The arm wrestle as we inch closer.

We’ve been back in Shenzhen for the past few days, and as always it’s a stressful but exciting time. The factory is humming along as the tooling continues and we await the first batch off the line.

Having done the rounds on Monday though, the 500 initial units are behind schedule, which is frustrating, as the UL/CE certification can’t commence without them. This isn’t down to any single factor, more a combination of many little things (e.g. minor component swap outs, power supply performance tweaks, correcting texture samples, serial number printing, end of line test gear, etc, etc).

The revised date for the initial 500 is now June 14th and considering certification takes three weeks, all going well we should be in a position by July 8th to push ‘go’ on the main run and starting rolling shipping as the bulbs come off the line.

This is has been frustrating but as I have to remind myself we’re creating the assembly line, not just the first batch. Once this first 500 are tested, certified and we’re 100% happy with it all then we’re in a good position to crank a lot of these things out in a short amount of time and get them on their way to you! 🙂

Probably the only people in the world happy with the few extra weeks are the software team. Damn them (note: we do love them), but having a few extra weeks up their sleeve gives them time to refine, test and build more stuff before submitting to the app store (and Google Play). For example, the ability to issue over-the-air firmware updates to the bulbs was always going to be a push for us, but we’re now confident this will make the cut.

The other thing we wanted to show you in this update was some real-world examples of how your bulbs will perform in the wild. Here’s a comparison we took of LIFX on one of its brightest settings vs some other bulbs we had at hand.

‘Images taken using identical camera settings for each bulb. With rubber chicken control’

So, apologies again to keep you waiting. The bottle neck has caused us a headache but it’s something we’ll push through and it’s good to know we’re inching ever closer.

Next update will be before June 14 when we’re back in Shenzhen again and I’ll report back on these dates as we guide the production through this tricky phase, and onto the fun part, eating Congee at the hotel, wait, no, sending these on their way to you!

 

It may appear that things are quiet at the LIFX HQ, but like a duck in a pond there’s a lot of activity going on under the surface. Tooling is nearing completion with 500 units being readied to hit the production line. Back home the firmware has progressed to alpha testing stage.

photo

It’s exciting to be this close but also quite daunting as our baby is now almost entirely in the hands of our Shenzhen production partner. The time we’ve spent with them over the past three months is greatly reassuring at this stage: they certainly know what they’re doing and they know how to do it well.

We’ve booked flights back to Shenzhen on the 20th of May, and according to plan we don’t anticipate any deviation from the revised timeline. Getting our hands on and testing the 500 bulb batch will really confirm how well we’re tracking.

One unpleasant surprise we’ve had is the cost of tooling and certification works out roughly double our initial estimates, including tooling for the packaging (yep, packaging has tooling too!). This isn’t a huge drama for us, but it’s a lesson to remember the correlation between production volume and higher setup costs. Overall the packaging has been an adventure in itself (e.g. minimum surface area for postal labels, etc). We’re happy with progress on that front too and think you’ll dig it.

thumbnail

The other major component of the project nearing completion is the app.

The iOS version and Android versions are mostly written and functional; and we’ll update you when they’ve been submitted to the App Store and Google Play. The overall interface has gone through a few iterations even since the last video, and we’ve sweated the testing of UI/UX with different users of varying degrees of skill.  The overall goal is to make things fast, fun and easy to use but with plenty of ability to customise your lighting and geek out on some finer points if you so desire.

Part of these efforts involves trialling a browser/AirPlay implementation of a virtual bulb so you’ll be able to experience the app even before your bulbs arrive. Developers will probably find this useful too when the official API/SDK specs are released in the near future.

Logistics is yet another whole field we probably now know more about then we ever wanted to. Once we’ve tested and refined the first 500 bulbs, we push ‘go’ on the production run from Shenzhen. At that point, as bulbs come off the production line, we commence rolling shipping (most likely via air mail). Air mail costs more (we’ll absorb) but it means getting the already-delayed bulbs out faster to backers. Between myself, Andrew and Mike we’ve spoken to nearly 25 different logistics companies and settled on Shipwire as our preferred option. They’ve been a massive help and have personally spent a lot of time on optimising our campaign. Big thanks to Jeremy on this one!

So things are certainly afoot and we’re building up to the major anticipation/nervousness/excitement of folk using (and judging) the product we’ve poured so much blood, sweat and tears into.

