On 26th December, 2023, 36Kr held the Golden Age of Hard Technology Conference in Qianhai, Shenzhen, China. Incus’ CEO, Calvin Zhang, was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion titled “Technology x Talent: The Dao and Art.” The discussion was moderated by Chief Editor of 36Kr, Peng Xiaoqiu. Other participants included Xue Yao, founder and CEO of Future Brainwave Technology, and Bamboo Intelligence Technology co-founder and COO Wu Yanhua, Species Origin Technology’s CEO Lin Yuan, and Zhixing Research Institute’s Assistant Director and Investment Manager Liao Junhhao. The following is an excerpt of what Calvin Zhang said during the discussion.
Calvin Zhang: Hi everyone, my name is Calvin. I graduated from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and am a co-founder of Incus. We make hearing aids. Do you know what trend has persisted for the past decade and will continue to do so? The trend of the Chinese population ageing. We observed that the global hearing aid market is still dominated by five Western brands. We hope to create affordable and accessible hearing devices for the Chinese market through semiconductor innovation and technological advancements.
Peng Xiaoqiu: Hardware entrepreneurship is different from software. It heavily relies on supply chains, branding, and distribution channels. As a founder, how do you tackle the complexities in these areas?
Calvin Zhang: Hardware, from product definition, to implementation, to reaching consumers, has a longer cycle. This makes it crucial to have a clear product definition from the onset. However, what we think consumers want may not actually be what they want. So it is important to align the product definition with what customers genuinely want.
Peng Xiaoqiu: We have looked into the hearing aid industry. There are relatively few domestic brands. With the recent push for domestic products to replace imports, domestic brands are emerging. How long will it take before domestic brands overtake overseas brands?
Calvin Zhang: Sales and distribution is a major pain point in our industry. The Big Five European and American brands have already established traditional channels to a certain scale in China. To overtake them, we’ll have to win in terms of channels. I have always maintained very high expectations and confidence in the Chinese market.
Besides, hearing aid semiconductor components are still predominantly controlled by major players from Europe and the United States. Given the relatively small volume of this product category (e.g. compare to smartphones), large semiconductor manufacturers are unlikely to prioritise the development of specialised hearing aid chips. So it falls upon the hearing aid manufacturers to do so. We need to work with the semiconductor manufacturers to innovate. Amid the wave of semiconductor development in China, we have also seized opportunities. One of our shareholders, Beken Corporation, has helped us design semiconductors. We believe that innovating at the semiconductor level is required in order to compete with the European and American manufacturers.
Peng Xiaoqiu: Chinese entrepreneurs are known to work extremely hard and compete fiercely. Mr. Zhang, how do you view the situation?
Calvin Zhang: I’ve found that Chinese are not afraid of hard work or to try to overtake the competition. Hard work is inevitable; it’s just a matter of which battles we pick. In hardware technology innovation, we need to find the right battlefields to enter. Identifying the specific areas to focus on is crucial to our success. For example, in our industry, we are focusing on overtaking the competitors in terms of semiconductor technology and distribution channels. These areas are ripe for innovation, and it is essential for us to excel in them to create greater value for consumers.
Peng Xiaoqiu: Is there anything in your industry that has left a deep impression on you?
Calvin Zhang: In 2023, numerous Chinese headphone manufacturers started to dip their toes in our industry. Since they come from a different industry, it is interesting to see their approaches and go-to-market strategies. The most significant impression we had in 2023 was the influx of these manufacturers trying to establish their presence in our industry. However, we have been observing them and wonder whether they are entering the market for the right reasons and with the right direction for expansion.