Light Bulb = Bright Idea

By Ted Dieck | Recruiter’s View - Innovators - Pick | Aug 7, 2013

A startup company needs $100,000 to get its first product off the ground. Sixty days later, it has $1.3 million. There was no stock sale. No bank. No loan. The owners maintained complete control. And advertising was minimal. How is that possible?

Setting aside run-of-the-mill factors, like brains, hard work, discipline, organization, and guts, (you know, the conventional stuff) there are some remarkable dynamics that came together in this story.

Let’s include

  • big business,

  • big government,

  • LIFX, and

  • Kickstarter.

And all of it centers around a light bulb.

Here’s what I think happened…

The Set Up

The popular (and possibly incorrect) story is, that GE had a bright idea.

They invented an energy efficient light bulb.

An incredibly EXPENSIVE energy efficient light bulb.

American consumers didn’t happen to be in the market for an incredibly expensive light bulb, so GE did the only logical thing.

They persuaded politicians to write legislation that pretty much killed off all other light bulbs, except, of course, theirs.

True? Who knows.

The Light Bulb Law

I’m delighted to refer you to an article in Popular Mechanics. (Remember Popular Mechanics? They still exist!) I always use Popular Mechanics for legal insights on electrical products.

Here’s a link to their story…

Their write-up is a better description than I could give you.

Also, their article lets you bypass my editorializing, where I might ask how the government has any business, telling consumers what they can and can’t buy.

Oops. Sorry. That slipped out.

PM’s article did share a little taste of public discontent. They said that, when word got around that the government “planned to ban incandescents, forcing everyone to buy expensive compact fluorescent lights (CFLs)-those flickering bulbs that look like pig’s tails-people were outraged. Many resorted to hoarding, buying up as many incandescent bulbs as possible before they were gone for good. There was one problem: The government never banned incandescents.”

Indeed, that is true. Instead, the government made it nearly impossible for our regular old light bulbs to ever be legal again.

Redefining Expectations

Lovely. So, anyway, we can all agree that an inexpensive light bulb is not to be had, because the government wants us to save money.

Over time, they say, expensive light bulbs will pay off in energy savings.

That’s assuming, of course, that we have time.  (The bulbs never break, they aren’t stolen, and we don’t leave them behind when we change addresses.)

OK. Very good. So only people of means will have electric light.

Now the question becomes, what will you get for all that money?

So far, the offerings have been kind of basic.

Creating Opportunity

This governmental meddling may have created a huge opening for new competitors in the previously uninteresting light bulb game…

  • Our government guaranteed that light bulbs would be expensive.

  • And the international conglomerate that wanted to legislate consumer purchases didn’t bother to offer a product that consumers would actually want.

Enter LIFX

Now that we’re all conditioned to the idea that light bulbs will be pricey, it almost comes as a relief to hear about all the cool, fun, and super-duper things a light bulb can do.

I mean, until recently, the most exciting thing most of us can remember – aside from On and Off – was the three-way switch. Let your mind play with that name for a while.

So, anyway, that was about it. We used light bulbs so we could see.

Now take a look at what comes to us from a small group based in Melbourne and San Francisco. (How did they ever meet?)

In their own words, here’s a description of their new light bulb, the LIFX…

“LIFX is the smartest light bulb you’ve ever experienced. It’s a wifi-enabled, energy efficient, multi-colored bulb that you control with your iPhone or Android. LIFX gives you unprecedented control of your lights, reduces your energy costs, lasts up to 25 years and delivers an amazing range of experiences we think you’ll love.

“LIFX is incredibly easy to set-up. Simply replace your existing bulbs with LIFX smartbulbs, download and install our free app from the App Store or Google Play and you’re good to go.”

Got It?

Your smartphone controls the color, brightness, dimming, and pulsing (if you want) on one or a group of lights. The whole thing installs almost as simply as screwing in your new light bulb. (Even your existing light switches will still work, if you insist on using them.) And, while you’re at it, you can have your lights flash to alert you that I’ve sent you an e-mail. (I definitely think you should use that feature.)

This link, by the way, takes you to the LIFX website, complete with video…

So, how does David enter an arena of Goliaths and snag a victory?


Let’s head clear across the country to New York’s lower east side and visit a little enterprise called Kickstarter.

This is a crowd funding site. They lay out their game plan here…

The idea is, if I wanted to learn to play the flugelhorn and take my music to America, I could figure the cost of the horn, lessons, a bike, and a backpack. Then I’d post my dream on Kickstarter, asking for $2,500. In exchange, subscribers might get a signed CD from my “Flugelhorns Across America” album, and for extra bucks, possibly a signed T-shirt with a photo.

Bottom line, we get 60 days to fund the project. If we don’t accumulate $2,500 of pledges by the expiration date, the project fails and no money changes hands. It we do hit our target, the project is funded, and we’re off to the races.

It’s a little like raising money to do a Broadway Show. Except investors don’t have to go broke in the process.

Patrons would basically be buying advance tickets if, and only if, enough tickets are sold to guarantee that a show could ever exist in the first place.

Pretty cool, huh?

Back To LIFX

So how did LIFX do?

Kickstarter reports that the LIFX funding project opened on September 15, 2012.

9,236 Backers thought the little bulb would brighten their lives. And by the close of funding on November 14, they had pledged a total of $1,314,542.


Where does that put founders Phil Bosua, Andrew Birt, Andy Gelme, John Bosua, Ben Hamey, Dave Evans and Guy King?

In a frenzy of activity.

Suddenly, they have to pull together all their promises and make them real.

From their blog site, we can see them scrambling across Melbourne, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, creating their product, while Phil combs the U.S., setting up partnerships.

The team fills out. We begin to see names like Ben, Nathan, Mike and Adam.

Clearly, these guys understand what they’re doing.

They’re now accepting their second round of orders.  Product to ship in September.

No Kickstarter required.

Can they beat out the big guys?

I have no idea how they’ll do, in the long run.

There’s a whole world of competition heating up.

If they survive that, odds are, the big guys will study them and try to crush them.  (Hope I didn’t shock you, there.)

In general, big companies don’t innovate very well.

They can copy (steal,) or they can buy.

If all goes well, a monster company would typically make a killer offer to buy out the startup company, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Recruiter’s View

This is where jobs come from.

In a world complaining about unemployment and lack of opportunities, government intervention, and closed markets, I’d like you to think about companies like LIFX.

Maybe their story holds a message for you or your company.

There’s an astonishing amount of “innovation” in this world that isn’t innovative.

And a depressing amount of real innovation that never sees the light of day.

I like to see real innovators break through and make a run for it.

More than once, I’ve heard that Darwin’s “Survival of The Fittest” principal should be re-stated as “The Survival of The Flexible.”

Maybe so.

Money is attracted to speed.

From the LIFX lesson, let’s also add the imperatives of

  • good organizational (team building) skills and

  • excellent communications, keeping expectations and momentum where they need to be.

And, while not a requirement, it is very handy to launch with a million bucks from Kickstarter.