Hot Pocket | February Update
Hey everyone, excited to bring you an update today!
Today's update will be a summary of my trip to Asia and will go pretty deep in several different directions. Before I do that I want to give you a direct update on where Hot Pocket is.
Hot Pocket Summary
- I was in Asia visiting all of our partners starting December 26th (top priority being Hot Pocket).
- I left our partners on January 11th with clear plans, schedules, and timelines.
- They began their Chinese New Year holiday on the 12th and were suppose to come back online on the 31st. They have not.
- The current coronavirus has caused a delay in factories being permitted to spin back up again.
- The Hot Pocket facilities are in safe zones and have suffered no ill-effects, however, the government has shut down China and should be approving companies to spin back up next week (hopefully).
- In light of the above, we still do not have an exact date for shipping Hot Pocket.
That's the situation we're in, I don't like it - actually I hate it, and I know you don't like it, but that's where we are. To be clear the only item we are waiting on is the Graphene Heat Panel, this is a complete refresh on this particular part (reference December Update).
- Power Packs and Chargers are 100% completed and ready to ship.
- Solar System is 90% complete and will be ready to ship 1 week after the factory is back online. (see December Update for improvements we made while waiting on Hot Pocket)
- Light Link is 100% complete and ready to ship.
- Hot Pocket Textile portion is complete and only awaiting the new Graphene Heat Panels to be completed so we can insert, secure, test, final inspection, and ship.
Rest assured, we will prevail. We will overcome. We will deliver.
Full Trip Details (#1 Heat Panel)
Now on to the details, below I'll outline all of the progress made on the trip and what we're doing to keep things moving forward. (video montage pulled together for you at the end)
On December 22nd Juli, the boys, and I were packing up for an early Christmas and I received a text from Chris (introduced in our last update), he stated he would not be joining me, and that he would be resigning. After two weeks of training and bringing Chris up to speed this was a blow for me personally. As a family, we pivoted and re-scheduled Christmas so that I could board a plane early morning December 26th from Dallas and Juli and the boys would be able to spend time with her family there.
December 26th - 27th, it basically takes 24 hours to get to China, my flights were smooth, but there's nothing fun about being in an aluminum can for 14 hours :) haha, I got a lot of work done.
I arrived in Tianjin on the morning of the 28th and went straight over to the Hot Pocket factory. My #1 priority for this trip was securing the relationship of our new Graphene Heat Panel partnership and working out the challenges we are facing in making the switch to a new facility. This hinged on a man named David, the owner of the Graphene Heat Panel facility.
All of this went really, really well. Thankfully.
For context, we spent several days going through requirements, testing and brainstorming how we can quickly and effectively jump-start this project with David's factory. We determined 2 paths to execute on and have been pursuing both viciously. Neither, I'm afraid, get the Hot Pocket completed as quickly as we'd hoped for but they are our most promising options and we need to run full force at them.
- Option 1: combine a new Graphene Heat Panel with existing wiring/switch.
- Option 2: create all new switch, panel, pcb, plugs, and wiring.
After we all agreed, we immediately sent 200 more of our current heat panels to David's facility to begin the reliability testing process and to help forge the schedule for how we can complete panels asap. After considering their factory's current workload they committed to completing 5,000 panels by March 15th (prior to the above debacle being realized). This would allow us to ramp up production in late March.
Once we solidified all that was possible I spent two days working with George's team on Ember (which is also dependent on David and was the reason we were connected with David originally).
From here I moved on to visit all of our other facilities as there was not much else to be done without further information from David's factory.
Solar System & Light Link
My next stop was southern China to visit our Solar System partners. In the December update, I let you know that we had made a last-minute adjustment on the backing board in order to cut a bit more weight out of the product. That adjustment paid off and production was humming when I arrived. (be sure to watch the video below, I got to see how panels are made and assembled - pretty cool!) All of the changes were incorporated smoothly and the final product is fantastic. A breath of fresh air.
While I was in the region I was able to check in on the Light Link, which has been completed for some time, thankfully they are ready to go and just waiting for the word to ship!
Next, I went to our Power Pack facility - when I arrived we went through everything and I learned that they had discovered an issue during quality inspection and had proactively isolated the issue and re-made the 106ish Power Packs affected - wow, I was impressed and thankful. These guys have been a great partner to Sierra Madre and have followed our quality standards to a T.
We did run into one other issue and fortunately, we caught it preemptively while I was there. All of the Power Packs were completed and stacked neatly in pallets and as a final test we picked up a box and dropped it onto the concrete floor. Upon inspection, we discovered that all of the Power Packs were fine but the packaging needed improvements, so we re-packaged a box with more foam and dropped it again. No issue whatsoever, and now all 6,500 Power Pack packages have been re-packaged with more foam. (so when you receive your gear, please let me know how the packaging looks, should be tip-top :))
I then headed to Hong Kong (short 3-hour train ride) and took a rest day on January 4th and enjoyed a bit of hiking, it was much needed since I had been going 100mph since I arrived and I was starting to feel it.
New Supplier pit-stop (Carbon Trekkers)
Though much lower on my priority list, I was able to stop by and visit one of our newer partners and talk through the coming year - new ideas/designs, and get a full tour of their facilities. Fun fact, these guys make about 50% of the world's snow shoes. They were a gracious host and offered a very traditional meal, of which I was extremely thankful. However, I'll take a moment here to say that I'm probably one of the few Americans that frequently visit Asia and doesn't like Asian food. I love to travel and see new places, but I'm an American through and through and I'll most likely never get use to fasting from milk, cheese, green beans, potatoes, and meat for 2-3 weeks at a time.
Hot Pocket Round #2
I ended my trip by circling back with George and the team to work through the new information received from David and his team. Though technology has improved communications greatly around the world, there's nothing like being face to face. We spent several more days working through the data and planning/scheduling workflow.
All in all the trip was extremely productive, however, I can't help but feel extremely challenged as we face these new issues. I literally have thought of moving my family to China so that I can be in the factory doing portions of the work. George assured me that it would be ridiculous and I was better at top-level execution in this situation but empathized with my passion to get this project across the finish line.
Making the decision to switch the panel in the final hour due to quality was a tough decision but it's 100% the right decision, and I know ultimately it will produce the product you all deserve. One that you'll be able to enjoy for years to come.
Innovation takes its toll, it makes you pay for it, it doesn't come easily, it's never simple, and it seems to laugh at plans.
I covet your patience. We're handling this the best we know how and as efficiently as possible. Please understand that as a business, Hot Pocket is our top priority, but we are dependent on our partners to complete the tasks given. Our team is small and nimble and we're pushing forward consistently and relentlessly. Yes, we do have to continue operating in all other aspects of the business but just know our focus is getting Hot Pocket across the finish line.
As all of the businesses (hopefully) come back online in the coming week I'll update you as soon as we have more clarity around our two Heat Panel options and the progress we are making.
Thank you for your patience in this. Please join Juli and I in praying and sending positive thoughts to our friends and partners in Asia that are inadvertently affected by the current virus.
Sincerely, Richard Rhett