From landlines to smart cities: consumer electronics president shares the evolution of tech demand over 40 years (podcast episode)

October 12, 2023


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In today’s episode of the Brains Byte Back podcast, we speak with Ted Ko, President of Techko Group, a family-run consumer electronics company.

Ko kicks off by sharing how his father started the company in 1982, originally starting out with landline telephones and evolved into a diverse range of consumer electronics. He also mentions how, for younger generations who don’t know what landline phones are, he references the TV show “Stranger Things” to help them understand.

Ko highlights the unique aspects of his role, which involves overseeing both big-picture strategy and day-to-day operations. He describes a typical day that starts with coffee and strategic planning, emphasizing the company’s commitment to achieving quarterly and monthly goals.

The conversation then moves on to how the company has branched into home and office security, office equipment, robotic vacuum cleaners, and now outdoor solar lighting. 

And Ko discusses how the company recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, marking four decades of continuous innovation and adaptation to changing consumer needs.

We then talk about smart cities, where Ko delves into Techko’s role in building smart cities and their focus on sustainability. He discusses the philosophy behind their solar lighting products, which prioritize simplicity, reliability, and energy efficiency. 

Ko also shares that, for him, smart cities mean systems that operate seamlessly without constant user intervention and how that aligns with Techko’s vision.

We also dive into case studies of how Techko’s products have positively impacted users’ lives. 

Ko highlights the importance of Techko’s pool alarms in ensuring the safety of children in homes with pools. Ko describes the creativity of customers who have used Techko’s solar lights in unconventional settings, such as boats in remote locations.

Finally, Ko explains how Techko Group differentiates itself in this crowded market by focusing on quality, thoughtful design, and alignment with personal values. And how, rather than getting bogged down by the competition, Techko prioritizes delivering genuine value to customers.

You can listen to the episode below, or on SpotifyAnchorApple PodcastsBreakerGoogle PodcastsStitcherOvercastListen NotesPodBean, and Radio Public.

Alternatively, you can find a transcript below:

Ted Ko: Yeah, so my name is Ted Ko.  I’m the president here at Techko. Techko stands for Technology KO. We’re a family-owned business. My father started the company in 1982. My role as president involves overseeing the strategy from the big picture down to day-to-day operations, and everything in between. So, an average day might look like this: I wake up in the morning, make my coffee, and start thinking through our big-picture strategy. I check where we are with our quarterly and monthly goals and plan out the day accordingly. It can involve answering customer service emails by the end of the day. So, a little bit of everything, just trying to make the company and our team successful. 

Samuel Brake Guia: Fantastic. That’s awesome. It’s so cool that you run a family business that’s been passed down like that. I also know that Techko recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. Congratulations on that! Could you share with our listeners how Techko first started and how it has evolved over the years? 

Ted Ko: Thank you. Yeah, I can share that. So, the Techko Group has always been focused on consumer electronics. My father originally started the company in telephones, and it was called Telco. The product that gave us our first success was landline home telephones. To explain what those were to younger generations, think of the long cords attached to phones in shows like Stranger Things when they’re at home. That’s the product. So, Techko started with landline telephones in the ’80s and followed the consumer electronics trend through various waves. We ventured into home and office security products, office equipment like pencil sharpeners and shredders, and everything in between. About a decade ago, we entered the home products market with robotic vacuum cleaners, and now we’re into outdoor solar lighting. So, it’s been four decades of continuous innovation and expanding our range of consumer products and gadgets. 

Samuel Brake Guia: That’s really interesting. It’s amazing how you’ve touched on so many areas over the years. I have to say, it’s a fantastic idea to reference Stranger Things to explain landline phones. I just turned 30, and it’s true; we’re probably the last generation to remember them. Now, I know you were featured on The Sociable talking about the Smart City Revolution and eco-friendly urban planning. Can you share what Techko is doing to help create and improve modern smart cities? 