Stay tuned for our next update from Shenzhen.

 

Building a consumer electronics company in six months [part one]

It’s six months since we launched LIFX on Kickstarter, and with production underway we thought it’d be great to start writing a two part series to document our journey and hopefully offer some lessons learned that might be useful for other entrepreneurs out there.

We truly believe that hardware is the new software and that platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGogo etc, together with open-source software and hardware allow for unprecedented democratisation of how consumer electronics are invented and brought to market.

It’s an exciting time, and we hope by lifting the lid on some of our processes that you find this post helpful as you launch your big idea. Here’s a warts and all lessons learned in our first six months, that we’ll follow-up post shipping with part two.

The Idea
It’s been said that an idea is worth about $20. I beg to differ. A bad idea may be worth $20 but a good one is worth a lot more. We all know that a good idea executed badly goes nowhere but a good idea will always generate interest and a following. A bad idea simply will not. A good idea will often come about in a moment, but the unseen forces at work here are that you need to think of a thousand ideas before you land on a good one. For this reason it takes a long time to come up with a good idea.

My rule of thumb, is you know you’re onto a good idea because good ideas get better the more you think about them. If over time your idea becomes uninteresting to you and the people around you its probably not worth building a business around. So test your idea and ask people who are naturally pessimistic what they think. You’re looking for feedback that exposes holes in your idea so you can either fix them or abandon it, rather than being encouraged to prolong the eventual demise of your precious baby – but if weeks later you find yourself thinking “Wow it could also do “X” and means “Y” to a heap of people” you could be on a winner!

Prototype
Get yourself a team of skilled risk takers to help prove or disprove the concept. You need technical, marketing and business expertise in your initial team. These people need to help grow the vision whilst bringing a sober viewpoint to all aspects of the product. No area is more important than the other, although depending on your product each area will carry different weight but you can’t have a successful product without all of these disciplines firing. Your first prototype is really a proof of concept to test whether it’s technically feasible and if people like your idea, it doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does need to work!

Andy working on one of the original prototypes, back in our first office nicknamed the bunker.

Andy working on one of the original prototypes, back in our first office nicknamed “the bunker”.

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding, in particular Kickstarter and IndieGogo, have revolutionized an innovators path to market. Use these services and sink a serious amount of time and energy into presenting your idea to the world. Video is key. We made our own video relying on passion and story over super polished production values. I think the crowd funding community values the story almost as much as the product, but you need to get both right. It’s also worth noting that crowd funding your idea will not take the hard work out of your start up – in fact it’s quite the opposite. A successful crowd funded project will require you to work harder and smarter than you ever have before. You’ll have the pressure of making a product and a company in the public’s eyes, but on the flip side the support, ideas and encouragement are awesome. Treat this process with the utmost respect and you will be rewarded with a loyal and passionate group of backers who want you to succeed.

Map of LIFX Kickstarter backers, some amazing folks spread out across the globe! 

Customers 

When your customers are your backers there’s a deeper connection than just a transactional one. We see our backers as a driving force within the company, but more than that, having your customers involved improves your product and your company no-end. Listen, engage and be prepared to adjust, but also don’t over promise, or take every single comment to heart. Be prepared to analyse and sometimes say no to customer requests for additional features or bells and whistles. More important, don’t view your customers as something external. Backers are an intricate part of your business, and in crowd funding we believe you shouldn’t quietly build the product you should document the journey – keep them in the loop, be transparent about your decisions, share your learnings, and mistakes ask for feedback, and make sure that the experience of backing your project is a rewarding experience.

Design

Design is more than how pretty your product looks but we all know that by now. The design of your product and company should flow from your philosophy. Do you favor functional requirements over design aesthetics? Or a blended approach?  If your product and company are public facing, then a beautiful UI/UX is a must. A form follows function design principle applies to our product and our company and we do our best to adhere to that with every design decision. Also, everyone in your company, not just designers should have input into this. The way your firmware and circuit boards are designed is as important as your logo. Everything you do is designed so you might as well do it well.

Ben and Guy getting their arts and craft on in some packaging design.

Ben and Guy getting their arts and craft on in some packaging design.

Team

You’ll only create a truly disruptive product with a team of like minded people. You’ll get the full potential out of your team if they enjoy the process as much as the work. Work with each individual’s strengths and do whatever you can so their weaknesses are rarely seen.

