The logistics of shipping promo lego USB drives to the USA

By David Mytton,
CEO & Founder of Server Density.

Published on the 30th May, 2011.

Last week on 24th May I attended and spoke at the MongoDB conference in San Francisco. The event was packed and had 6 separate talk tracks, and our server monitoring service Server Density was a sponsor.

There’s always stuff given out at conferences – usually leaflets, but sometimes tshirts which people always like getting (so long as they’re good designs). The problem is most of the time swag items aren’t that good, so with our sponsorship we wanted to give something that would be useful, and fun.

A couple of years ago I went to a Google Developer Day conference at Wembley Stadium in London. The tshirts were popular there (as all Google tshirts are), but the most popular item was a Google branded USB drive in the shape of a lego man. These contained the SDKs for the day (conference wifi always breaks) but at 1GB capacity, mine has been useful for years after the event itself. So I thought we’d do the same thing.

About 6 weeks before the conference, I was told there would be 450 attendees so I went ahead and ordered 450 USB men at 1GB capacity. They were to be preloaded with the latest MongoDB release (1.8.1), some MongoDB cheat sheets plus a Server Density PDF. The lead time is 4 weeks since they have to be manufactured and preloaded, then shipped from Hong Kong. Excellent.

At the start of May I checked in with the conference organisers only to find out that they now expected 800 attendees! So I got in touch with the manufacturers and since they were to be exactly the same, we were able to increase the order. No problem – they arrived on 11th May and I proceeded to order a shipment with UPS to get them out of the UK and over to the 10gen Redwood office, where they would pack them into the swag bags to be given out to every attendee. And that’s where the logistical problems started.

UPS picked up the 4 boxes on Fri 13th May as planned but when they got to the depot that evening, an exception was logged that the packages didn’t have a commercial invoice. These were not being sold to 10gen, or anyone – they were gifts. But US Customs require a commercial invoice so they can assess the taxes and unfortunately it was now the weekend with the Export Brokerage closed. I spent some time researching what I needed to provide in the invoice and it appeared I needed to set a reasonable commercial value (i.e. the value paid per device) but could apply a 100% discount and note that they were gifts for a conference.

Server Density USB Man in a wine glass, taken by Ed Goldberg from MyCloudWatcher

On Monday 16th UPS confirmed they had received the invoice (which I had to fax to them), then overnight it got cleared with US Customs. However, the next day I was informed that I needed an export number from UK Customs and that would take up to 3 days to acquired, complicating things further given that I was flying to San Francisco on the 18th! Thankfully, since this was the first time we were shipping to the US, UPS were able to declare us as an unregistered shipper because we were VAT registered in the UK. I was able to apply for the UK Customs export number via e-mail and in fact HMRC processed the application within 24 hours.

And so the USB men flew out to the US from East Midlands airport, to the UPS depot in Philadelphia, PA and then on to California where they were eventually delivered to 10gen on 20th May. Just in time.

We’re also sponsoring the MongoNYC conference next week and will be shipping the same USB drives out for all attendees, but this time we have all the relevant tax IDs and know how to export to the US. The problem was that as something we’ve never done before (and that is not our core business), shipping commercial items abroad is not a well documented process for new users. More guidance would’ve helped but it all worked out fine in the end.

Not attending the conferences but want a Server Density USB man? Keep an eye on the blog as we’ll be announcing ways you can get your hands on them in the next few months!

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