When Bend Labs showcased their technology at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2015, they were immediately noticed by Taiwan Startup Stadium and selected to win the Rock the World Award. It was an amazing opportunity, albeit a perplexing one. What could they expect to gain across the Pacific? As we reported in our previous article on Bend Labs, they took a leap of faith - and it paid off. With guidance from TSS’s Lorraine Tsao and the entire team's connections, they quickly found themselves at an advantage over any other companies doing business abroad for the first time.
Overcoming cultural differences
For westerners, many business ventures in the east come with a language barrier and inevitable differences in culture. "Most business meetings are more to-the-point in the United States. If it's not immediately clear to a business executive whether a meeting is worth their time, they'll just ask," explains Shawn Reese, Bend Labs co-founder and CEO. In Taiwan, he notes, it was a little harder to gauge the body language of potential partners and investors, and so in some meetings they weren't sure how to proceed.
"It's impressive how, culturally, there doesn’t seem to be much disorder or dissent," adds Jared Jonas, Bend Labs co-founder and software designer. Indeed, the local business customs adhere more closely to tradition and habit, which can seem intimidating or mysterious to the uninitiated, but there was no way to know how the Bend Labs technology would be received in Asia without trying their luck first.
A future not so far away
TSS first took Shawn and Jared to meet with HTC, the mobile giant, so they could demonstrate their patented Bend Glove. The technology itself is quite unique: a series of Bend Sensors integrated into braces and gloves, which measure the exact movements of joints in the human body and display the details of each movement on any wirelessly connected screen. This kind of virtual reality connection is an ambitious prospect of growing popularity, with all kinds of new technology expected by the time 2020 rolls around. "It's all about how to take a physical person in a physical world and integrate them into a computer program," Shawn explains. "Everyone is scrambling to find out how to measure movement in a three-dimensional space."
TSS also linked Bend Labs with Singtex, a textile company pushing hard for innovation in cloth and fabric, and followed up with a surprise factory tour in their textile production space. Almost immediately, they began noticing ways their product could be integrated with new textile technology. Singtex showcased an impressive infrastructure for creating new fabrics and creating them quickly; one of the production centers they met with even said that their turnaround time for a brand new fabric is as fast as 48 hours and no longer than 40 days.
"Because the textile industry in Taiwan is so cutting-edge, they were all very interested in what we're doing, and all very willing to help us manufacture it," Jared explains. As the Bend wearables are designed with specialized cloth and fabric in mind, these meetings were crucial to Bend tech and may provide exactly the resources they need to continue building. Bend Labs is already in talks of a partnership with them as a result of their unexpected visit. "Sometimes," Shawn says, "Getting an opportunity to meet some of these folks is the only thing that's needed to get a great relationship started."
Bend Labs dreams of a world where people can count their steps, record yoga poses, and measure how active they've been each day through simple and accurate technology. "If we can find a partner who can put our bend sensors in everything that people wear, so that consumers can simply download an app to measure their movements, then we've succeeded," Shawn explains. When this data is synced to your phone or the cloud, you'll be able to compare your metrics to everyone else on the planet.
The gratitude goes both ways
"Coming into this situation, we didn't really know any real companies here outside of HTC," Jared recalls. "We tried to do a little research on who was here, but having this opportunity provided by TSS was amazing." The Bend Labs Bros admit that while they encountered things as exciting as a trip across the island and as strange as stinky tofu, they still spent most of their time in business meetings, catching up on emails, and managing their operations back in the states. But despite how difficult the long-distance management may sound, Shawn and Jared have already had years of experience collaborating from different locations, and both of them being in Taiwan at once granted them the rare opportunity to physically sketch out ideas and converse face-to-face.
"Until making this trip, we had this intrinsic fear of international business deals," says Shawn. "But now I realize just how possible it is to just come to an unfamiliar country and make connections." TSS is happy to have helped; we introduced an amazing startup to business potential in Taiwan, and gave Taiwan a taste of ingenuity from abroad.