Let's Source Some Tiny Cables

Originally posted on March 17, 2017 on the Tiny Cables Medium publication.

SCENE: Apple Store in a nondescript American mall. People are milling about, thinking about how the already-outdated, $2,000 pile of garbage stacks up to the new MacBooks.

You: I should grab an iPhone cable while we’re here, for the office.
Friend: You don’t already have one at your desk?
Y: I need a USB-C cable because the new MacBook only has…
F: Oh true.

You walk to the wall of cables, find the USB-C to Lightning cable, and flip it over to check the price.

Y: Nineteen dollars!
F: The worst part is those cost like, a cent to make in China.


We’ve been a part of and witnessed the above conversation ad nauseum but we never knew if they actually cost a penny. In our first post we evaluated the viability of TinyCables.com by doing a quick price-check, and while the answer was not quite “a cent,” we learned that the price per unit is close enough to offer strong margins.

We ordered samples from three potential suppliers. In this post, we check out the goods.


Let’s get it on.

Source #1: the Americans

A friend introduced me to a Philadelphia-based group that he uses to coordinate overseas orders for various plastics products. The advantage with this source was their presence in the U.S.A.: this made communication easier which is important when getting custom work done.

This source also represented less risk: they own the factories, stand by their work, and they would be far less likely to run away with our money than an unknown overseas supplier.

The downside was price: the cost per unit from Source #1 is triple that of Source #2. The increase in cost, we assumed, meant that they would be higher-quality cables. Quality is important.

We ordered a sample. They didn’t ask to be paid for the units, only that we cover shipping. We gave them our newly-created FedEx account number, watched them bill us $98.32, died a little when we heard that they apparently sprung to have our FedEx package dipped in gold, and waited.

One-word reaction: yikes.

  1. Why were some of these cables white when I asked for all-black cables?
  2. Why were these cables all different in terms of plug-size/style and length?
  3. What is that thing around the Lightning plug?

Not a great start.

Strike two was how thin and flimsy the cabling felt, and strike three was what the Lightning cable did when you plugged it in to a power source:

And when it plugged into an iPhone:

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

The Americans even managed to get a fourth strike (!) when the Lightning cable stopped working after a few minutes of beating it up.

Given the price ($1.77 for the USB-C), I really expected more from team USA. Lesson: don’t judge a book by its price.


Source #2: from Alibaba

We went to Alibaba and searched for a supplier who seem legitimate and offer a range of cable products.

After poking around, we learned that there are a lot of scams on Alibaba. To avoid them, buyers should:

  • Verify the supplier identity, generally through Alibaba’s TrustPass Profile for Gold Suppliers. Alibaba suggests that buyers should also “use other offline/online methods to verify the supplier” but if we’re being honest, this is a scary proposition.
  • Perform the transaction through Alibaba, leveraging their Trade Assurance and Secure Payment features. Don’t go off-platform and if you do, don’t perform the transaction through Bitcoin, Western Union, or any other cash or cash-like services. Use PayPal or another payment provider that offers coverage.
  • Use some common sense. Order samples to make sure that the supplier has the capacity to send product. Search for complaints or comments about the supplier on Google.

(Additional information on how to avoid Alibaba scams here and here.)

We decided to order three units of each of the cables we were considering. The seller asked for $38.85 via PayPal and promised they would be in San Francisco within a week (via DHL). They delivered:

The samples from Source #2. Aren’t they pretty?

These cables looked nice and matched what we asked for. The source sent 3 units of each requested cable which is another thing the American source missed on.

These cables felt quality. The cabling itself has a girth to it — maybe 30% more than the American cable and 15% more than the OEM Apple Lightning cable — which makes me think that they’ll hold up better long-term.

Finally, they work. I spent two hours twisting, pulling, and otherwise beating on one of the Lightning cables while I was on a series of conference calls. The cable still works.


Source #3: the no-shows

We had another promising Alibaba source, one that was highly-rated and verified as a Trade Assurance seller. We reached out, secured some pricing, and then they ghosted us as soon as we asked for samples.

Oh well.


The big question: how do we figure out if these cables are any good?

Now that we’ve got some cables in-hand, we have to figure out whether these cables will last and if the cables are certified (as promised). We’ll cover this in one of our upcoming posts. We’re going to get creative: we’ll be seeing how much weight these things can support, how many bends and twists, and we’ll see if we can get one of these to make a device explode. (Or something like that.)

Think MythBusters but way more better.

We may try to pull in another source for cables, too. More cables, more fun.


What’s next?

We’re in for some stress tests, certification checks, and general quality control. We also need to cement the real, tangible reasons why people will buy from us instead of the vaunted them.

What we came up with is a lifetime warranty. But can we afford to offer something like that?

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TinyCables.com — Profit and Loss — March 17, 2017

Revenue: 
$0.00

Expenses:

Product

  • Samples (#1): $98.32
  • Samples (#2): $38.85

Software

  • Domain: $12.99 x 2
  • Squarespace: $26.00

Marketing

  • Logo: $3.99

Total: $193.14

Net: (-$193.14)