How Robert Cringely Scored 5 Million N95 Masks From China

This week, tech pundit Robert Cringely described how a chance conversation with China-based entrepreneur Anina led to a friend with a garment factory “now making fully certified N-95 respirators with no clear distribution plan.”
Late on a Sunday night with the tech world in shut-down, how long would it take for me to find someone looking for up to five million N-95 masks? It took 10 minutes.

I reached out to Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff and to Mark Cuban from the Dallas Mavericks and Shark Tank… Mark Cuban put me in touch with ProjectN95, a just-created national clearinghouse for urgently needed medical equipment… It’s important to realize what a miracle we accomplished. Normally there are lots of middlemen in Chinese distribution, but in this case, there were none, which meant maximal speed and minimal price. The goods were U.S. FDA certified, too, and the certification could be verified…

We are tech people attempting to function during a pandemic, but what really counted here were personal relationships. Anina knows and trusts the factory owner. Anina and I have known each other for 15 years and I’ve known Marc Benioff and Mark Cuban even longer. We spend billions as a culture trying to build digital versions of such webs of trust, but sometimes it is better to do it the old fashion way.

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