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China Trip Recap: Canary Instruments

One of the cornerstones of the Highway1 program is the trip to China, where our startups meet manufacturers, tour their facilities, and make connections. Here's a recap of the experience from Lonny Grafman of Canary Instruments.

Well, Canary Instruments is back from China (actually we’ve been back for almost two weeks, but I’m just getting to this post). The trip was a success for our team, our product, and I think the whole Highway1 cohort. Every day presented new learnings, many of them curated by Highway1 and PCH, many of them sought by our team, and many through the random happenings endemic to travel.

When traveling, I try not to pay too much attention to my expectations. That said, they exist, and I really enjoy coming back to see how my expectations were met or contradicted.

On the contradicted front: I expected Shenzhen to be busy, chaotic, and polluted; more specifically to our company, I was worried that the factories would be riddled with atrocities. Instead we found a city designed with green spaces and the flow of people somewhat in mind. Most of the many parks were replete with public gyms populated with people who seemed to be enjoying physical movement.

We also were very lucky to meet with factories that seemed to treat their workers with respect and create environments that strongly considered safety. In fact, the factories we visited were cleaner and safer, with a stronger consideration for flow, than many of the factories I’ve visited in the Americas. I know that our sample size was small and we mostly only visited well-vetted factories, but seeing these factories still assuaged many of my fears. Hearing about the workers’ hours, and learning about ways to make the job more enjoyable, was especially edifying and relieving. We plan to continue learning more and meeting with sustainability and justice leaders as we decide how to make our impactful product with a strongly considered balance of embedded impacts.

More takeaways from our experience in Shenzhen:

  1. I found the street food to be the best food there, especially from one particular couple on Hong Kong Street. He has two tables of veggies, yuba, mushrooms, etc. You pick your ingredients, put them in a basket, and he makes them into soup. On her table, you point to various ingredients and she turns them into an amazing stir fry. Cost: about $2.
  2. Business relations start with strong personal relations. It’s embedded in the language and culture. It’s generally rude to jump right to prices and contracts. It’s better to get to know each others’ companies, values, and cultures, and each other in general, and then come to agreements way before discussing contracts. The word guanxi (关系) roughly translates to “good relations,” but has many more layers.
  3. When handing someone a business card, use two hands to present it. More importantly, when taking someone’s card, accept it with two hands and examine (really see) the contents of the card before carefully placing it somewhere secure. I brought a card holder (thanks, Humboldt State University) which seemed to be received well.
  4. Just like almost everywhere I’ve been: putting in effort to use the language and being present go a long way. Also, intentions do matter, and can be felt by many.
  5. The world is changing rapidly. There is much we can do to elevate each other.

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