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Birmingham-based Fledging aims to reset the world standard for consumer electronics

by Heather Seelbach

Birmingham-based Fledging is on a mission to bring electronics to everyone. This electronics startup embraces the philosophy that people shouldn’t have to choose between paying top dollar for a quality product, or buying an inexpensive alternative that doesn’t last. 

“We make products that work well, last a long time, and come at a fair price. Our products crack into captured ecosystems, like Apple, to give people as much value as possible from their products instead of limiting them by the manufacturer’s captive business model,” said Ethan Summers, CEO of Fledging. 

Fledging is known for premium performance, ease of use, affordability, and global availability. They stay ahead of the ever-changing technology in the consumer electronics industry by reading, watching, and discussing complex situations. 

“We’re great at finding gaps in the market and widening those into true segments. We do this by understanding what’s missing in a product, like when a MacBook’s SSD has died and you have no DIY upgrade options, or when Apple stripped the iPad down to USB-C but you need to connect to the world. We then build something that gives you all the functions of your main device, plus a lot more important features,” said Summers. 

Fledging just launched a Kickstarter campaign for Hubble, an all-in-one hub and case for iPad. Hubble increases the usability and connectivity of iPad Pro and iPad Air by providing several connection hubs such as multiple ports for charging and data transfer. These features allow users to connect their iPad with a keyboard, mouse, screen, or external hard drive. 

Summers said, “Kickstarter is great for promoting a product to the world. Smaller firms don’t have access to huge marketing budgets and frankly, we don’t want to mass produce a product that folks don’t want.” 

Hubble is Fledging’s fourth Kickstarter campaign. Their first product launched through Kickstarter, which generated about $8.9K, was Feather, a line of internal solid-state drives (SSDs) made exclusively for compatible Apple computers to help with memory and processing speed. Fledging also launched a Kickstarter to fund Shell, the world’s fastest external SSD storage device. Shell was their most successful crowdfunding venture, with 301 backers pledging more than $37.K. Following this, Fledging raised $1.0M seed, and another $150K through community grants. Their last crowdfunding endeavor on Kickstarter was Shell Slim, a cableless external SSD device. This product had 94 backers, who pledged roughly $9.8K to bring the product to life. 

“Crowdfunding helps us gauge the market by showing us the eager people who want to order in advance. We get tons of market feedback, lots of technical questions, and great exposure. The cash infusion helps too, of course.” 

Summers said one of the most challenging aspects of consumer electronics is the fast pace. Fledging balances this by providing an incredible workplace culture, which equips everyone on the team with guidelines to inform decisions, while still allowing them autonomy and freedom to innovate. 

“Our first value, innovate what people love, keep us focused on making good things better, and on solving problems where people will tolerate a bad solution just because they really need the outcome. We treat others how they want to be treated, which puts us in the empathetic position of seeing through another person’s eyes and getting beyond our own perspective. This is especially important in 2020 as the world continues to learn just how wonderfully diverse people are. Finally, we work hard to stay humble. This means knowing exactly what you know (not more, not less), finding help whenever needed, and knowing when you just need to buckle down and do the work. We couldn’t grow in such a competitive industry without a strong culture that set everyone up to make their own best decisions,” said Summers. 

Fledging founders Weida Tan and Steven Robbins worked together in the 3D print lab at The University of Alabama in Birmingham, where they began repairing Macbooks. They started tinkering with the programming of components, and found a way to innovate the SSD. This led Tan and Robbins to create Fledging, in an effort to provide affordable alternatives to manufacturer produced storage drives. (The team can be seen above as astronauts to promote the launch of Hubble). Fledging was revenue positive from day zero, a fact that convinced Summers to join the team last summer. 

Summers said the Birmingham community has been very supportive of Fledging. 

“In the 3.5 years I’ve been back in the city, I have never been turned down once for a coffee with anyone. There’s a strong sense that a rising tide raises all ships. You see groups like Innovation Depot, Birmingham Bound, Hardware Park, or the Iron City Product Council (small brag here as I’m the president), all dedicated to just helping each other as much as we can, in different ways.”

Fledging’s overarching goal is to reset the world standard for doing consumer electronics right, by producing premium products that are both durable and affordable. They are always innovating, and plan to launch another new product soon. 

We’re preparing a really neat portable charging solution that we’ll announce in a few months, and are researching segments where we can offer a premium product that gives the consumer a lot more authority in how they live their life,” said Summers.

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