My three rules for team, are work with people

1. that match the culture you are trying to create
2. that you like and can get along with, and
3. that are better than you in their chosen area of expertise

Don’t compromise, try and find people within your network (our just outside it) and avoid recruitment firms and job boards, as the entrepreneurial types you’ll want to join your team don’t like either.

Fund raising
Lot’s of schools of thought on this but we recommend starting the fundraising process in parallel to your crowd funding campaign. Yes you could bootstrap and build a business from pre-orders alone but for LIFX having additional resources and finance has enabled us to fast track bottlenecks in development; not skimp on travel (factory visits etc) which mean the project gets to backers faster and without compromises.

We raised just over $2M from private investors that we knew well, liked a great deal, and who brought real skills to the company. Whilst we’re all for bootstrapping and really admire companies who have, we feel that it’s important to have 100% focus on your product when you’re delivering a crowd funded project.

Pro-tip: find a great lawyer, who has real exposure to startup valuations and company structure, and will defer fees till funds close!

Production Partner
We decided early on that the right production partner would save us months of miscommunication and redesigns so we consciously took our time finding the right one. In hindsight we would’ve gone to China and Hong Kong sooner, because interacting with potential partners face to face; seeing their operations, and getting to know their capabilities is so much faster in person. We visited potential partners in Europe too but felt that Shenzhen was the lighting capital of the world. So, pick clusters or regions that do your type of product at a world class standard. For us, this has been possibly the most important decision we have made for our product development because of the quality and professionalism is the best we’ve seen. It’s best if your production partner already produces excellent quality products for companies you have heard of. You do not want to put yourself in a position where your production partner is learning on the job. Our experience working with partners in Shenzhen – whilst there is a definite cultural divide, can always understand where we’re at and the potential of the innovation. If they “get it” you will navigate difficulties and unforeseen speed bumps with relative ease compared to if they don’t.

Getting organised 

We use a whole heap of tools internally that we couldn’t live without, and with so much information flying around (which you’ll no doubt experience) you’ve got to have a way to track and build your knowledge base – without weighing everyone down. For us, Basecamp is ground zero. We now have 18 people on payroll (across Australia, China, Canada and Singapore) and we’ve always got Basecamp open. We all now feel like we’re across each others activities; can weigh in on specific discussions and move ideas forward quickly. It also becomes a knowledge base; e.g. whenever someone new joins the team we give them a few days just to go back through basecamp and get up-to-speed with the business; the various discussions we’ve been having and the lists of tasks we’re working on. I might sound like a paid spruiker for them, but it’s so useful. We’d recommend setting it up (or some suitable alternative) day one!

We also rely heavily on Google Drive/Docs for all documents, legal agreements, logo files, designs, works in progress etc, and some neat things like Geckoboard that shows key metrics on TV’s throughout the office. Geckoboard in particular is great for team morale, and keeps us focused. Zendesk is also extremely helpful for tracking and responding to customers and ensuring questions are always answered promptly.

Some other tools we find helpful:
RightSignature: When fundraising whilst building hardware and software the last thing you want to be doing is spending hours collecting signatures.
Batchgeo: For quickly plotting a bunch of addresses onto a map for shipping and logistics.
Apple TV: For streaming/AirPlaying most new Apple computers and devices for group viewing onto TV’s around the office. As well as keeping the tunes pumping.
Shopify: Simple solution for setting up e-commerce, great API, plug-ins, and mobile app.

Whiteboards: We mounted 6mm glass onto the wall with the back painted white (similar to a glass kitchen splashback) we tried idea paint but it didn’t work so well for us.

PhilandJake

Free WiFi in Bryant Park means I can keep on spamming Basecamp even whilst on the road.

Factory Prototype

After your initial prototype you need your production partner to build a factory prototype that satisfies their manufacturing processes and all required certification. In our experience the two prototypes were similar in function but very different in form. The factory prototype is proof that your product can be manufactured at scale and sold on shelves. Once again if you have the right partner there should be no reason why they cannot take your original prototype and with your help turn it into a manufacturable product. This is what they are good at and you should take their advice when it’s given. If certain manufacturing processes change outcomes from your original vision find another way. Don’t settle for compromise but don’t be a dick about the difficulties your production partner faces. Work with your partner to understand their issues and try to help solve them for the best overall outcome. We decided early on that if we were going to have to manufacture LIFX light bulbs en masse we better get good at it. We have actually found that through this process new ideas and opportunities have presented themselves that we never anticipated.

