Hardware, Software & the Internet of Things
June 23–25, 2015 • San Francisco, CA

How to manage China

Zach Supalla (Particle), Will Hart (Particle)
9:00am–12:30pm Tuesday, 06/23/2015
Tutorial, Building / Manufacturing
Location: Cowell Theater (Herbst Pavilion)
Average rating: ****.
(4.17, 12 ratings)

Prerequisite Knowledge

You should be able to read and understand (at a high level) a bill of materials composed mostly of electronic components. You absolutely don't need to be an electrical engineer; you just need to be comfortable with the basic concepts of electronics (essentially that the electronics you own are made up of small electronic components that must be sourced and assembled).

Materials or downloads needed in advance

Please bring a laptop loaded with Excel (or a software application that can open Excel files) and have a GitHub account.


Managing an overseas manufacturing partner can be extremely challenging. Here’s why:
- If you’re a young start-up, you probably don’t yet know exactly what you want
- Manufacturers are good at managing clear problems, not uncertainty
- You understand the technology, but they understand the process
- Manufacturing is about repetition. If they’ve never done it before, they’re probably not interested in learning
- Language barrier. ’Nuff said

A lot of the issues of working with a manufacturing partner surface during the RFQ (request for quote) process, where you take the information you’ve developed on your prototype and quote it out for manufacturing. If done well, this process can present you with a capable, flexible, cost-effective manufacturing partner. If done poorly, this process will present you with an endless list of problems.

The team at Particle learned this first-hand when we first began manufacturing our development kit, the Particle Core. We ended up with a great manufacturer and now we ship large volumes of high-quality hardware around the world on a regular basis. But we learned a lot of lessons the hard way.

In this tutorial, you’ll be handed a prototype product that you need to source. You’ll put together an RFQ and send it out to a few manufacturers (played by members of the Particle) team. Over the course of the tutorial, you will negotiate with these manufacturers and eventually pick one (along with the negotiated final price).

When you leave this tutorial, you should have an understanding of how hardware is sourced, and be ready to start scaling up manufacturing.

Prizes to the teams who “win” their negotiations!

Photo of Zach Supalla

Zach Supalla


Zach Supalla is an entrepreneur, a maker, and a designer. He is the founder and CEO of Particle, a startup that’s making it easier to build internet-connected hardware. Zach juggles hardware design, front-end software development, and leading his team through the trials and tribulations of a hardware startup.

The Particle team led a successful Kickstarter campaign for their product, the Particle Core, in May 2013, raising nearly $600K in 30 days off a goal of $10K. They’re now shipping to 61 countries, with thousands of engineers and developers building new connected devices with their technology. Their products have been featured in Wired, Engadget, Fast Company, TechCrunch, the Discovery Channel, and many other publications.

Zach is a graduate of HAXLR8R, the only incubator for hardware start-ups that will teach you to order bubble tea in perfect Mandarin. He also has an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management and an MEM (masters in engineering management) from the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern. Before Particle, Zach worked as a management consultant with McKinsey & Company, advising Fortune 500 companies on strategy, operations, and product development.

Photo of Will Hart

Will Hart


Will Hart is head of supply chain at Particle. Will joined Particle shortly after receiving his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Dartmouth College. He quickly climbed the ranks from intern to running Particle’s overseas supply chain, and has spent the majority of the last two years in Shenzhen, China.