Russ: Coming to you today from Atlas Workbase in Seattle and I’m very pleased to have as my guest Phil Bosua, a lighting specialist; Phil, welcome to the show.
Phil: Thanks Russ, good to be here.
Russ: So you got on my radar because I understand you were probably the first person that controlled an LED multicolored light bulb with an iPhone app. Is that right?
Phil: Yep, that would be right.
Russ: And when did that happen?
Phil: It was back in 2012.
Russ: And when you did it did you know right away this was probably going to be big and popular?
Phil: I thought if people saw what I saw in it yeah, it would be popular. Our slogan when we launched that was LIFX, the light bulb reinvented.
Russ: LED light technology has always fascinated me completely because it’s so different than what we’ve all grown up with, with the low voltage requirement and the multiple colors; since then has that been your whole life?
Phil: Yeah, pretty much.
Russ: But that sort of exploded onto the scene and so there were probably big companies that took your same idea and really expanded it across the marketplace which reduced your return on your investment.
Phil: That is true, it’s a free market. So Philips came out with the Hue shortly after we released LIFX and they beat us to market because ours was a Kickstarter and it takes about 12 months to get a product from inception into the market so they had a distribution jump on us. But I was pretty happy just to see the light bulb evolve because to be honest it pretty much had just turned on and off for about 100 years and it was time someone did something to upgrade it.
Russ: Right. So how did your Kickstarter process go?
Phil: It was really good. It was back in the early days of Kickstarter so we actually didn’t do any pre-marketing or any Facebook ads or anything like that and it just took off. People just loved what we had shown them and I think we had a $550,000.00 day and eventually it did $1.3 million in about 6 days.
Russ: Did people comprehend then that a light bulb could do that and that you could control it from and iPhone?
Phil: No, we were literally the first people in the world to announce that as an idea and now it’s – it’s almost commonplace now. Most people have heard of smart lighting but back then no one had heard of it.
Russ: Did some of them think it was fake that you could change the color?
Phil: No. I think we tried to explain it in a way that made it tangible and obvious and so no, we didn’t have too many people think that it was fake. At the end of the day we put a computer in a light bulb, which no one really thought of, and then we just put RGB LEDs in there and so you can just make whatever colors you wanted out of those primary colors. And so once we explained that they went actually yeah, that would be really fun.
Russ: I understand the precursor to that was that you very early on got into developing iPhone apps.
Phil: yes, I had an app in the app store on day one and there was only 500 apps in the world on that day and so I was pretty proud to have one of those and went on to make about 600 apps.
Russ: My goodness. So what did your first app do for the iPhone?
Phil: It was pretty boring actually, it’s was just a little sound board; you pushed a button and a sound went off. But we evolved with the app store. No one knew what an app was so we were creating them and pushing them into the market and getting feedback. Eventually I made quite a lot of apps from public domain content; so just repurposing. And I heard that Steve Jobs saw one of the children’s books that we’d repurposed and said we’ve got to feature that, this is what the iPhone’s for.
Russ: Steve Jobs saw it?
Phil: Yeah so they featured us all over the world with those apps.
Russ: But I understand now that today you’re still focused on this light bulb opportunity, so describe for our audience what you’re working on today?
Phil: That’s probably the perfect word but I don’t really look at it as an opportunity, I look at it as something that we need to do because there’s not enough innovation in lighting; that’s the first place. So putting a computer and a Wi-Fi chip in a light bulb I was really happy with that as a start. And then eventually sort of I stopped working for my own company as you do and then I started another company now. And what I did, I wanted to focus on the real problem of lighting today.
Russ: And what’s that?
Phil: It’s that they don’t last long enough and they’re not supporting consumer values of our culture which would be environmentally friendly, ecologically sustainable and responsible. So what I’m doing is making a standard light bulb that lasts for 100 years.
Russ: Wow, so I was just beginning to start accepting that the fact that these LED light bulbs that you can buy everywhere now last so much longer that it was quite an advancement. But you still think that’s not enough.
Phil: Well LEDs last anywhere from say 10 and if you get a really good one maybe 20 years; maybe. What they do though is they say that their LEDs are rated about 22.8 years but all the other components they only give you a 1 year warranty on those. So realistically if you can get 10 years out of a light bulb even now you’re probably doing well. We’re going through the whole light bulb, redesigning it from the ground up so you never have to change a light bulb again.
Russ: Okay, so you’re paying a lot of attention to the components other than the LED part but how are you even getting the LED part to last 100 years?
Phil: It’s Black Magic. No, no, no, I tell you. Basically what we do, they last 25 years each – that’s what they’re rated for; we are going to make a power driver that’s rated to last 100 years by all the manufacturing specifications. We basically use military grade components. And then the actual LEDs, you can’t get them to last that long, so what we’re going to do is get ones that are rated at 25 years and just put 4 of them in the light bulb. And we’ve got some clever circuitry so when one dies it goes to the next one. And then it goes to the next one obviously.
So that way less light bulbs in the landfill, less resources to create them, and less carbon footprint when you’re shipping all these light bulbs around the place. There’s 5 billion sockets in the U.S. alone and there’s 5 million light bulbs sold every day just in the U.S., so if we can stop a lot of that even being made then I think we’re doing what we need to for the planet. I don’t even think we’re doing what’s good for the planet, I think what we’re doing is the bare minimum that should be done.
Russ: Who is involved with you? At this stage is it just you and you’re working with the science and then working with investors or is there a whole team?
Phil: It’s a small team because I’ve done this before. I know what I need and I know what I don’t need. And so I’ve got four people with me at the moment and we’re basically preparing a Kickstarter now which I hope goes really well. Once that happens then we’ll team up a bit.
Russ: Do you have any of the light bulb companies – are you on their radar yet?
Phil: Well I don’t think they’re as innovative as the VCs. So I was lucky enough to have Sequoia Capital as the primary investor in my last company. Fantastic; they’re a great VC, they understand the entrepreneur and they also understand what it takes to truly be innovative. I don’t think the lighting companies know that. Maybe they’ll buy me one day, I don’t know.
Russ: So if you had to predict right now when this bulb will be ready and on the market what would your prediction be?
Phil: 9 to 12 months.
Russ: 9 to 12 months? And what would it cost?
Phil: What do you think?
Phil: $19.00. So it’s an LED, one of the most efficient light bulbs in the world, and you never have to change it again. $19.00.
Russ: An LED light bulb, today there’s sort of like a wattage equivalency to the old – this is 13 watts but it’s equivalent to 60 watts; what will the equivalent wattage be of the first one.
Phil: The equivalent of 60 watts in the old scale.
Russ: Wow. So we’re going to keep watching you and stay in touch. In fact when you’re ready to launch call us and we’ll come back to Seattle.
Phil: Yeah, and hopefully buy a few.
Russ: We would for sure. Well good luck and it’s a fascinating story and I really thank you for sharing it with us.
Phil: No worries Russ, thanks.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Phil Bosua.
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