SHANGHAI – Unlike Spreadtrum and RDA Microelectronics, China’s leading IC vendors, Shanghai Awinic technology co., a fabless chip company established here in 2008 and now up to 70 employees, is largely a mystery beyond China. But Awinic’s work ethic (always on call, including weekends) and the way its engineering team interfaces with local customers (Awinic’s engineers do double duty in marketing and product development) have set it up for greater prominence.
Awinic’s devotion to working harder appears to be lifted straight from the playbook of another Chinese success story, Huawei. Further, just as Huawei engineers are known to have a sleeping bag in their cubicles (so that they can work into the wee hours), so are Awinic engineers. (See the pictures on the following page.)
Armed with 50 different products aimed at the mobile phone market, Awinic has been successfully nipping at the heels of global analog chip vendors such as Texas Instruments.
None of the Awinic’s products are big chips, but they are designed by intently listening to what customers want. Jiao Jiantang, deputy general manager at Awinic noted: “Customer needs are the reason why we’re here.”
Their products include audio power amplifier chips, LED backlighting driver ICs, touch screen controllers, dual-mode dual standby SIM card controller ICs, dual-battery power management systems and others.
Jiantang claims that the company has shipped1. 4 billion chips – altogether – since 2008.
Unmistakable Huawei DNA
The company’s core management team consists of ex-Huawei guys, including Jiao Jiantang. Engineer Yu Wei Xue, Awinic’s thirty-something director of product department, also speaks admiringly about Huawei.
Asked if he works weekends, Wei Xue said, “Although we are a five-day work week company, many of our [local] customers are not. So, if they need help on weekends, they’ll call us and, yes, we help them.”
And when they say they help their customers, they do mean it. Even if clients have problems with chips not designed by Awinic, “we help them,” said Jiantang — at no charge. “We like to think we’re building friendships – rather than business,” said Wei Xue.
Awinic’s customers today are mainly local mobile handset guys. In addition to Chinese handset brands such as OPAL, they supply chips to big OEMs including Huawei and ZTE, and EMS companies like Foxconn. While a majority – 96 percent — of Awinic customers are based in China, they also include such non-Chinese firms as Sharp and Motorola. Jiangtan said Awinic is currently in negotiation with Samsung.
Asked about how Awinic differentiates from competitors, Jiantang pointed out two things: “We understand our customer needs better, and we are able to provide better service.” Many bigger Western chip vendors market their platforms, but often tlack local R&D staff, said Jiantang. He likes to tell Awinic’s customers, “Our R&D is your R&D.”
Unlike other Chinese fablesses – often run by Chinese engineering executives who returned from the United States — Awinic has a real local Chinese flavor. But executives are keenly aware that their next phase of company growth requires a global strategy. Jiantang’s plans for Awinic’s future include: expanding the customer list [including new foreign customers like Samsung and LG], and expanding the product portfolio from purely analog chips to SoCs, as well as high-performance analog chips. For the SoC, Awinic is planning on touch panel SoCs. For high-speed analog, the company is developing RF parts for the GPS power amplifier.
Remaining ever so humble, Jiangtang scoffs at the notion of taking over competitors like TI or Yamaha. “We still have a lot of things to learn from them.”
Nonetheless, Jiangtan is keenly aware that the core driver of the company’s success is in innovation that impresses the whole world. “The China market is very big. But we need to go global.”
Awinic claims to have six key patents for audio performance enhancement technologies. The company is known to have high reliability of electrostatic discharge (ESD) protection design. ESD prevents sound distortion and interference by low frequency electromagnetism (EMI), while consistently maintaining minimal power consumption. The company also has 18 unique IC layout designs copy righted.
Jiao Jiantang, deputy general manager at Awinic, plays ping pong during a break in his office
Jiantang (left) and Yu Wei Xue, director of product department, are a dynamic duo at Awinic. Although young Wei Xue has never worked for Huawei, he speaks of the telecom giant in China with great respect and admiration.
Thanks, Frank. I actually really enjoyed visiting this company -- despite everyone spoke little English (Jiantang brought in a friend of his who speaks English), the company is full of energy and faith in "Huawei" way. Jiantang enthusiastically gave me the tour of the whole company (not big, but they just moved into a new office, which just happens to be across the street from ARM China). This reminded me how a startup CEO used to give me a tour in Silicon Valley.
I will agree. Even Chinese work at the same hours we do. Company could afford 2-3 engineers with the same pay here, which is equivalent to 2 to 3x more work of the same pay. Innovation is only way to keep us ahead. Without innovation, we are doomed.
Another great article Junko! My hats off to you. The interesting part about the Chinese is the customer service...or rather customer devotion. What western society would term as an abusive customer relationship is actually taken in as a customer right. Make no mistake of it, customer is #1 is a way of life for most and however crazy the request is, will be performed with minimal questioning or resistance. The key here is do everything to get the customer hooked on you and your products ASAP.
Sleeping and work around the clock is not an odd story in China. Many companies, not only startups, are having 8 to 10 working hours and informally 6 days work week (although legally they should all be regarded as 5 day workweek).
Great story Junko, and thanks for including the photos. The photos really give the sense that a startup in China isn't necessarily so different from one in California -- except perhaps for the sleeping bag!