the appearance and waste countless hours when Kickstarter and selling the product were the ONLY thing that mattered.

Unfocused Ideas

Alibaba is enormous  – it’s where the world sources its stuff…anything and everything can be found on this massive manufacturing site.

Unfortunately access is often a double-edged sword. Shiny object syndrome is just a click away. It requires focus and discipline to find manufacturers, sourcing and simply be done with it.

Poor Professionalism

Successful product and brand based companies need strong relationships with suppliers and manufacturers. One bad email or one offensive statement and profitable partnerships can collapse and crush your brand. This is bad news for you and your manufacturer.

Keep communications cordial and match the tone and tempo of your contact’s interactions.

P.S. Remember potential misunderstandings arise from language barriers, that’s the nature of the game. Deal with these well and everything will almost always work out.

Minimum Order Misconceptions

Factory owners focus on profit and production, they’re entrepreneurs just like you and me. That means everything is negotiable…just don’t push your luck.

Contact companies ahead of production runs, even if you’re below their MOQs. Many factories want to find ways to work with you as long as you make it worth their while – higher unit costs, they’ll compromise for cash.

Keep in mind it’s all about fit – you both HAVE to win. For example, Kickstarting my convertible bamboo laptop case/standing desk would be impractical with a mass manufacturer seeking tens of thousands of units. My minimalist company and miniature production run makes no sense for them at that scale.

Buying Blind

You put a great deal of trust into your manufacturer. Whether you’re producing a hundred or a million units, either way I’d bet it’s a big deal to you. With your investment of cash, time and emotional energy, the last thing you’re looking for is a surprise.

Getting samples is a simple way to ensure quality and consistency with production prior to payment. Plus, typically manufacturers make this easy for you – they’re seeking a stellar relationship too.

Samples, usually provided free of charge, excluding, of course, shipping, are a must with any supplier or manufacturer you’re considering partnering with, so don’t skimp on startup costs here.

Sourcing Agents

First off there’s absolutely nothing wrong with hiring boots on the ground professionals who know the ins and outs of product sourcing. For many founders this actually makes incredibly good sense from a stress and speed to market standpoint.

The problem comes in though with sourcing agents fronting as factories…and it’s rampant. Keep this in mind when scouring Alibaba. Figure out who you’re actually dealing with and you’ll be better off in the long run with no unexpected issues or price hikes.

Getting Scammed

Lastly we come to the deepest, darkest fear of any entrepreneur looking to source – scams.

From bad inventory, middleman schemes and even complete fraud, there plenty of ways to lose money and look like a fool on Alibaba.

The good news though, most suppliers and manufacturers are just like you – looking to make a buck and build a business. It’s not an underworld network, a mafia-esque money laundering scheme or anything like that…Alibaba’s just an underdeveloped, rapidly growing resource for entrepreneurs anywhere to get products sourced, sampled and produced.

Additional Alibaba Resources:

  • China Opportunities Podcast – Run by personal friend and fellow DC’er, the China Opportunities Podcast explores strategies and ways to successfully source something incredible.
  • TropicalMBA – Dan and Ian, two of the big names in the online expat world have run the Tropical MBA and Lifestyle Business Podcast for years. Odds are most episodes may not 100% apply to you or even cover anything product-related, but the gems are certainly there when you least expect them.
  • Amazon FBA China Sourcing Facebook GroupA great group to be involved in when it comes to post-Kickstarter Amazon sales (ps, check out the top Amazon podcast!), FBA and sourcing successful products with Alibaba and other purchasing platforms.

PS. The Bonus Alibaba Uh-OH!

There is one last incredibly frustrating hurdle when it comes to sourcing Kickstarter products with Alibaba and it comes about once a year.

Yes, for those of you better versed in the origins of Asian culture, I’m referring to Lunar New Year – aka Chinese New Year, Tet and probably plenty of other names as well. Here in Vietnam, and in China where I’m sourcing materials for Shido Stand – my minimalist, collapsible standing desk, everything is on holiday – it’s ALL closed.

See countries, companies…everything shuts down for roughly 10 days in observance of the New Year. This is a serious struggle for entrepreneurs attempting product launches. From behind schedule manufacturing to complete communication lapses, it’s something you seriously NEED to consider and plan for when purchasing and sourcing products from China, Vietnam or most anywhere in Asia.

It comes back to the cultural costs of doing business. I failed to plan ahead, I wasn’t prepared as I probably should have been. That makes Chinese New Year challenging – waiting and waiting and waiting…

So keep this in mind. Understand the customs and costs of manufacturing, be open and honest with your suppliers and attempt to avoid some of the common cruxes that befall product creators.

Best of luck to you and I’ll keep you updated as Shido progresses.

Happy New Year folks.