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Nolan Johnson speaks with Whizz Systems Inc. President Muhammed Irfan about knowing your strengths, engaging start-ups, and building strong customer relationships through education and preparation.
Nolan Johnson: Muhammad, can you start by introducing yourself, your role, and Whizz Systems?
Muhammed Irfan: My education is in electrical engineering and computer science. Right after graduation, I met Manny Karim in ’89 and we both joined a start-up. We developed an engineering services and product development business model, taking ideas into the market and navigating the initial stages of manufacturing. Early on, we understood the pain points and offered to turn that into a business to help customers launch products. Our business continued to grow, and through acquisition, we ended up being part of Celestica.
Manny, my business partner, and I left Celestica and funded and founded Whizz Systems Inc. in 2000. We complement each other well. Manny handles all of the operations, materials, and manufacturing as the CEO. Meanwhile, I handle engineering and some aspects of business development, such as customer relationships, strategy, and where to lead our business for the future.
Johnson: What is one thing you would want every customer to understand about delivering a job to your shop?
Irfan: Generally, customers have to deal with a lot of different suppliers to take a concept to production and product launch. One thing we like our customers to know is under our one-stop shop model, Whizz has all of the capability in-house from concept to hardware and mechanical design, thermal, CAD simulations, and world-class manufacturing. All of these facets interact with each other through the critical phases of the project. We want our customers to know that they can engage with us and hand off the project at any stage and have one company responsible to deliver the end result all under one roof.
Sometimes, customers shy away because they don’t know where to go for a complete package, or they think, “I have half of this inhouse. How do I deal with another company only taking full turn-key projects?” But we truly want them to know we’re an extension of their team. We give them the flexibility to pick and choose by tag-teaming with their internal team or handing off certain defined areas to us. Internally, we have the capability to offer them from concept all the way to a launched product. All the services we offer are not afterthoughts; these are well-integrated internal teams. We’ve put together world-class services and talent at Whizz.
Johnson: That makes a lot of sense. Some shops would start at a defined spot in the manufacturing chain, but you’re in a place where you can become involved wherever the customer is in their overall flow.
Irfan: Exactly. Typically, customers have always reached to Taiwan for the original design manufacturer (ODM) model, but ODMs evaluate how much volume they will generate from a customer; they don’t take ODM business from everyone. There’s also an intellectual property (IP) risk with that model and no specialization in the hardware; it’s the same hardware. Every ODM in Taiwan is sharing with each other, so it’s the same design. They will just put a different logo, bezel, or front plate on it, but the engine is the same underneath.
Thus, there is almost no hardware distinction in the product. The only distinction you are left with is software. In our model, we say, “We are your U.S. ODM,” and there aren’t too many of us in the U.S. In Silicon Valley, we are pretty much the only ones who can offer this type of model. We have the engineering team and world-class manufacturing in Silicon Valley, and we have a path to cost reduction with our own factory in Malaysia, which has played very well for us because there is no tariff issue in the current environment there. We know where we excel, and we know what to not get into. We are up-front with the customer. We will take you from the early concept through new product introduction (NPI) and certification. We’ll get the product done, and that includes hardware, embedded firmware, and software—the complete package.
You can still choose to keep whatever you want to until a certain volume, but if we have too much high volume, that’s not who we are. We help you with where you would need to go, so our strength is knowing our strengths and whether we are a good fit for the customer. Overall, that is a huge value-add to the customer, especially start-ups, because they can go to a friendly place that understands start-up culture and knows how to help and can keep them disciplined if they lack that.
Sometimes, we have customers who want to run very fast, but they have not defined the product well enough so that counter-productive speed hurts the project more than it helps. Going too fast leads to defining things as we go, and the cost of correction becomes huge. We educate the customer upfront and hold their hands as well where we see it is a necessity to prepare them better. We know how to engage them and be efficient with this whole process.
Johnson: Based on this role, it sounds like you’re providing a lot of services that work well for start-ups or smaller volumes with an understanding that a successful product is going to graduate into a different channel outside of what Whizz does.
Irfan: Many products don’t go to those large volumes, so we are a great fit for launch, NPI, and early production runs through our Malaysia facility. If they start to build tens of thousands of units a month, we can either manage other CMs better suited for that type of volume or help them transition. Depending on the complexity, if customers are building 5,000–10,000 units a month and it’s still a great fit, we’ll take care of it. For example, we’re a great fit for high complexity and low- to mid-volume products. They don’t have to move to other channels, but once it gets to very large volumes—due to materials, logistics, and the aggregation cost-benefit from large Tier 1 suppliers—that may outweigh the cost.
We are cognizant of that fact and we want what is right for the customer and will help the most in those channels. The value with Whizz is the ease of doing business with us. We understand IP protection, will work to understand what you want, and provide topnotch service and world-class quality. Those are huge benefits that we offer, which are very difficult for Tier 1 suppliers to offer for everyone.
To read the full article, which appeared in the May 2019 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.