2013-01-26 Generator Conference
My final day in Shenzhen and also the final event on the itinerary is
the Generator Conference. This is a conference put on by Cyril
Ebersweiler and Seeed Studios for the hardware startup scene. It was a
little bit crazy for us because the previous night, we had a big BBQ
party on the top of Rapscallions and invited a bunch of people including
AQS, HAXLR8R, Dangerous Prototypes, PCH, and others. It turned into a
huge bender and most of the group had some degree of hangover today.
Bunnie had the worst of it and I think it was the final few rounds of
vodka or whisky last night that did him in. Bunnie is also one of the speakers
at the Generator conference which is going to be interesting.
The Generator conference was right next to Seeed Studio which was
located far away from us. We took two taxis out there but ended up
getting lost along the way. We finally were able to meet up at a subway
station near the place and walked to the conference from there. At the
entrance to the venue, Cyril greeted us with his custom "Hardware is a
Bitch" shirt and wearing NekoMimi neural cat ears. I can see why
traditionally VC-averse people like Zach and Mitch Altman like him. I
can see myself getting along with him too.
I was actually late for the conference itself because I went downstairs to get a cup of coffee. I didn't realize that they would have the slowest baristas in the world down there. By the time I got back up, the room was already packed and it was standing room only. I made my way to the back and wiggled into a space between Jie and David. The conference had some interesting speakers, but overall, it was very hardware centric. I still find that a little bit weird since only a little while ago, all the conferences were focused on Web 3.0, social media, and mobile. But then again, I guess a conference in Shenzhen has almost no choice but to focus on hardware. It's so dominant in the area, and any accelerator or any type of activity located in Shenzhen would not escape being touched by the hardware bug.
I won't go into a lot of specifics about each talk, but I particularly liked Zach's talk. He was going through his experience about making a table for the HAXLR8R. By the way, I haven't seen the place yet, but from the way I've heard it described, it seems like it's one big hackerspace in Shenzhen. I regret not visiting it on my trip. Anyways, he just went to the local CNC shop (yes, they have a local CNC shop!) to see if they'd mill out a table. They said yes so he went to the lumber shop around the corner to pick out the wood. He then paid a guy to cart the wood over to the CNC shop, paid the CNC shop guys, handed over the design file, and two days later, had a new table for HAXLR8R. That kind of efficiency is what makes Shenzhen special, since there are CNC shops , injection molding shops, laser cutters, PCB houses, electronic markets, manufacturers, logistics, all located near each other. I think this was the purpose of his discussion. That the complex environment that has somehow developed in Shenzhen makes it a strange breeding ground ideally suited to making and manufacturing hardware. And of course, he added a nice little zinger, which is that all of this is available for cheap and VC investment is not needed. Ha ha ha. Amen to that. I should probably remind him that he's technical director of HAXLR8R.
Bunnie did a good job with his talk and he gave his Moore's Law and Innovation talk while wearing NekoMimi ears. I got some video footage of his ears twitching as he was giving his talk, but haven't put it up yet. Overall, it was an excellent effort considering he was recovering from what must have been an epic hangover.
After the talks were over, people were just milling around outside and I was fluttering around talking to people. It was interesting because it was mostly an open source hardware crowd and I actually knew people there. I finally got the chance to meet Eric Pan in person. I missed him last year at the Open Hardware Summit. He's been following the blog about this Shenzhen trip and we were talking about how to do it again without having to go through so much effort to set everything up. I'm pretty sure it'd be easy to get an audience to go on another trip, but I don't think Bunnie, me, David, or AQS would be able to survive going through this again. At least there would need to be a beefy rest period before attempting it again.
With everything over, it was on to dinner for my last night in Shenzhen. We all went to a Teppanyaki restaurant that featured an all you can eat menu. Actually, there was less eating and more drinking. Me, Ian, and Tully from Samurai Circuits were pounding beers and talking shop about the hardware scene and loading up on equipment. I was giving Ian shit about going against "Ian's Proverb" which is you don't need a pick and place machine. He'll probably provide more details, but I'm lobbying for a full retraction and apology to those of us who own pick and place machines. Ha ha ha. Actually, its quite an exciting development and I want to hear more about it as well.
We finished off the night drinking Coronas and belting out old 70's and 80's hits at the karaoke next to the teppanyaki restaurant. It was a wonderful end to a life changing trip through Shenzhen. I don't know how exactly to describe it other than eye-opening. Anyone involved in hardware should probably make it a point to try and visit the place and check out the markets. This city is amazing.