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Etsy for solder – Tindie sounds like it should be about dating, but it’s about making.

While kickstarter projects and tech-hipster “maker faires” get all the press coverage in the West, China is quietly leapfrogging the hobbyist phase and developing a maker culture that’s a natural precursor chemical to the manufacturing industries that have been the engine of its stunning economic development over the last 30 years. Welcome to the world’s newest hotspot of maker culture: Hua Qiang Bei district in Shenzhen, the sprawling manufacturing city in China’s Special Economic Zone.

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maker, shenzhen, arduino

Imagine RadioShack the size of Wallmart, times 15 city blocks.

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University of California Irvine researcher Silvia Lindtner gave the SXSW crowd an eye-opening update on the state of Chinese maker culture recently in her talk “Made with China,” and the implications are profound. While ‘maker spaces’ are mushrooming in the west, the Chinese government is planning to virtually carpet bomb their cities with xin che jian (literally translates to “new factory”). The first of these spaces to appear in China was opened by a small group of tech entrepreneurs as an annex to their existing co-working space in late 2010. There are about 18 official makerspaces in China right now, but the city of Shanghai alone expects to open 100 more by the end of this year, including a bunch aimed specifically at schoolkids. Next-level is about to go next-gen.

Location, location, location.

It is in the Southern city of Shenzhen, however, where Lindtner sees the most powerful version of these new makerspaces emerging. Imagine setting up your space in a small, abandoned factory in the midst of a 15-block suburb crammed with multi-story electronic and mechanical component department stores. The real kicker is your next-door neighbour: the most concentrated, competitive and varied manufacturing area in the world.

In this situation, the DIY ethos of ‘maker spaces’ goes from tech tinkering to something completely different: a viable platform for rapid prototyping and affordable mass production, which then becomes an on-ramp for building sustainable product-based tech businesses. It doesn’t hurt to be in a tax-exempt Special Economic Zone and have one of the world’s busiest commercial ports just down the road, either.

Culture, culture, culture.

Maker culture is certainly starting to emerge in China, with the establishment of several incubator-style programs and spaces, boosted by the close involvement of MakerBot co-founder Zach Hoeken, who reportedly now spends half his time in Shenzhen. Former Foxxcon CEO Terry Cheng is also involved in the scene, and the government is funding a string of makerspace education facilities aimed specifically at kids.

China, innovation, maker, hacker

China + makerspaces + popup = boom

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Lindtner sees some interesting parallels to Chinese culture in this budding movement, including innovation born of necessity (almost every corner in every city sports an electronics repair shop) and also the often-maligned culture of Shanzhai, which has been described as either  “Robin Hood’s center for design” or a pit of shameless IP theft, depending on your point of view. More recently, the shanzhai manufacturers have started ‘open sourcing’ their own production methods, by readily sharing their ‘bill of materials'(the ingredients list of components and specifications for manufacturing hardware) and this approach has led to genuine innovation, such as Seed Studio’s reworking of the popular Arduino microcontroller board, now dubbed the “Seeduino‘.

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arduino, seed studios, shaizen, innovation

Better, faster, cheaper. What’s not to like about innovation?

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The real hurdle to developing a widespread maker culture of innovation and production, however, may be the Chinese attitude to manual labour. In an era when parents are eager to see their children in office jobs and white-collar professions, a return to the transistor radio repairman may be a tough sell.

Still, there’s a real velocity to what Lindtner is seeing on the ground. Shenzen hosts a recurring maker carnival, organized by China’s Communist Youth League, and 3 local kickstarter-style funding platforms have emerged in just the last year.

It seems the maker revolution is about to go into production.

A version of this story originally appeared on Ogilvydo.com as part of the agency’s coverage of SXSW 2014.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

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Most of the interesting work I’ve been pursuing for brands over the last couple of years was directly influenced by the things I learned at South By Southwest, where nerds are celebrities and everyone is trying to launch the next Twitter.

With over 800 scheduled sessions, there is a hell of a lot you can learn in 5 days, but for the sake of brevity, I boiled the findings from my last trip down to a seminar called 10 Things Agencies Can Learn From SXSW.

For me, the most valuable thing I took away was a framework of authenticity, content, relevance and utility as guiding principles for creative and strategic development.

2014: we’re back, baby.

SXSW, texas, Austin, BBQ, Salt Lick

The Salt Lick: the other reason Austin is famous.

Thanks to my friends over at Ogilvydo (the agency’s online magazine for thought-leadership), I am fortunate enough to be heading to Austin again, as part of a larger Ogilvy team bringing you trends and insights for brands, marketers and innovators. My particular focus will be on storytelling: how stories are originated, structured, produced, managed and distributed for brands and their audiences.

There are well over two dozen individual sessions, including a handful of long-form workshops dedicated just to this area and I’ll be doing my best to learn from them all. I’m also looking at startups and innovation culture, growth hacking and future publishing. Here’s my schedule of sessions I’m planning/hoping to attend – if you’ve got recommendations or suggestion I’d love to hear from you.

South By South East Asia: Is America’s biggest tech festival broadening its outlook?

SXSW tara talk

Living in an Asian Megacity is the mother of this particular invention

I spent yesterday afternoon interviewing regional analyst and trendwatcher Tara Hirebet, who is based here in Singapore and operates out of the local chapter of The HUB, a global network of co-working spaces for entrepreneurs, technologists and creatives.

