THE/STUDIO: A DIGITAL REVOLUTION IN THE MANUFACTURING INDUSTRY
Joseph Heller is an American entrepreneur with a professional in tech startups and an international experience in supply chain and manufacturing in China. He is the founder of The/Studio, a company that allow customers to manage the entire supply chain on the cloud and democratizes the manufacturing process.
What inspired you to create The/Studio?
I spent ten years working in China, providing end-to-end support for brands manufacturing products. What is crazy about the entire process it that most things are done with basically no technology. Even the largest brands order and manage products through e-mail, phone calls and factory visits.
On top of being inefficient, manufacturing is also tough, because it is almost impossible to work with factories unless you’re already an established brand. There are many entrepreneurs and musicians who want to build their own brands, but struggle because the manufacturing process is so difficult.
In addition to that, there are even established brands that aren’t able to produce products in other verticals because they lack the in-house expertise. I came from a software background and did start-ups when I was in college. So I kept thinking there must be a better way to do this.
The idea behind The/Studio is to democratize manufacturing and make it more accessible. Therefore, we created end-to-end software that allows people to easily order from factories. You can think of The/Studio as a marketplace and software platform that allows you to custom manufacture products and manage the entire process through software. We’re specifically focused on small-batch and quick turnaround time manufacturing, basically on-demand manufacturing.
“You can think of The/Studio as a marketplace and software platform that allows you to order the product and manage the entire process through software.”
Are some geographical areas better than others?
We are agnostic in terms of where the factory is located. Most of the factories we are working with right now are in China. We focus on fashion manufacturing and factories there are more sophisticated in terms of price, turnaround time and quality.
Other important factor is the ability to do small-batch and quick turnaround time orders. We are working with a few factories in India and have tested some factories in the USA. The reality is that working with factories is hard everywhere, even in the USA.
Manufacturing demands a skill set that must be developed over many years. If you haven’t already worked in supply chain, how do you learn where to start and how to communicate with the factory? This is the problem we are trying to solve with our software.
Eventually the goal is to have factories all over the world, but we’ve concentrated on China for now. The reason is that I have a lot of experience there. In the fashion space, China is the best place for what we are trying to accomplish.
What sets you apart from traditional manufacturing?
Celine Dion’s brand recently used our platform to order 5000 pieces of several keychain styles. How do you do this without The/Studio? It’s possible to go through middlemen, but this process is rough because different steps take too long and often they require massive quantities that create huge inventory risks for brands or entrepreneurs. We have simplified this process through our software, a curated network of factories, and by allowing customers to order in small batches.
“Entrepreneurs think they can go to Silicon Valley, make an investor fall in love with their idea, and get a check, but it doesn’t happen like that.”
How are you planning to invest funds recently raised?
A Silicon Valley investor recently give us $ 10 million. We are going to invest this money to make our technology better. Our Chief Product Officer has a very strong background in technology after working as a senior level engineer for Google and Ariba. We want to use that expertise to improve our technology. We will also invest more in sales and marketing.
How to find investors in the United States?
You need to be patient and persistent. You also need to properly target the type of investors you should be talking to. Generally, investors are theme-focused. Then find investors that interested in your sector of activity. Entrepreneurs think they can go to Silicon Valley, make an investor fall in love with their idea, and get a check, but it doesn’t happen like that. It takes a long time, it’s hard, you have to meet a lot of people, network, and eventually you can get it done…if your business is good.
What do you think American investors are looking for?
I thought that if you have a great idea and traction you could get an investor, but It’s not actually like that. American investors are looking for some type of signal. This could be people on your team or around you who are known to the investor. Otherwise, it’s close to impossible to get their attention.
There are obvious things that can help you. Investors want to see if you have a big market, some traction and the ability to build a good team. The people you have on your team is very important. Investors also want to see that you have expertise in your field and some advantage over your competitors.
What are common mistakes to avoid when trying to raise funds?
People think it’s going to take a short amount of time, that’s wrong. It takes a long time. I believe you should always be fundraising and putting yourself out there. There’s a perception that you should raise money when you need it, but the job of the CEO is to always be positioning the company to raise more money to grow faster.
A big mistake is starting to look for money when you need it. If you doIt’s probably too late or going to be too rushed. Also, investors invest based on themes. Look at investors track records and don’t waste time on ones who have never cut a check in your sector, on your size company, or in your region.
What are the biggest challenges you face when trying to grow your company and search for new factories?
That part is actually not too hard. Factories get where the world is moving and it’s moving toward nimble, on-demand, and quick turnaround time manufacturing.
What are the challenges of managing different offices around the world?
It’s a challenge because there is a loss of context from one place and part of the business to another. I take that for granted because I’ve seen every piece of the business and sometimes forget that people might base their perspective on the 25% they see. I try to bridge this gap by having managers traveling to different offices around the world.
For example, our chief product officer was just in the Philippines and now he’s in Romania. Getting the different teams to travel is important. I also personally spend lots of time with all the managers to make sure that I have found talented people who are committed to the idea and vision of The/Studio. That’s helpful in spreading my ideas.
How networking helped your business?
Actually, I want to do a better job at PR and getting the company known. One thing I always do is to give people at least 15 minutes ,no matter who they are. You never know what you may learn.
It’s not always obvious how networking is relevant to your business, but I think you need to help people out and be open to meet different people. You can’t be so liberal with your time that all you are doing is taking calls, but as a CEO it’s your job to be helpful and meet with people. It gives you a broader perspective on the world.
“One thing I always do is give people at least 15 minutes no matter who they are, you never know what you may learn.”
What you wish you had learned before starting your business?
- Talk to investors early. I wish I had started talking to investors from day one. It’s a lot easier to ask for money once you’ve built a relationship and they’ve seen your company grow. Looking for investors once you need the money is much harder.
- Spend time on networking. I’ve gotten good at it now, but I wish I had spent more time earlier. You shouldn’t spend all your time networking, but a lot of entrepreneurs are too heads down. Do some networking at the beginning, then spend more and more time on it as your business continues to grow.
Do you have any last advice?
One thing I’ve learned is that I feel very comfortable running businesses in different countries. I’m running offices in China, the Philippines, Romania, and the USA. Even though these are very different cultures, it has not been much of a challenge for me because I believe what’s most important is that you set a strong vision and conduct business fairly.
Fair can be subjective, but I think there are some universal ideas around fairness related to transparency. Being transparent about expectations, what employees can expect from you and what you expect from them is very important. Running teams in different countries is really not that different. Human beings everywhere like having a vision that is greater than themselves and want to be treated fairly.
“Running teams in different countries is really not that different, human beings everywhere like having a vision that is greater than themselves and want to be treated fairly.”
Interview by Kassandra McCleery for Beeleev