China Sprints


Fred Perrotta

Flying from San Francisco to Hong Kong costs me a day that I only get back on the return trip. My 14-hour flight left at noon on Saturday and landed at 7pm on Sunday.

When Patrick's flight arrived an hour later, we booked our Sky Limo across the border into Shenzhen. We checked into the Novotel, and I passed out immediately.

After all that, we're up early on Monday and ready to start our China Sprint. By the following Sunday, I'll be back on a plane. Jet lag be damned.

Twice a year, Patrick and I visit China. Together with Giulia, who lives there full-time, we have an intense workweek with our factories and scouting other suppliers for new projects. In that week, we accomplish what would take us 1-2 months otherwise.

I joked that if we stayed two weeks, we wouldn't get anywhere near twice as much done. Patrick estimated that we'd only get 25% more done.

This efficiency is why we do our China Sprints.

Why Only 1 Week?

Setting the arrival date for our trip and our only being there for a week puts pressure on our factory.

Patrick typically sends tech packs to the factory a week before we visit so that they can have updated samples ready for our review on Monday. We visit the factory, make changes, and plan to see the next sample in a day or two.

During the sprint, we can get through 2-3 samples of each product that's in development. Otherwise, the factory may take 1-2 weeks to finish samples. We save additional time (and money) not having to ship samples from China to the US.

We visit China when we expect to have a collection (or subset of one) 80% finished. Thankfully, our factory makes good first samples, so we start out further along in the process than we would with other soft goods factories. Getting to 80% remotely is doable. Perfecting that last 20% requires working together face-to-face.

How We Structure Our Week

For that week, we have virtually no down time, especially if we get roped into dinner with our sales reps and the laoban (boss) of the factory.

Patrick and I land on Sunday night and start working Monday morning.

We visit our factory (or they come to us) 3-4 times during the week. The final round of samples sometimes doesn't arrive until Saturday (the factory works 6 days/week). On any "off" days, we visit other suppliers or work on future product experiments.

If we wrap up on Friday, we'll take Saturday off. Shenzhen isn't much of a tourist city, so we take a day trip to Hong Kong or Macau.

On Sunday, we do the opposite border crossing as the previous weekend and head to HKG airport. Flying to Asia for just a week is rough. I've done it a few times. A better plan is to allocate an extra week (or month) in Asia before or after a China Sprint. On previous trips, I've visited:

  • Hong Kong for a week
  • Thailand for a month (Bangkok, Koh Tao, and Chiang Mai)
  • Ho Chi Minh City (fka Saigon), Vietnam for a week

I prefer to do the "holiday" part of the trip before the China Sprint. Having a decompression week at the end of an intense work week sounds good, but I'm usually a lump of clay after that week and need a few days to get myself back to normal. Hectic Asian cities, which I otherwise enjoy, do not help with that process.

Maybe Bali would be a better post-China stop...