TL;DR: Our experience with Tully Gehan’s FactoryForAll.com bordered on fraud and extortion and significantly impacted our ability to do business. We are sharing our experience here with others in the Maker community on the pitfalls of offshore sourcing.
First of all, let me get this out of the way. We debated for a long time on whether to write this article. Business, by its very nature, involves risk. Bad things happen to good people.. We don't come onto the blog every time something goes south to throw a vendor / re-seller / supplier under the bus, because we recognize that there are two sides to each story and factors that are out of control for both parties involved in any transaction / relationship gone bad.
That being said, despite checking their references, the level of communication, transparency, and professionalism that we experienced with Factory For All bordered on outright fraud and extortion. And, even more unfortunate, when I sat down with friends in the Maker community and lament about all the issues and struggles we've had, multiple people have told me that these guys were not reliable, yet not a single negative review (that would have saved us a lot of grief) can be found. We note that Factory For All was mentioned in Make Magazine's "Shenzhen for noobs" article and we would like to leave our experience for the record for fellow Makers as another data point to consider, when selecting a vendor.
We approached Factory For All in June, placed purchase orders and wired 100% of the money the first week of July. We were purchasing items that should have been roughly 2-4 week lead time, from vendors that we have already vetted and have pre-existing business relationships with. We wired the money based on vetting Tully’s references; someone that I know personally and respect from the Maker community reported a good working relationship with Tully and we wrongly assumed that it would have been relatively straightforward to purchase these parts, arrange for them to be delivered to Tully’s location, and then shipped out via ocean freight, since they claim to do all of MPJA.com’s Chinese sourcing.
We chose to do things this way for two reasons:
1) by issuing a single PO to one company we were hoping to keep our accounting clean, and
2) we’ve ran into problems in China before where companies trying to act as a freight forwarder and found out that they cannot export our goods after all the goods have been purchased because they were unable to show a paper trail of the money and goods transaction; without which they cannot make the proper export tax declarations.
I first met Tully Gehan at Bay Area Maker Faire in 2015. They had a sign offering Chinese sourcing, contract manufacturing and kitting services. At the time I made contact, I already have vetted Chinese suppliers for packaging for both OpenBeam and ZT Automations as well as located and qualified suppliers for every line item on Kossel’s 200 line item BOM. However, we were hoping to move some of the kitting and repackaging overseas to simplify the import paperwork, and we were hoping to find a single source agent to help consolidate our shipments.
What we didn't know at that time was that our funds were diverted from day one into another business's account because Tully and his girlfriend had broken up; the FactoryForAll business was registered in his girlfriend’s name, along with the bank account, so Tully had us wire the money into his “friend’s” account, who promptly became unavailable and who later was afraid of tax implications and decided to wire the money back. This wasn't made known to us until our vendors, a month in, started communicating with us directly that they weren't getting paid, and Tully let it slipped out that he was having issues accessing the bank account because it wasn't his.
There were other issues as well. Because Tully’s Chinese skills was questionable at best, he had to rely on a string of different translators, none of whom have any basic technical background. I found myself having to WeChat, QQ and Skype multiple people to explain to them in Chinese what we are trying to accomplish, only to watch a frustrating game of telephone unfold 6000 miles away. This was brought to our attention when one of our suppliers contacted us thinking that someone was masquerading as OpenBeam's "purchase agent" to try to get them to produce OpenBeam parts under the radar; our supplier even went as far to ask if Tully was a "rented foreigner" because he couldn't field even the most basic answers regarding what was being ordered. What’s also worse is the team in China is overly reliant on WeChat, QQ and Skype; there was hardly any documentation on what was actually being ordered, a highly problematic situation when ordering CNY$100,000+ worth of goods. At my insistence, we had written contracts and BOMs drafted up in Chinese which I double checked against our English BOM. (One of the things that came out from this fiasco, is OpenBeam now releases its engineering drawings bilingually).
It wasn’t until mid September when all goods would arrive at the warehouse - communications got dropped with our cardboard vendor, and even though PO was placed and the money was wired the first week of July, our “two week lead time” cardboard boxes didn’t show up until mid September. There another nightmare started; despite us repeatedly asking for them to prepare for ocean shipment when the boxes arrive and despite repeated Skype messages telling us that they were “working on” our shipment, it wouldn’t be until around October 21st when we received an “invoice” for their services, and a proposed shipping plan that was by far the most expensive freight bill I would see in our company’s history.