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The scenario is a familiar one. After a tough week of deadlines and early mornings, Saturday morning is a sacred lie-in time. But what happens when your partner is enthusiastically keen to bound out of bed at the crack of dawn to pursue their early-morning hobby? Worse, he/she is a serial snooze-button-thumper, so the alarm interrupts you again and again. The result is a cranky, sleep deprived and resentful "other half".
As an MIT engineer, Julia Hu's mind was buzzing with ideas of how to improve this situation. MIT held a competition which allowed Julia to deliver a "one-minute pitch" where she outlined this problem. Having pitched the problem, Julia found (not surprisingly) that it resonated with a lot of people: 75% of American professional couples, to be exact.
When Julia drew up a business plan for Lark she discovered that getting the product to market and commercialization was much more difficult than developing the idea. At this early stage, for the product to survive, she thought she would have to relocate to China in order to get the product produced to the scales of her dreams. She was trying to use various middlemen to facilitate, source, and produce in China, which involved a lot of risk and even more effort, with minimal results.
But in April 2010, Lightspeed mentor Eric O'Brien introduced Julia to Liam Casey, CEO of PCH. Liam called her "in the middle of the night" and he asked her to join a meeting with himself and PCH Chief Technology Officer John Garvey, early the next morning.
"From the very beginning, I appreciated that PCH took me seriously and were always willing to help and put resources behind my early-stage idea," said Julia. "They were the perfect partner for the stage I was in. Later in the process, it became evident that PCH is the invisible hand that guided us through a very complicated process."
At that early stage, Lark was only a prototype with US$80K total funding from business plan competitions. It had very little marketing or media coverage, and no production or distribution plan for large scale success. "We needed professional engineering support and industrial design," Julia explained. "PCH made sure the design prototype could be translated into functionality and manufacturability. Without making decisions for us, they helped us realize what the right decision should be.
"For a first-time hardware entrepreneur, I did not realise how much work it would take from the concept stage to the final robust product. PCH gave us a reality check and foresight into what needed to be done to make a great product on a realistic schedule. PCH provided the luxury of professional decision points whilst allowing us to choose the best of a few options."
PCH offered Lark expertise in design engineering, and how to transition from design to production towards a revenue stream. This included advice on design for cost, design for manufacturing, design for tooling, and design for shipping, as well as advice on materials and vendor selection.
"PCH takes care of the less glamorous things that entrepreneurs don't want to handle. Entrepreneurs don't become entrepreneurs to deal with the minor details, yet these are the things which bring products to life, and you don't even realize it," said Julia. "For example, our mechanical engineer visited numerous stores in the US to find a certain kind of comfortable, soft and silent Velcro. PCH found it for us in two weeks in China. That could have been the death of our product - a quiet alarm clock that then was uncomfortable and woke your partner up with noisy Velcro? PCH ensured we made the right choices."
PCH also helps entrepreneurs navigate the potentially tricky waters of the implementation process, which is where most "mistakes" are discovered if they haven't been caught early enough in the design cycle. This can potentially cost entrepreneurs an additional two to three months if they need to go back to the design stage.
Following implementation is the testing and regulatory stage, which includes strict reliability testing and regulatory approval, which varies dramatically depending on which market the product will ship to. Part of this process is complying with stringent environmental regulations and CSR responsibilities; every vendor that PCH uses has been carefully vetted and audited to Fortune 500 standards. PCH is also able to advise on sticking to a tight timeline, there is nothing worse for a brand than promising a delivery than doesn't arrive on time. A product roadmap and how to develop one, along with mentoring and workshops is a key part of the Accelerator program that an entrepreneur can benefit from.
Following these stages are the production, packout and delivery stages (PCH offers expertise in both B2B and B2C delivery) and in all of these categories, PCH offers best-in-class services and solutions from end-to-end.
"Every part of the puzzle of a start-up is a risk. There is a great fear of not knowing, stress that it might not work and pressure to meet deadlines," said Julia. "With a clear direction in mind and a confidence to take the "bold" choice of direction, never the safe option, entrepreneurs will be winners. But you need a good partner to succeed. PCH provides their branding and marketing expertise but always makes you feel like you are in control of your own brand, yet you are supported by real assets and real experiences in China. They tell you about the things that you didn't even know you had to think about such as fulfillment and distribution. In addition, we were able to utilize PCH's end to end software solutions which cover each stage of the supply chain. This saved us valuable time and effort and allowed us to get to market much quicker and then we would ever have been able to do on our own. PCH handle everything, and this is one of the reasons that retailers are willing to take a risk on your product, they know you have so many infrastructures behind you. "
Julia and her team have successfully developed Lark into a game-changing product for sleep that represents a huge leap in science and technology. It is the first wireless body sensor that shares not only how a person has slept, like many apps on the market - it also provides "personalized sleep coach" advice on how to improve the quality of sleep within seven days. The Lark sleep coach was developed with Harvard sleep experts and a professional sports sleep coach. As for marketing, the company developed some tongue-in-cheek slogans such as "Perform better in bed" and "Like a vibrator, only better" which were eventually deemed too risqué by the retail stores. The more politically correct marketing slogan was decided as "Wake your Potential, not your Partner". Lark also has a range of exciting new products in development including a baby and parent item, a 'baby boomer' item, and jetlag sufferers can find relief in the near future.
Julia says, "If I were to send a message to entrepreneurs, I would say think of PCH as your support network. They prevent your problems, they enable decision making. You will never feel like you are competing for time or effort, in fact, you are always more in control than you could ever be without a partner like PCH. They will teach you about things you didn't even know. PCH allows me, as a small, scrappy start-up company, to develop a professional product that is a game-changer in the industry. I got to spend time working on my product and the things I wanted to work on, rather than worrying about things I have no expertise in, for example, logistics and fulfillment. PCH guarantees everything happens smoothly. As a China-based company, PCH always feels international. IP is never an issue because of PCH's large network and supplier base. We were always completely confident."
From the very beginning, I appreciated that PCH took me seriously and were always willing to help and put resources behind my early-stage idea. They were the perfect partner for the stage I was in." Julia Hu