Ted Ko: Absolutely. As we’ve gone through four decades and different product lines, we’ve observed changes in the macroeconomic and environmental landscapes. Looking ahead to the next 10 years, we’re focusing on sustainability and energy consumption. That’s why we’ve recently expanded into solar lighting. When I think of smart cities, it’s not just about controlling everything through your phone. From a product strategy and philosophy perspective, we believe “smart” should mean handling things seamlessly. Our solar lighting products operate without wires, turn on at night, turn off during the day, and charge themselves. They are simple and reliable, without heavy AI or graphics processing. They offer peace of mind and are designed to be set up and forgotten about. That’s how I envision smart cities, where things happen smoothly without needing constant control. 

Samuel Brake Guia: That makes absolute sense. It’s a thoughtful approach to sustainability and convenience. Do you have any case studies or examples of how users of your products have been positively impacted? 

Ted Ko: Yes, certainly. We have many stories from our wide range of products, but let me highlight a couple. Currently, one of our core product lines is pool alarms. These are accessible alarms for gates, doors, screen doors, and windows leading to pools. Many customers who move into new homes buy these alarms. They are excited about their new homes, especially if they’ve moved to warmer regions like Texas or Florida, and they want to enjoy the summer weather. New homeowners face various expenses, including home maintenance, HVAC, and inspections. Pool safety is crucial because drowning is a leading cause of death for children under 14. Our pool alarms are simple, affordable, and DIY-friendly. They help keep homes and pools safe, allowing families to enjoy their new houses without worry. Additionally, we offer a wide range of solar lighting products. One of the exciting aspects is how creative our customers can be with these lights. For example, a customer recently asked us how to attach our lights to a “high-velocity object.” Initially, we were puzzled, as our lights are designed for homes, not high-velocity environments. However, the customer explained that they wanted to use the lights on their boat in the middle of the Pacific in the Gulf of Mexico, where there’s no power grid. It’s fascinating to see how customers surprise us with their creative use of our products. We enjoy collaborating with them to find solutions and make their ideas work, even in challenging environments. This creativity and interaction with customers make the job fulfilling for me. 

Samuel Brake Guia: It’s great to hear how your products positively impact people’s lives in various ways. I’m sure these examples resonate with many listeners. I also understand that there are many tech companies in your space. Are there any other companies operating in your specific niche, and if so, how do you differentiate yourselves from the competition? 

Ted Ko: Yes, there are many companies in the electronics and solar lighting space. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by competition, especially with the constant flow of information online. However, what sets us apart and keeps us grounded is our focus on ourselves. Being a family-owned business allows us to align our company with our personal values. While some competitors may focus solely on specs and price, we emphasize quality and thoughtful design. We take the time to sketch out ideas and consider whether they would genuinely benefit our customers. If we believe in a product, we invest in its development and production. If not, we don’t pursue it. This approach enables us to stay true to our values and provide products that genuinely meet our customers’ needs, rather than constantly comparing ourselves to competitors. 

Samuel Brake Guia: That’s a wise approach, focusing on your values and delivering products that align with your vision. What’s next on the horizon for Techko? 

Ted Ko: We plan to stay true to our roots while continuing to innovate. We have some exciting new products set to launch by the end of this year and into 2024, primarily in the solar lighting category. Additionally, we’re entering another electronic category closely related to solar lighting. Our philosophy is to keep testing and exploring new ideas, always aiming to provide value to our customers. We want to maintain this ethos for the next 40 years and beyond. 

Samuel Brake Guia: That sounds like an exciting journey ahead. If people want to stay updated on Techko’s work or connect with you personally, what’s the best way for them to do that? 

Ted Ko: You can connect with me on LinkedIn, just search for Ted Ko. For updates on our company and products, you can visit our blog on Techko Group’s website, where we share news, releases, and more. Additionally, feel free to drop a line in our customer service emails, as I personally check and respond to them regularly. 

Disclosure: This episode includes a client of an Espacio portfolio company


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