Steven Yang quit his job at Google in the summer of 2011 to build the products he felt the world needed: a line of reasonably priced accessories that would be better than the ones you could buy from Apple and other big-name brands. These accessories — batteries, cables, chargers — would solve our most persistent gadget problem by letting us stay powered on at all times. There were just a few problems: Yang knew nothing about starting a company, building consumer electronics, or selling products.
“I was a software engineer all my life at Google. I didn’t know anyone in the electronics manufacturing world,” Yang tells me over Skype from his office in Shenzhen, China. But he started the company regardless, thanks in no small part to his previous experience with Amazon’s sellers marketplace, a platform for third-party companies and tiny one- or two-person teams interested in selling directly to consumers. He named the company Anker, after the German word for ship anchor.
Anker has since become the most popular brand of portable battery packs on Amazon.
Portable chargers had a bit of a standout moment last summer, when players of the wildly popular and battery-hogging Pokémon Go could be seen roaming the streets, their phones constantly plugged in. But these accessories have existed for years as a remedy for our battery woes since the standard smartphone tends to last no more than a day on a single charge. So in airports, the back of cabs, and on city streets we’re plugging into lithium-ion slabs in our pockets and bags to stay connected. The market for portable battery packs generated $360 million in the 12 months ending in March 2017 in the US alone. The brands behind these packs are largely anonymous — Kmashi, Jackery, and iMuto — and they often stay that way.
Except Anker. The steady rise of the company’s profile is proof that it’s possible to meet one very specific consumer need and ride that wave as it continues to ripple out to other markets. A majority of Anker’s sales come from cables and wall chargers, and it’s now moving into the smart home and auto market — anywhere a plug and a cable can solve a problem.
Yang and his team started a company with the sole purpose of selling a better third-party accessory. But they stumbled onto a more lucrative reality: mobile phones, once niche luxury items, are now ubiquitous centerpieces of our digital lives. Each of these phones, and all the products that connect to them, need their own cable and plug. And each and every day these devices die before we want them to.
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