As a startup founder, you must maintain a reality distortion field to achieve the unachievable. Hardware founders in particular must understand that reality distortion fields don't reach any further than the four walls of your startup space, which is unfortunately where most, if not all, of your part production takes place.
Therefore, you must be realistic about how long it takes to produce and turnaround parts. Here's an outline of the typical checkpoints and delays that every hardware founder must be aware of when sourcing parts, and how to avoid these common pitfalls.
The Minimum Turnaround Timeline
When sourcing your parts with new or current suppliers, there are certain steps and delays that must be added to your timing expectation, and simply cannot be avoided.
Let's start with the expectation that your part supplier quotes you a two week turnaround to build your sample or part run. Sounds great - 14 days is nothing!
In reality, a two-week timeline is at minimum 30 days - which also assumes everything goes perfectly to plan and you're using 3-day express air shipping.
Day 1: Submit payment via wire transfer and final part 3D model to your supplier
Day 3: Supplier receives wire transfer and starts work (won't lift a finger until your money clears, no matter how long you've worked with the supplier)
Day 17: Due date for part (14-day turnaround)
Day 20: Internal quality control and photo/video approval (don't ship until you've at least seen and approved photos of your parts)
Day 21: Parts shipped express via freight forwarder (nobody ships directly from the factory)
Day 24: Freight forwarder receives, processes and ships your sample (your package is one of thousands getting processed daily)
Day 27: USA customs receives your sample with express shipping (best case)
Day 28: 1-day best case scenario for USA customs clearance (actually pretty typical)
Day 29: Your local shipping facility receives the part
Day 30: You receive your part (show up at 8am ready!)
Wow. As a scrappy startup founder, this is probably incredibly frustrating and unbelievable to read (it was for me!). Unless you're willing to travel, the fact is there's no level of reality distortion that can make any of this happen faster.
Pad Your Expectations
It is safe and best practice to pad each one of these steps with additional time. Take a look above - any little thing can add a day onto each step. Maybe you were out to lunch when they attempted to deliver your part, maybe you fell asleep and didn't get a critical approval email out before the end of Chinese workday, or maybe a UPS plane got backed up at the airport - each one of these things has happened to me countless times.
Therefore, the average turnaround on a 14-day part is really somewhere between 30-40 days in the real world.
The nice thing is that many suppliers can develop a sample much faster than 14 days, especially if it is off the shelf. But you really can't do anything to avoid the minimum of 16 days for payment and delivery.
It is annoying for you and the supplier alike, but you really must check in daily throughout the payment and delivery steps, and at least every 2 days during the sample development.
Keep it simple and brief to avoid annoyance. Simply ask on a daily basis if any suppliers or development delays have come up. I had to learn the hard way that as a startup, you're always at the bottom of the pecking order. This means your project is the first one to get delayed to make room for the larger customer orders.
Don't allow your supplier any room to forget about your project. Too many times I've allowed a week to pass without checking in, then of course the moment I do check back in they tell me there's been a delay with workforce/supplier/etc. Set an alarm at 11pm EST and check in daily on WeChat (the Chinese communication app).
Obscure Holiday Planning
Finally, it is good to be on top of all of the national Chinese holidays, which there are many in addition to the infamous Chinese New Year production blackout. I'm in an unexpected one right now, and two of my suppliers pushed delivery until after the holiday. This goes to show that even with years of experience, you truly can't ever pad your expectations enough.