Fairphone, the next steps – from 2013 to 2014

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[Editor’s Note: We’ve got news to share. After finishing the delivery of our first batch of Fairphones from December and January, we’re looking ahead to 2014. I sat down with Bas to go over some of the common questions we get from our community, and want to share our plans going forward in this Q&A. – Tessa Wernink, Communications]

Where are we now? What next?

As of last Friday, the 31st of January, we have shipped 25,000 First Edition Fairphones to our first batch buyers! Its final exterior design was chosen by the community, and fully-funded by our buyers. Initiatives have been started like those in the factory in China (Worker Welfare Fund) and in Ghana (recycling electronic waste). We have managed to build a solid foundation for our social enterprise that stands for a model that puts profits and social impact in close collaboration. With our community’s support and trust, we have managed to retain our independence enabling us to make decisions based on our vision and mission. A big thank you to all of you who have made these first steps possible.

We have a strong and lively community: Alongside our 24,000 strong movement of buyers, 50,000 people have actively joined us on Facebook, and over 10,000 on Twitter. Almost 29,000 new buyers have registered to buy the next Fairphone and the team itself has grown from 5 people in January of 2013 to around 20 people today! And one mountain we’re still climbing: We’ve replied to over 10,000 ticket questions in the last 2 months!

BGV Web

The Bethnal Green Ventures team in London showing off their Fairphones.

There hasn’t been much time to stop and consider the fast development we’ve experienced in the past year and it is safe to say that we are in a period of transition, formulating next steps in the near future as well as longer term. It’s been an amazing year, which has resulted in a solid company foundation, a strong and inspired team and amazing network of followers, buyers, partners and others who make up a community with whom we want to take the next steps on our journey.

So, what are the next steps for Fairphone?

It’s our core business to produce smartphones as a way to positively change systems, and we will continue along this path in 2014 and in the future. This past year has been a steep learning curve for many of us. Many important lessons have been learned, which we have tried to share with you, and we will continue to do so. Our ambitions remain the same. We still very much believe that fairer products are a result of an economy based on fairer principles and that to understand how to create a more sustainable supply chain, we need to gain a better understanding of our role in it. This means a new relationship with our products and different values in our business decisions.

How will we take the next steps?

Our first steps are to produce a second batch of Fairphones with our manufacturing partner in Chongqing. We started a list for subscribers in November, when we sold out of our first batch and by now, almost 29,000 people have registered! We’re impressed with the great interest for the next batch, but also want clear about the amount of phones we will produce. We’ll be finalizing the number in the coming months, but we’ll probably be making a similarly small production run of at least 25,000 phones, perhaps more. Making another order of phones will enable us to continue the progress we have made with the Worker Welfare Fund at the factory (as well as financially contribute to it). The same goes for the other projects we have started, such as optimizing recycling into a sustaining business in Ghana, continuing demand for the tin and tantalum from the initiatives in Congo; as well as contributing to the development of new initiatives and interventions as we go forward with new partnerships in business and NGO sectors. In this way, we can keep the company running from an operational standpoint and invest into R&D for future products.

Ghana Research

Fairphone team member, Bibi Bleekemolen, doing research for our e-waste collection program.

Why small runs of phone production? What does production depend on?

We know we need to grow with a higher volume quantity in order to make greater change in the industry, but we also need to to grow proportionally to the capacity of our team and suppliers, meaning to not grow too fast, too soon. There are several reasons to choose to produce another (relatively small) line of 25,000:

  • Low volume keeps our production operationally manageable;
  • We want to grow organically while retaining our independence from investors;
  • Selling directly to our buyers through our own online channels can solidify our operations and allow us to maintain services in-house, like technical service and repair, to be scaled with the sale of the phone.

What is the timeline for the next delivery?

Presenting timelines and dates can get us in trouble if we don’t deliver on these expectations, but we know many of you need a timeframe for when to expect the next round of Fairphones. With this in mind, we put a projection of delivery to the following:

We are already on the development of the second run, which will last until the end of May. Some lead times on components are as much as three months, which explains this timeline. Following this trajectory, delivery would start in June or July.

We will start production only once we are certain we have all our materials standing ready for mass production at the factory. The development period includes, among other issues, time to evaluate the first production run, revisit the commitments that we entered with the factory on our first production, and see that all requirements were met on both sides.

China Packaging

Packaging is ready for its Fairphone.

There are several items that need to be rolled out still before we go ahead with a next batch. For example, the logistics behind the Worker Welfare Fund (forming accounts for the already-existing fund) and developing worker representation channels for the fund.

When can you buy a phone and how many will we produce?

We will start another round of pre-sales via our webshop once we have a clear timeline on the availability of finished products. The difference this time is that we want to offer a more reasonable delivery time, expected to around four to six weeks after pre-sales begin.

Obviously, the first subscribers on our Second Batch Buyers’ List will be the first to get the option to buy their “pre-ordered” phone, on a first-come, first-served basis. Thanks to all who are reading this on the list for your interest and enthusiasm for what we’re doing!

How do we intend to grow in the longer term?

Or one could ask: What does the end of 2014 look like for Fairphone? Or next year, or 5 years from now?

We intend to keep our production small for this year and scale up the number of phones we are making next year. We’d like to offer the phones through growing groups of individual buyers, like-minded businesses as well as through operators in different countries. Keep in mind, however, that increasing the number of phones is based on the impact we can make by manufacturing larger volumes.

What are the next interventions and who are our partners?

We have a lot of projects running with some inspiring partners at the moment such as for FairTrade gold, for Fairphone OS development for work towards future Android upgrades, and repair manuals and documentation from our partner iFixit. We will keep you posted and informed, as is part of our main mission, as these projects become more solidified – so watch this space!

Going forward through our blog and newsletter, we will share with our future buyers and community members the process of learning where our stuff comes from. And this is what Fairphone is all about – making a phone that demonstrates knowing the origin of a product and its parts can help us better understand how to make positive influence on our supply chain.

Well, we hope we’ve left you with some promising developments for the coming months and throughout 2014. We are continuously inspired to hear from everyone out there in the community with your passion for what we’re doing together. Best wishes to all of you in 2014, and we hope you’ll sign up for your phone or follow our journey through our blog and community updates.

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