Distribution
We certainly haven’t mastered this yet, although we’ve had over 400 distribution offers from around the world! The key thing we’ve learned is to triage these types of requests. Some distributors will be world-class, or retailers with a huge footprint, others will be one person start-ups that saw your idea and want exclusivity over the whole of Europe!

The key for us has been politely declining the majority of requests, and via a triage system working out who offers real opportunities, and has the credibility and deep enough relationships with retailers in their home region to make the best distribution partner.

Don’t worry too much about actively seeking partners, if your product does well, you’ll meet them in your travels, they’ll reach out to you and you start to get to know the ones you feel are the right fit.

Press
We often get asked, “What was your PR strategy before Kickstarter” the honest answer is there wasn’t one, or to be more accurate our plan was to put all our energy into the product and hope bloggers and journalists to write about it if they thought it was newsworthy. Hope doesn’t sound like a strategy I know, but bloggers and journo’s are smart, and have their finger on the pulse, if there’s a story they’ll find it.

My 2c would be create something that is newsworthy or part of a trend that is news worthy (e.g. internet of things) something that is novel and interesting enough to grab attention and make people either deride your idea (as our buddy Felix Salmon did), or celebrate it, as many other bloggers and journalists did.

The key is to find what’s newsworthy about your product; what barrier are you breaking down? What tired and boring old industry are you shaking up? What trend(s) are you part of? How will your idea affect peoples lives? Once you’ve figured that out, just ensure that you communicate it clearly, and have the video, imagery, text and (of course!) the capabilities to back up your big claim.

LIFX Times Square

Imho PR newswire isn’t great for press releases, but for a pretty small fee you can do this.

Logistics
This can mean a lot of things, and it extends beyond just shipping your product. The big areas of logistics for us are; sourcing (components), packaging (designing and testing), certification (CE, UL and FCC), tax (Import duties, VAT etc), warranties and of course delivery.

We’ll dive a lot deeper into this in part two of this post because there’s so much to explore, and part of it we’re still learning but the big lesson is that whilst all of these logistics seems daunting and overwhelming at first each of them is a discrete task; break everything down to bite sized chunks, put tick boxes next to them and tick them off one by one. Also there’s always experts in all of these fields willing to help you navigate the trickier aspects. e.g. Shipwire have been incredibly helpful throughout this process so we’d encourage anyone to reach out to them; and also fellow crowd funding alumni. You’d be amazed at how helpful other similar companies can be if you politely ask them for their time. The only other piece of advice for logistics would be worry about these things after your campaign is successful, don’t worry about your shipping before you funded, solve things sequentially.  I’ll go into the other aspects in post two, but hopefully this outline of our activities so far is helpful!

Build
This is the best part. If you’re not looking forward to this stage then stop what you are doing and reassess. Building a product takes time and requires a huge amount of focus. You refine your ideas daily, then lay awake at night thinking about how to make them better. With LIFX we are building a full solution, hardware, firmware and software with cloud support. No easy task, but it’s definitely achievable. The myriad of SaaS services and open source tech makes this more achievable than anytime in history. Combining all of these existing technologies into a seamless product is possibly the hardest thing to achieve. So management of the process is something you should strategize, talk about and think about constantly.

Seeing a vision come to life and shipping it to customers that can’t wait to use your product is for us the biggest motivator. This is why we get up every morning and stay up to ridiculous hours at night, and with our shipping date on the near horizon it gets even more exciting.

Scaling
Make sure you can do it. Don’t underestimate your eventual scale but plan for what you have in front of you. We initially capped our Kickstarter campaign because we were heading towards a level of scale in manufacturing and operations that we were uncomfortable with. It’s a balance that few get right but it’s something you need to. Our short cut for navigating this is again to have the right partner and constantly talk about the production expectations and min/max type conversations. Whilst the focus can be on scaling your product you also need to scale your team, hire smart, committed people who are as passionate about the product as you are (they’re out there!).

