Shining Light On A New Bulb
Light bulbs haven’t changed much in the 175 years since their invention, but that hasn’t been for lack of trying. From LEDs to CFLs, innovators have tried to create environmentally sustainable and cost-effective bulbs that are also a hit with consumers. A recent entrant in the field is LIFX, an LED bulb with built-in Wi-Fi that users can control via a smart phone app. The light bulb’s brightness, color and schedule are customizable.
The story of Melbourne, Australia-based LIFX begins with a meeting of two minds: One, co-founder and director Andrew Birt, ran a small-cap investment fund that gave seed money to startups. The other, co-founder and CEO Phil Bosua, was an electrician and musician with experience in theatrical lighting. “The more we got to talking about it, the more I realized Phil knew his stuff on this idea,” Birt said. “It’s taking something we’ve all taken for granted for so long and applied modern thinking to it.”
They launched the project on Kickstarter. No marketing campaign or outreach, just a solid and engaging Kickstarter script because, from Bosua’s experience, that was key to getting project backers. The team took the Kickstarter route because it gives quick access to a lot of people and their feedback. “We wanted some market validation and Kickstarter is sort of the perfect place for that,” Birt said.
Within minutes of launching, backers started signing up. LIFX was one of the quickest and best-funded campaigns in Kickstarter history. The goal was $100,000; it raised over $1.3 million. “People like new fresh brands,” Birt said. “It’s exciting to be part of the new wave of indie hardware.”
They stopped the campaign after 60 days—an obligation of 25,000 units—as they were concerned about over-committing, especially with the initial product run, which they knew would likely encounter hurdles and schedule changes along the way.
The first bulbs ($79 each) shipped in September, and the second rollout is scheduled for October. LIFX also signed on with an international network of 30 distribution partners, all who carry big name CE brands.
“One of the things they say about CE startups is the hardest thing is to build a distribution network,” Birt said. “For us, it’s been the opposite, it’s been working out who is the ideal partner in each market.”
LIFX has also established retail connections—some retailers contacted them directly during the Kickstarter campaign, some afterwards, and some through their distributors. Getting a new CE product in stores is tough but it’s worth some of the challenges, including coming up with the right POS strategy and product packaging, Birt said. “It’s kind of nice to have some of the biggest retailers in the world say we love your product, we want it sooner rather than later.”
The company is launching with a flagship retailer in each market and a key e-tailer. Birt thinks both are important. “We still believe traditional retail has a big part to play,” he said. “It’s a combination now, your online strategy and your physical strategy. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive.”
The LIFX executives don’t think of the device as just a light bulb. They equate it to the iPhone: a game-changing product that can evolve and become the standard bearer for a new generation of technology. Birt expectsothers will follow in LIFX’s footsteps, but he doesn’t mind.
“One of the advantages of being top of mindshare and having the retailer relationships is people say, ’Yeah, there are others but these guys are specialists, they’re leaders in that category.’ And that’s how we see ourselves.”