I had a real plane, trains, and automobile journey recently into Guangzhou, in the South West of China, to meet up with the FiiO team and have a nosy around their office and factory.
It all came about when James Chung, the CEO of FiiO suggested I come out and see how they do things first hand. All that manufacturing paddling before the swan sets sail with your nicely packaged FiiO product has to be worth a walk around.
Getting there is some experience though if you do not live in China or have the luxury of a Singaporean passport, (they get in without a visa). All positive by the way but for a first timer in mainland China, it was a fascinating journey.
If you decide to go I highly recommend flying into Hong Kong and getting the train from there to Guangzhou. First-class tickets are very cheap, like $30 and the quality of the express train seating and service is second to none.
I much prefer this to budget flights with squished seats and ‘goo’ masquerading as food that you pay through the nose for. It is roughly 2 hours travel time but the immigration queues into China are relatively short and the security checks not as arduous as they are at airports.
Once you are through you are basically in the heart of Guangzhou already with its fascinating mix of typical city hustle and bustle combined with exotic food aromas keeping you company as you make your way down the streets.
I highly recommend the traditional hotpot experience if you are with a group of friends by the way. The selection of food, spices, and sauces are to die for.
I even tried the fabled Pigeon soup on our first night there. Yup, it tastes like chicken so, eat this nutrient-rich delicacy without fear friends. You may also be surprised to know that the Chinese are not hugely into rice, at least in Guangzhou. Instead, they go for noodles and a lot of great vegetables on the side. It is actually a fairly healthy eating culture out here.
Guangzhou is a huge city with its own unique cultural flavor and set against the impressive backdrop of the Baiyun mountain to the north. FiiO is somewhere between the Baiyun mountain range and the airport road with its own factory location and separate head office in a slightly suburban come industrial district of the city.
The main HQ is quite understated in terms of the front door. You actually think you are about to walk into a tiny office but in fact, its a huge modern open plan floor much like you would expect anywhere else in the modern working world.
R’n’D is to the rear, marketing and sales to the fore and management to the side, all working until the job is done. One thing I have to note about FiiO staff which impressed me hugely was their dedication to getting the work done rather than a strict clock watching 9 to 5 culture. As an ex-director in a manufacturing firm, it is rare to see that level of motivation and loyalty from long-tenured staff members.
To the rear, about 1km away is their factory premises. Just to be clear this factory does not produce their monitors or IEMs which is done at a different location and one we did not visit. The production line for the likes of the M11 is fascinating. From the assembly, testing, QC and final logistics dispatch you certainly get an education on just how tightly controlled everything is on the site.
Now if you are in the reviewing side of the business chances are you will have spoken with Sunny Wong, the head of marketing in FiiO. I think she has been there as long as we have been running the site which is like a decade in the making. She is very proficient in English and acted as my go-between for those staff who did not speak English and anything I can’t read. I suck at Cantonese or simplified Chinese to be fair.
One of the first things I asked Sunny was how everything has changed at FiiO for its people over this past decade to cope with rising challenges, new product lines, and the competition. What does it mean to be a FiiO employee?
The feedback I had should not have surprised me as its the same as you can expect in most well-managed firms in the US or Europe. Perhaps my expectations were unfairly set low and Sunny was more than happy to correct that.
No matter how the external environment of the market changes, FiiO is like our own family for our employees. The products developed are like our own baby. In the process, we hope that after the product is developed, it can thrive in the market and have a longer life cycle.
As a marketing staff, we need to be able to face the changes in the market, make a corresponding analysis of product development trends, and take corresponding countermeasures to deal with it.
In the face of challenges, we will solve problems with the wisdom of the team. At the same time, we will also study and research relevant knowledge in the corresponding fields. The company will also provide us with various training opportunities so that we can learn and better adapt to market changes.
Product Research & Development
Another key member who spoke to me during the trip was Kean. Kean is one of the senior managers in FiiO. He oversees project operation, the R&D department and is originally a former protege of the CEO, James Chung back when both were still working for Oppo. If Oppo rings a bell well you need only look at how FiiO is developing in the last year or two to see how much the smartphone business influences a lot of their product feature and design choices.
Nevermore so in 2019, with the launch of the new M series of DAPs and the increasing focus on wireless features in their products. In the office, they call 2019 their Flagship year and in speaking to Kean there is a good reason for that.
2019 Product Development
I started by going over what’s driving FiiO product development this year and how has FiiO diversified to deliver on the company plan.
2019’s technology drivers come from many sources. However, in simple terms, we see a change in the market and diversifying user demands. This includes the development of ever more complex and competing smartphones, slimmer bodies, and a full-screen design with gesture operation. We feel users appreciate streaming platform more than before, especially for music and we see smartphone companies adapting to that with high-end DAC’s inside their products.
FiiO’s own technology accumulation and supply chain have also been upgraded to meet the new demands. The is reflected in our higher-end processor platform, a more compact layout and an advanced assembly process. The product experience we want to achieve is similar to that of a mobile phone with a more powerful wireless performance.
Click on Page 2 to read more on FiiO’s product road map and a glimpse into their factory setup