Travel
You can’t build a global company sitting behind your desk you need to get out into the world and see every aspect of your business. For us that means spending a lot of time in Shenzhen, with our production partner, then back in the US working with distribution partners, then in Europe working on similar relationships. Conferences form a good hub, and tech conferences like Tech Crunch Disrupt and LeWeb bring all the people you want to talk to into a central place which allows you to get more done.

Spending time on the road teaches you a lot about each country, and whilst you can do a lot of business over Skype nothing shows you care more about that region, than by actually visiting it. Since September we’ve been back and forward between Australia, SF, NYC, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, France, Belgium, Norway and the UAE with more trips planned this year, and all with the same objective get to know great people in the regions we want LIFX to be well known, and supported within. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun.

Three D’s of a startup
Discuss, discuss, discuss. Discuss everything until you don’t want to discuss it anymore. Never leave a conversation early. When the time comes to make a decision and you have discussed everything to the enth degree, you’ll be able to rely on your “gut feel” (in combination with data of course:). We figured out your gut feel is the summary of your experiences and discussions. It’s very different to guessing. To rely on it you must have already put in the hard yards of hours of discussion.

Laugh
We believe startups that laugh together stay together. Whilst there is a lot of hard-work involved, and a lot of rhetoric in startups about 14 hour days, the truth is you need to be enjoying every aspect to produce work you’re truly proud of. We’d encourage people to embrace that work-aholic aspect of your personality (it’ll serve you well!) but also to make sure there’s plenty of banter and mucking around. If you take yourself too seriously then you’ll miss the fun you can have building a great product with a great team.

Tooling begins, app demo [video] and batch two opens!

It’s been a pretty massive week here at LIFX, and imagine you’re feeling like us right now, thank religious-entity it’s Friday.

I arrived back from Shenzhen on Sunday afternoon after giving the factory the green light on tooling, and on Monday set a major deadline this week to get the LIFX stack to a point that was easy to demonstrate and show the factory prototype in action.

So, in the spirit of “show don’t tell” I thought it’s time to put together a video update to show you where we’re at.


As you can see things are getting pretty interesting on the development side and our factory is gearing up for production.

We’ve also locked in firm production schedules for our second batch – now available for pre-order and September delivery.

Cheers for following, let us know if you have any questions, suggestions or any queries about batch two logistics- you should have received your email requesting shipping details by now- please contact us if not!

I’ll be back in China in four weeks time to pick-up the first 500 right off the line.

Good to be back.

We touched down Saturday in Hong Kong, made our way back to Shenzhen and have been diving right back into production since Monday. It’s fun to be back, and you almost don’t realise how close you’ve become with a team until you see them again after being away.

Taxi's were hard to find in Hong Kong but somehow we managed.

Taxi’s were hard to find in Hong Kong but somehow we seemed to manage alright.

After a few tea’s with John (the factory owner) we started to discuss the roadmap for the next few weeks and locking in some choices like bulb colors, types of finishing and most importantly the GU10/Downlight.

The trickiest aspect with the downlight is because you have a smaller space to work with, naturally the heat sink is smaller, and as you’ll know from following along heat is our big enemy. The other tricky part is we have to fit all the LIFX technology including control board into a smaller space! The good news however is that the world’s most popular downlight is a 50w (~600 lumen) rather than our 900+ lumen standard bulb.

The reason for this is that down lights are often installed in greater numbers than standard lights. If you’ve got down lights at home, say in the Kitchen, you’ll know exactly what we mean. So with this in mind, we realised the heat sink won’t have to be as big, and that the GU10, doesn’t have to be as bright as the A21 bulb you’ve all seen. We don’t have exact lumens yet, our goal is to 50w which I’m sure we’ll be able to exceed!

This also means when you receive the backer survey you’ll be able to select not only the color of your LIFX bulb, but the type you want. The A21 or the GU10 downlight.

Working with the team on the GU10 downlight design and CAD, before prototyping.

Working with the team on the GU10 downlight design and CAD, before prototyping.

While we’re on the topic of colors, after the survey it’s been decided that the choices will be Pearl White & Gun Metal Grey, which you’ve seen renders but we’ll show you the finished versions of soon. Guy and I even headed to a paint factory nearby today to look all the finishes available and the exact colors we’ll use to create the finish.

In the meantime too, we’ve managed to navigate the tricky process of getting a local sim cards as roaming was becoming a pain, and even managed to get a glimpse of the Children’s umbrella manufacturing business they had going on as a sideline project.

