Insurgo provides a secure laptop ready to use and tamper evident during transit while enforcing good practices upon reception through re-ownership of hardware components, as to maintain a trustable root of trust. Of course, for the more technically advanced user, it is certainly possible to embark on the journey of finding the perfect X230, change the parts himself, buy a compatible HOTP USB Security dongle, upgrade the X230 firmware, neuter/deactivate ME out of it, build the firmware from source, reprogram its firmware with Heads, flash it with proper equipment and seal measurements with separately bought HOTP USB Security dongle.
Switching sourcing of refurbished hardware to China was a double-edged sword: it provided Grade A laptops at such a low price that it permitted us to reduce the price directly; but it locked us to a remote source no local refurbisher could compete with.
Simultaneously, an increase in orders opened up new opportunities and permitted us to introduce the OpenCollective’s Insurgo Initiative(8) which is now accumulating funds available to pay for required Open Source project development; in turn made possible by Insurgo giving 25% of its net profit from each laptop sold to the fund.
All the while, lots of new expenses were happening simultaneously: legal, accounting (Inc), payroll, plugin development, hosting, external consultancy; which all happened before we finished the first year of operation and prior to knowing the real costs of running such a unique startup… How to make/keep our business profitable is paramount.
What have we learned from all of this?
Sourcing should be as local as possible
There is no point having refurbished laptops coming from China. Much less in the midst of a pandemic. If there is a defect on a laptop, reshipping hardware is undesired, unreliable and costly; while legal bounding and accountability levels are not as enforcable as locally.
Running an enterprise has a lot of hidden costs
Including paying reprogrammers when the volume of orders augment, which then reduces the profit since the price was pre-set in a transparent way. Initially, I (Thierry) was the only one person producing the PrivacyBeast X230 and the company was a sole proprietorship. As the company scaled and the work needed to be divided and delegated, it became evident that the single reprogramming fee should have been separated into various service fees from the start.
Quality has a cost
If you do not want to sacrifice the quality of your builds (quality of sourced products: battery, casing, keyboard, SSD drives, IPS panel, wifi cards…) nor the safety of it (tamper evident seal, neutering+deactivation of Intel ME, research and development, maintenance of software, customer support) then you cannot reduce your costs without having to pay them in time, which should also be moneyable.
So, if you can’t further reduce your operating costs nor the quality of your work, what can you do?You must increase the sale price.
What will change
Sourcing will become local (Second attempt!)
We will do everything as locally as possible and we will invest the required resources to build a proof of concept enabling us to reach this goal. We have a couple of refurbishers in sight for the North American side, to whom we can provide the most expensive parts of the hardware (i7 motherboards, IPS panels, etc) sourced from where they are made, which is a formula which makes sense. We will then expand sourcing to remote local refurbishers and reprogrammers.
This requires local refurbishers to already be established refurbishers; having the sourcing, space required to stock parts, expertise for shipping and handling to actually produce and provide grade A refurbished hardware that meets our quality requirements.
What we can do to help is to share what we’ve learned about the field of sourcing; we can source to refurbishers the higher priced parts at a much lower cost. To do so, we have to be able to provide deals and volume orders to local refurbishers with agreements on sale prices and shipping. Providing such sourcing to remote refurbishers would permit us to guarantee selling price within profit margin, decentralize and maintain Insurgo’s mission and long term vision of getting away from x86 completely.
Reprogramming will become decentralized
The goal is to recreate Insurgo in all countries where there is demand; so that customers don’t have to pay additional fees and to allow the business to scale along with demand. Customers shouldn’t have to pay import taxes nor duties.
Plus, those international shipping are the most probable point of interception (international shipping increases the probability of interception), even though mechanisms are in place to make any interception detectable, they are still undesirable for both parties. Being able to ship locally is the solution for security to become more accessible.
A lot of other things will become public soon, including additional products and services… But that is for another blog post. Stay tuned!