Belkin chief executive and founder Chet Pipkin may have had humble beginnings, building cables on his parents’ dining room table in the early 1980s, but he’s now a billionaire responsible for more than 5000 employees. Chances are you’re using one of his cables to charge your laptop or iPhone.
The company, founded in 1983, is now privately held and based out of Los Angeles, with major offices across the globe including in Britain, The Netherlands, Hong Kong, and Australia, but when Mr Pipkin was working on his first ever product — a connector for the Apple II — the landscape was vastly different.
“Markets were really fragmented, and different brands basically threw any kind of connecter they happened to be aware of to connect or power-up any given computer or printer or modem,” he tells The Australian.
“As consumers we were very unpleasantly confronted with, oh my gosh, I need to know what type of connecter is on this computer; and if I change computers I need a completely different cable.
“That was an early insight we got as the PC market was just kicking off and part of our brand promise in that moment was that you as a shopkeeper or reseller of these things, you have enough to worry about so you should never worry about connecting a device to another,” he adds.
The same ethos applies to consumers, according to Mr Pipkin, as Belkin positioned itself as the go-to brand when it came to connecting computers to any and all peripherals. “Those days were a lot of fun,” he says.
The cable situation may be a whole lot simpler today but Mr Pipkin says customer education is still probably his biggest challenge, particularly around counterfeits. “There has been a real proliferation [of counterfeits] with the new design-led part of consumer electronics,” he warns.
“We need to herd people to identify genuine brands as opposed to counterfeit ones.
“All of our electronics use power, and power by its nature also means charging and electricity, so safety issues come up if people cut corners.”
Belkin’s job on the safety front is harder than it looks, according to Mr Pipkin, given in the “real world” we have a tendency to not treat our cables with delicacy but do harsh things to them.
“We pull on them, tug on them, we try to jam them into places they aren’t supposed to go” he says.
“We have to come up with a cable that can withstand all of that abuse, and take on a lot more too.”
For Mr Pipkin and his team, working closely with the likes of Samsung and Apple on their new devices before their respective release date is especially rewarding.
“Working with them over the years, from early designs of computers and other parts of consumer electronics, and getting things right with them and occasionally getting things wrong has been so fun,” he says.
“We have a seat at the table as these things are getting developed and designed. It is an absolute honour. I don’t know what it would be like if we were just getting our start now, but our brand and our relationships we have in place make that a very cordial and fun place to be. It’s one of the highlights of the job, being able to work with these world-class brands.”
Looking towards the future, Mr Pipkin said for Belkin it’s about how “things get connected”, whether that be data transfers, the internet, or power.
“It could be something that is a substantive thing we can hold in our hands, like our new DuraTek USB-C cable, or something done wirelessly, so Bluetooth or Wi-Fi or a wireless charging device,” he says. “We have an interest as consumers keeping things connected and powered-up and that isn’t going to change, no matter how the technology changes.”
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