The challenging process of buying a local sim card.

The Sim Card shop also makes and sells umbrellas for Children.

So, all in all, it’s early days into our visit here and I’m keen to get my hands on the solid works prototype of the A21 design this week, and start thermal testing on this GU10 design, but happy with the progress so far.

On the ground this time are myself, Guy, Jake, Dan and Marc and I’m starting to feel like the tour guide as we navigate our way around. It’s great to have a big part of our team here which enables us to get more done, and take ridiculous photo’s of me drinking what I thought was Strawberry Milk, but found out it was Coogee.

Not strawberry milk, but not bad!

Cheers LIFX’ers!

Developers, Developers, Developers

[Guest post by Guy] If you’re a non-programmer then you may want to skip this update- keep your eyes out for some cool, third party apps in the future though!

One of the things we’re looking forward to most about launching LIFX is seeing what interesting apps other developers cook up. Just about everyone in our office codes in some capacity, so we’re pretty keen to get hacking ourselves.

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I wanted to take some time to explain how we intend to empower developers interested in LIFX and what to expect in terms of technical capabilities.

We’ve had a very conscious (and instinctive) design goal to avoid undocumented/proprietary protocols, vendor licensing keys and other such shenanigans. Our focus is open standards, speed and extensibility.

In basic terms you’ll have access to our two programmatic interfaces:

1. WAN
We refer to this little fella as “LIFX Cloud” and it acts as an always on, authenticated JSON API for your LIFX lights. Send a command to the cloud server and we’ll relay it to your device(s) wherever they may be. This is perfect for easy integration with third party services such as IFTTT, etc. We’ll be using it ourselves in official apps outside of the wifi network. Commands will be rate-limited to some sane value (tbd).

2. LAN
REST is great in the context of web documents but it isn’t really designed for lean, efficient device comms. As such, we’re using the Protocol Buffers standard (word up, Google) to send messages between devices on the network. This is many times faster/smaller then processing/sending the likes of xml, which is important when you’re planning on light bulbs talking to each other over a mesh network. Naturally, you’ll also be able to talk to LIFX at this lower level- it’s a little trickier to code but the upside is blazing speed and low bandwidth. If you’ve never worked with Protocol Buffers before, you’ll find it very well supported with a [tonne of libraries] [Link https://code.google.com/p/protobuf/wiki/ThirdPartyAddOns ] out there already. In a real world scenario expect the ability to issue a light approx 10 to 30 commands per second.

In the coming weeks we’ll be publishing specific API documentation and some starter libraries (looking at Java, Objective-C and Ruby initially). You’ll be free to develop (and publish) your work without restriction, licensing, etc and we’ll do our best to assist where possible.

Can’t wait to see what you get up to.

All the best,
Team LIFX

Production and delivery schedule

Having been back in Melbourne a little while now we’re preparing the next trip to Shenzhen and preparing ourselves to start the full production run. I can’t wait to get back on the plane, because it’s really the business end now and when we’re on site, at the factory, the ability to collaborate directly makes things happen a lot more efficiently

The major news for now though is that our delivery estimate is being extended. Our KickStarter estimate was March 2013 but now a May shipping date is most likely based on our timeline, with slight delays incurred by the new design, Chinese New Year, and the scale of the project exceeding our initial expectations compounding to create this delay.
We won’t mince words, it’s disappointing to be behind schedule, but for those following the blog and the updates you’ve got a clear window into exactly what we’re working on and our focus on getting things right.
That being said it’s a fine balance and the updated schedule gives us the balance between delivering an amazing product, and getting it to you in a timely manner.
We’d have published this sooner, but wanted to ensure that the factory and all aspects of our internal team were committed to and capable of meeting the schedule, the schedule includes our GU10 downlight which we’ll reveal the designs of shortly.

Screen Shot 2013-02-28 at 12.01.49 PM

Since the last update we’ve been focused on working through every element of the software and firmware, including the LIFX cloud, and now the app and ensuring that the firmware and the app are working together smoothly.
Last week I set our team a tight deadline to have a controllable version of the solid works prototype that we showed in our last update, which is now an alpha version of the app we’ll walk you through shortly. The app is intuitive, fun to use, and a real credit to Ben, Nathan, Mike and the team. We can’t wait to reveal it shortly.

