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Matties: You’re a buyer of printed circuit boards as well. I’m interested in what sort of demands you put on those suppliers, because it’s a supply chain and you have to be a buyer and a seller in this case, right?

Thompson: Yes. We have really good relationships with our suppliers. I’ve been working with these board houses for 20 years. They understand if I call in a favor and say, “I need this favor. I need this in two to three days. Can you make it?” They’re like “Okay.” At the same time, I’m giving them business or I’m pushing business to them as well. It’s a give and take type of situation, but we do put a lot of demands on them because we have to meet our timeline.

Matties: It sounds like that the thing that’s really resonating with me from what I'm hearing you say is it’s all about the relationships, whether it’s customer, employee, or vendor. You get back what you give out, right?

Thompson: It is. For me, that’s everything—customer support is everything. I’m really big on that, and our PMs here are as well. They do the same thing and they feel the same way. They’re very passionate. If a board is not going to be delivered on time or if we’re a day late, they take it to heart, because we want to do everything that we can for our customer. Repeat orders are big in this industry.


Matties: Your passion comes through, there’s no doubt about it. Dare I say you love what you do?

Thompson: I do!

Matties: I think it’s that love that’s part of the culture here because it starts at the top. It starts with you, and if that’s what you’re spreading in your company, it’s a lot easier to do business that way.

Thompson: It is. The customers are great and you get some customers that are a challenge, that’s in every place you go to, but for me, it’s like “Okay, game on. Let me see if I can turn this customer around.” I take it as a challenge.

Matties: Good for you. Aside from the customer challenge, being in this sort of business, what do you think the greatest challenge is?

Thompson: Right now for us, it’s being so close to San Diego and outsourcing to China. We actually have some companies in China that we are building for. They actually brought over companies in India that are taking their product from offshore and bringing it back, which is really unusual. One of the companies hasn’t built in the U.S. in 25 years. Now, they’ve come to us and we’re building their product. Because we are so close to the border down here, another challenge that we see happening is a lot of the bigger companies in this area going to Mexico. I reached out to various companies in Mexico and the Chamber of Commerce down there in Tijuana to try to form a partnership with them as well. If our customers are adamant about going there, I can make introductions and try to help them out in that direction. This industry is up and down continuously and right now our challenge is working around pricing with our customers to match what’s going on down in Mexico. That’s a big challenge.

Matties: That’s on the contract side. Now on your retail product side, how is that working?

Thompson: Right now, what we’re doing is we’re going to trade shows like Geek-A-Palooza. We’ve gone to the Del Mar Electronics Show. We’re hitting some other ones here next month. Every customer that comes in to visit us, we show our microscopes to them and they are just so unbelievably thrilled about these. Because one of the big things for us was that there are scopes that you could bring in from offshore that are pretty reasonable, but it’s still expensive, especially if you’re a new startup and money is tight for you. How can you afford to buy a $2,500 scope?

We wanted to make the articulating arm stronger so the production workers weren’t constantly bending over and hurting themselves and being uncomfortable while they’re at work. We wanted the price to be a big difference. We basically started building and designing the various elements on the scope, worked with a lens company, and with our design engineers got the price cut in half. That alone is interesting to a lot of CMs.


Matties: It started out as a tool for your own people and then it evolved into a retail product?

Thompson: It did, and some of the customers said, “Where did you get that scope? Where can I buy it from?” I said, “Come on over to my side of the building and let me show you.” Then they just started ballooning from there. We’ve only been building it up for the past six months.

Matties: Wow, how are sales?

Thompson: Really good.

Matties: Just looking ahead, what do you see for the future of the market? Is it a strong market going forward?

Thompson: The past two years have been kind of on the up. Right now I kind of see that it’s stabling off a little bit, but there’re certain markets that are really hitting it right now. SpaceX is really doing crazy things right now. We were approached by Tesla to build a product for them. That’s really going crazy. Medical is huge. So I think that there’s going to be a lot of changes, but as far as the overall, I see it’s kind of leveling out a little bit.

Matties: In the specialty areas, you’re going to see some growth, probably some R&D growth as well.

Thompson: R&D is really big right now.



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