How we built it: Tell your story to find funding and then stick with it

To help aspiring entrepreneurs understand what it takes to translate an idea to an actual product, we recruited six hardware entrepreneurs how they did it. They’ll be presenting some lessons and answering your questions at our Structure Connect event Oct. 21 and 22. Below is the third in our series written by Phil Bosua, CEO of LIFX on when to stop fundraising before it hurts your startup’s progress.

As in the case with most good ideas, I got the idea for LIFX while I was having a beer with a friend who was renovating his house. He asked me if I knew of a way to switch a light on and off wirelessly, so he didn’t have to install new wires into his old, brick house.

My first thought was “You must be able to do that with your iPhone” so I told him I would send him a few links when I got home. After doing a little research on his behalf, I discovered there was nothing that allowed you to turn your light bulb on and off with your iPhone. That was possibly my light bulb moment.

I then discussed the idea with electrical and software engineers to see if it was possible to build a light bulb with a Wi-Fi chip in it. We may have been a little naive regarding the complexity of the eventual product, but it seemed like it was achievable. I decided to take on the challenge.

Taking our idea to the crowd (funders)

I’ve always been a fanboy of [company]Kickstarter[/company] and have also backed a few projects. I learnt a lot from backing other people’s projects and thought it would be a great platform to launch LIFX. My goal was to see if people liked the idea as much as my team and I did. After we raised $1.3 million in six days, we had all the validation and inspiration we needed so we stopped the campaign early.

We were also advised not to underestimate the difficulty of creating a product and a company in the public eye so we decided it was in everyone’s best interests to stop the campaign early. Restricting the amount of pledges and customers in our case proved to be very helpful. It allowed us to focus on building LIFX rather than just running a campaign.

I think one of the reasons our campaign was so successful was our approach to making the video. Many Kickstarter projects make polished and glossy videos with high production values because they think a high-end video equals Kickstarter success. I couldn’t disagree with this more. A Hollywood-style production is not the best approach. Focus on your story and your actual product.

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After the campaign, we hit China

It took us twelve months to go from an idea to shipping, which felt like forever at the time, but if you zoom out and look at what’s involved in creating hardware, firmware and software in an integrated product, this is extremely fast. The key to getting this done in such a short amount of time was forming a capable and dedicated team that shared my original vision.

I personally spent three months in China during 2013 and was hands-on in every stage of the design and manufacturing process. This wasn’t because I was qualified — it was because I was curious and determined to see that the final product was exactly as I imagined it. We visited five factories in December 2012 to decide which one we thought would work best with us to perfect the design and help us understand the ins and outs of making a lightbulb for the first time.


We then set up commercial arrangements with this factory and began work in January 2013. It took the best part of six months to get a factory prototype in our hands, another three months to perfect this design and an additional three months to produce the first 50,000 units. In parallel with the hardware manufacturing process, we decided to write our own firmware, rather than use inadequate existing technology that we would outgrow within a year or two.

I think the nature of integrated hardware/software requires constant iteration and innovation. We’ve continuously updated our app, firmware and hardware, in the pursuit of the best possible customer experience.

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Creating the control board that housed this firmware was also a task I underestimated, but fortunately, Marc Alexander, LIFX CTO, was experienced in this type of exercise, having worked on Apple Newton and other similar projects. The final part of the puzzle was to create the app, which I felt was an area I could offer expertise in, given I’ve made more than 600 mobile apps previous to the LIFX app. I can discuss both of these in more depth onstage at Structure Connect when I also share a bit more on how we followed our Kickstarter campaign with $12 million in venture financing.