We also wanted to thank everyone that’s voted in the color survey thus far. After 2937 votes, Pearl White, is certainly the front-runner but the rest of the results are quite close.

Our thoughts at this stage are to produce two alternate colors with one white, and the other  to be decided upon in the coming days. It’s a tricky decision, so we’d welcome any further comments or input.

Screen Shot 2013-02-25 at 10.42.33 PM

Ben and Guy getting their arts and craft on in some packaging design.

Ben and Guy getting their arts and craft on in some packaging design workshop.

The next update will be from Shenzhen after we land on Saturday and get the first consumer ready prototype from the team at the factory. It’s an exciting milestone, and a culmination of the hard-work so far. You’ll also receive an email in the coming days requesting your address, the types of bulbs you want, and the colors. All in all, we’re getting there, and this is the home straight but as you can see there are still a few important boxes to tick before we get the world’s best lightbulb to you.

Final design, factory prototype, 900+ lumens.

We arrived back in Melbourne over the weekend, bleary eyed, tired, but incredibly excited with how close we now are to production. I took the weekend off, spent time with the wife and kids and tasted some good coffee for the first time in weeks, first world problem I know, but the Hot Ovaltine I’d be using as a substitute wasn’t quite cutting it.

Back in Melbourne with the first factory prototype now in hand and the big decisions made, our next trip to Shenzhen will focus on minor design tweaks and producing the second factory prototype, which is (all things going well) the consumer ready version of the LIFX smart bulb.

And, we can finally reveal that the bulb will look very much like the one below.

large

Function has totally informed this design – enabling a whopping 900+ lumens output whilst simultaneously keeping the advanced electronics cool enough to operate efficiently. On that note we’re actually super happy with the magic Ben and Nathan have worked on the design to create this sleek, distinctive look.
We’ve narrowed the color/finish selection down to four main candidates (see below) and we’d now like to ask our KickStarter backers to help us select the final production finish via an online poll. (See update).
thumbnail-1

Colors options L to R. Matt Black, Dark Silver, Gun Metal Grey & Pearl White

It’s an exciting time because we now not only have the design, but the control board complete and the new firmware and the app both nearing completion.

The design we’ve chosen blends the aesthetics of what we feel the reinvention of the lightbulb should look like, but with the practicalities of giving you brightness that means it isn’t just a mood light, it’s a realistic replacement to CFL’s, or incandescents.

The design is also a shift away from the basic LED bulbs that mirror traditional bulbs. From what we’ve seen, skimping on the heatsink leads to “running hot” – diminishing the lifespan of the bulb as well as reducing the potential lumen output.

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To show the previous factory prototype (that you saw a sneak peak of in the last update) I recorded a little video of it running a demo sequence last night.

The bulb is just a solid works prototype, and it’s not the sexy new design, and I talk through some of the things we’re still testing but we hope you like seeing it in action.

PS. For those who asked- the new underwear is going great. Just in time for Valentine’s Day too!

Design iterations

[Guest post by Jake #2] After completing a few more tests on the temperature simulations it was time for Phil and I to take another look at the design of the lightbulb.

Ben and Nathan (our designers) had flown in to Hong Kong the night before, crossed the border and made it to our Shenzhen hotel around 2am. We had already arranged an 8:30am pick up for the next day so on a few hours sleep they slammed down some breakfast and we all jumped in the van and headed to the factory.

Design after design was thrown up on the screen. We would all have a look, add our thoughts, make some adjustments then hand it off to Chen to run the temperature simulation. With each variation the bulb got cooler and the design got more refined, the foundation we had been working on for months was now all coming together.

One thing we really learned to appreciate was that it can be quite daunting to see how much designs can change, and adapt when you’re developing a factory prototype!

Prior to the trip I think we had a presumption that our initial prototypes, and the CAD designs for our desired configurations would be sufficient, but we’ve ended up iterating upon this design many times to strike the perfect balance between thermal management and lumen output, which is perhaps the most challenging aspect of all, but one we’ve now solved.

In lamens terms, this basically means as a lightbulb manufacturer you want to strike the balance between having a bulb that has great brightness (~900+ lumens, ~equivalent to 75w) and not having the bulb run too hot because LED lifespan is diminished if a bulb is “running hot”.

