Original design manufacturers (ODM) compete on price by nature, so many in Taiwan face major headwinds when their main source of income decides to turn to a cheaper option.
In response, AIFA Technology (AIFA), a former ODM for remote controls, transformed their business and started their home brand. The company based in Kaohsiung is most renowned for its smart home wireless remote control named i-Ctrl, a product that won the Taiwan Excellence Award 2018 and German Design Award 2020.
“When Taiwan is no longer an empire of ODM/OEM, small and middle-sized enterprises usually face one problem: not knowing how to push forward their existing brands and services to the market,” said Ni Wen-lu, founder and CEO at AIFA.
“How do you bring the public's attention to your products? That is the key to success. Most companies in Taiwan spend their time on their products, but they need to realize it is also important to think about how to market and sell them.”
To AIFA, it means crowdfunding. The company launched its first crowdfunding campaign of a battery saver on flyingV, a Taiwanese fundraising platform, in 2016. Despite failure to meet the funding goal, the team bounced back in summer and soon launched its second crowdfunding project to finance i-Ctrl.
The wireless remote control i-Ctrl has sensors that send and receive signals in a 360 degree radius. This allows users to control all home devices, such as air conditioners, curtains, lamps, and TV, on their phone or through voice commands in the distance.
The company, hitting its funding goal of NT$50,000 (US$1,703), raised NT$758,000 (US$25,817).
“As an ODM, it was hard for us to communicate with end users, and their comments about the products we designed and manufactured would never reach us,” Ni said.
Through crowdfunding, they build a bridge to consumers. It allows them to collect real-time feedback from customers and respond to their requests in an agile manner.
Because of the two-way communication, AIFA found out that i-Ctrl is used not only at homes but hospitals and hostels. With the product, nurses turn on lights and cameras remotely in the intensive care unit so families can video call the patient who is not well enough for a face-to-face chat. Hostel owners save money on their electric bill by monitoring and turning off air-conditioners that are not in use through i-Ctrl.
In 2020, AIFA launched its third crowdfunding product i-Ctrl Pro. The updated version of i-Ctrl analyzes and records user data to automatically adjust temperature and humidity. Through its mobile app, users can turn off the television that they forget to turn off and schedule various presets adjusting the temperature or humidity level for every occasion.
AIFA has also developed its own IoT database for local infrared devices, so i-Ctrl Pro can consolidate and activate the remote control functions of infrared home devices from most brands.
Ni shared the reason behind. One of the top concerns with smart home devices among Taiwanese is that their existing home appliances come from various brands and manufacturers around the world, and it is not worthwhile to buy a new fridge or air conditioners for the sole purpose of accommodating a smart home automation system.
Speaking of the future, Ni commented: “It was not easy to build a head-to-toe Taiwanese brand like AIFA here. The journey is tough but we are determined. Because our goal is to be a Taiwan smart home brand people associate with when they think of Taiwan. This is what makes us proud and a path we would like to follow.”