If you’re looking for evidence that startup culture is alive and kicking in Asia, I recommend you start here: it was virtually standing room only on a Tuesday afternoon. Tara was selected to present at this year’s SXSW and I got a sneak preview of her session,  ‘How Overcrowded Asian Cities Inspire Innovation’, which is one of several this year with a distinctly Asian focus.

Another is ‘Co-Creation by Design: Asia, Women & Innovation’ from Singapore-based entrepreneurs Grace Clapham and Bernice Ang. Look for the interviews and previews on Ogilvydo in the next couple of weeks.

You look taller than your avatar

One of the real joys of these conferences is the chance to meet IRL the people that you’ve been reading, following, retweeting and upvoting. If you’re reading this and you’re heading to SXSW, give me a shout @BarrieSeppings

There will be no shortage of SXSW advice articles in the next few weeks (and they all say: stay hydrated, wear comfortable shoes and A.B.C.*), so I won’t add to the pile except to point to the web services I’m relying on to get me there and get me through it:

– hitting up Airbnb for accommodation (which always scarce)

– grooving to these Spotify playlists

– getting some “I met you at” cards from moo.com

– pre-registering for a bunch of events with rsvpster

– keeping Uber up my phone sleeve (taxis are also scarce)

– finding a few local spots via ATXThrillist, if the lanyard crowd gets all too much

Despite all the planning and preparation, I like to think that the random talks – and people – are often the best. It’s always good to have a plan, as long as you remember to stay open to possibilities.

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* Always Be Charging

SXSW Interactive runs from March 7 to 11.

Tara Hirebet is an Asian Trend & Innovation Consultant & Ex-Head of Asia Pacific, trendwatching.com. She will be delivering “How Overcrowded Asian Cities Inspire Innovation” on Monday March 10 at SXSW, Austin, Texas.

Ogilvydo will be covering SXSW Interactive 2014, focusing on trends and insights for brands, marketers and innovators.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

Startup Accelerator 'Boomtown' Launches in Boulder with Alex Bogusky's Help  

Feeling entrepreneurial: this guy is giving away 100 business ideas.

Every morning, I get an email from a site called betali.st that pitches 3 or 4 new web-based startups: You get a name, a snapshot of their home page and roughly 50-100 word description – their elevator pitch. It’s like witnessing the finals of a startup competition every day, over coffee.

There are a few things that make this email absolutely fascinating.

1. Absolutely everybody has a startup now

Or at least it seems that way. This email (and I’m sure there are others) is relentless. 7 days a week they serve up a series of mini ads for new startups and the demand appears to be so high, their revenue model is based partly on offering an ‘expedited listing service’. The startup communities are growing to the point that they are fragmenting and splintering, dividing not just by location, but also by specialist roles within startups – witness Sean Ellis’ burgeoning Growth Hackers community.

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startup, apps, media

The web is currently exploding with startups.

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2. All these people are spending a shitload of time & money

When you consider that Jeremey Rappaport recently put the true cost of developing an app at somewhere in the vicinity of $120k and 10 weeks, the cumulative investment in developing all these new apps is staggering. Even if you halve that, betali.st offers direct evidence of over a million and half dollars and 3 years of work spent developing new apps, every goddamned week. Note too, that this figure is only for development. These costs, ballpark though they are, are net of marketing, support and legals. Ker-ching.

3. In the quest for differentiation, these apps are getting seriously niche.

The language of these startup pitches is incredibly variable and probably warrants a post on its own (hint: from a copywriting perspective, it aint always pretty) but what is common is how specialised they are becoming in terms of the services they offer and, therefore, the audiences they are targetting.

In recent weeks, the email has pitched apps for rugby fans, fitness enthusiasts, disorganised photographers, semi-competitive cyclists, parents of kids with allergies… you get the picture.

There are also a lot of copycats: men’s fashion, restaurant reviews, holiday planning, stock trading and group deals are about to get even more crowded, if that’s possible.

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media, apps, fragmentation, audience

What happens when everyone’s living in their own app bubble.

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A lot of the startups are offering infrastructure services for other startups (hosting, customer service, social media monitoring, budget tracking, market research) and now there’s a raft of ‘startup in a box’ startups, such as CrateJoy, that provides everything you need to launch your own ‘subscription service’ startup. Presumably these startups will also appear on betali.st in the near future.

Once you work out what it is that a particular startup is planning to do (as it’s name suggests, most of the services on betali.st don’t technically exist yet), some of the value propositions are, frankly, outrageous: “build an ecommerce site in 20 seconds” was a recent favourite.

Obviously, not all of these startups are going to survive. In fact, almost none of them will. But, statistically, that still leaves an extraordinary number of successful apps, all doing things very, very well for small, tightly-focussed audiences.

Where did all the people go?

The media ‘fragmentation’ we witnessed with the rise of the web will become complete ‘atomisation’ as we all start disappearing into niche apps, spending time with the functionality and communities that exist only within the interface of
these ‘appified’ services.

The implications for brands are significant. Just as the strategies we used to rely on in the multi-channel world became ineffective in the post-broadcast world, we’re going to have to reinvent the role of the brand again in the post-site world.

Coke is getting a lot of attention for their wholesale abandonment of ‘the corporate webpage’ and I think that this gives as an indication of how brands are going to have to re-cast their role in this world of apps and the atomised audience it will engender.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

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With even $50k, if you’re paying a competitive salary, you’ll last two and a half months, maybe less.”

How much does it cost to develop an app? The true price of starting from scratch.