Thermal Management

Snapshot of thermal testing, I’ll see if I can get permission to post the full set of slides which includes four iterations we tested and have since improved upon.

Not only that, but once the CAD’s and the thermal testing have been done, you then have to make the bulb look sexy because it needs to be a physical representation of the love that’s gone into it.

It was great having Ben and Nathan both here with us in the factory because when you’re designing with thermal management in mind you don’t always come-up with the best looking design first go. For example, here’s one design iteration that we experimented with and had a cast made, not particular sexy right?

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Render of a previous design iteration we toyed with.

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Solid works prototype version of the design above.

Then Ben and Nathan lovingly take what we give them, use the same set of constraints, but alter the shape and design to turn it into something much closer to what the reinvention of the lightbulb should look like.

We’ve included this for illustrations purposes only, because these are certainly not our final designs, but you can see the iterative process we go through to get to the final result and bring LIFX from our initial prototypes into a consumer ready product.

Because design is such a critical aspect from a functional and aesthetic point of view, we’ve spent additional time on this than perhaps we’d intended. It has slowed us down a little, but it’s worth spending the time to get this right, a design that is great eventually, trumps a design that is OK permanently. It’s a philosophy we believe will deliver the best product on the market.

After this process we reached the weekend and Saturday was a catch up day. We had day to day tasks that had taken a back seat for the week whilst we focused on the bulb. Emails, contracts, supplier agreements and updating the team back home filled most of the day. With a few hours spare we headed into the city to do some awesome China style shopping.

Being involved in a start up I always expected there would be moments where I would find myself saying “well this was unexpected”. Standing in a market in shenzhen with my CEO negotiating a bulk purchase of underwear was certainly one of these:)

Sunday we had planned to take as a rest day off to recoup a little but with everything that had happened during the week we ended up spending most of the day sitting on the balcony talking LIFX strategy and bulb design options.

Monday morning. The guys at the factory were busy stamping out five revised factory CNC rapid prototype bulbs for us. Marc decided to head in for the day while Phil and I camped out in the hotel room trawling through more emails and “general business”. By late Monday afternoon we checked in with the guys at the factory and arranged for the next days visit. Marc arrived back to the hotel about 10pm then came to use my microwave to reheat some dinner. (for some reason my room was the only one that had a microwave??) We discussed the events of the day, and our plans over Chinese New Year, and how we feel we’re progressing with the project overall.

Ben and Nathan doing what they do best.

Nathan, working his magic on the various iterations of the designs we’ve been developing.

It’s an exciting time, and we’re certainly at the business end, with the hardware coming together in a rapid iteration fashion, and the software being developed in parallel in Melbourne. We’re getting closer each day and the rush it brings is phenomenal. We’re learning too, the importance of spending a little extra time to get things right. That being said, on schedule we inserted our control boards into an earlier design and have a working factory prototypes, but the extra time spent on design is something that will yield a product that we’re truly proud of. We’ll write a separate post about this and show the pictures etc because there’s a lot of detail to go into.

Speaking of control boards, some of you wanted a better idea of how tiny these are, so below is one that shows some scale. We’ve cropped the image just because we can’t show our full chipset and configuration out in the public domain just yet, but hopefully it gives you the idea 🙂

LIFX Control Board ;

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Underwear shopping with Phil. Certainly not my favourite way to spend the only weekend off 😉 

Watching the line

[Guest post by Jake]

As all the manufacturing staff were packing up ready to head home for the evening, 5 of us stood huddled around a monitor watching a tiny red line creep up the screen.  The moment we saw the line level out, smiles broke out across our faces. The line represented the temperature level for the LIFX bulb under simulation testing and we had come in under the cap.

The day started with breakfast in the hotel dining room as the 3 of us ran over what we needed to achieve for the day.  Then it was off to the factory to look at the simulation tests from the heat sinks.  Under simulated conditions the bulb was still running a little hot and required some adjustments to get it down to the required level.  Whilst Marc met with the power supply team, Phil and I ran through all the different possibilities for bringing the temperature down.

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Chen (the CAD designer) dragged him computer into the meeting room for the afternoon so we could tune the design as we went along. The solution? We ended up slightly modifying the design to increase the size of the heat sink, relative to the enclosure.

We ended the day on a bit of a high and looking forward to more of the same tomorrow.