An Audacious New Player About To Enter The Consumer Light Bulb Market
I recently heard about a new light bulb company called Finally, that plans to offer a warm white, highly efficient bulb replacement to the incandescent (The New York Times carried a piece about the company earlier this month).
I was curious to find out more about the technology and about the bold company with the audacity to enter a market crowded with established players such as Philips and Sylvania, as well as companies like Toshiba , Walmart, and pure-play LED manufacturer Cree. After all, with the federal lighting standards spelling the demise of the old and wasteful incandescent, it is a crowded space, with all make and manner of replacements out there in the form of compact fluorescents (CFLs) and light emitting diodes (LEDs). And that is precisely what attracted Finally to the arena.
Founder and CEO John Goscha took an hour out of his hectic schedule to tell me more about the company, the product, and his motivation. The first thing that struck me was that Goscha is a serial tinkerer and entrepreneur. He went to Babson – a top ranked business school in the Boston area – and while there got an idea for a paint that could be applied to walls and create a whiteboard on any surface. He pulled together some angel investors (including professors), founded a company called IdeaPaint, and the concept took off.
"I don’t have a scientific degree. I graduated from Babson, and with IdeaPaint I was lead technologist just by accident…I was lucky enough that it was a college dorm room project that became successful.
After that, Goscha became restless and started looking for the next project. And it had nothing remotely to do with paint. His notion was that we needed a better light bulb. He knew that the new lighting standards were going to force incandescent lamps into extinction, but he didn’t like the other options he saw.
"We certainly need to work to reduce energy consumption, but when I looked at the CFL and LED replacements on the lighting aisle, I wasn’t happy with the light bulbs I saw or tried – and got the sense other consumers weren’t either. These replacement light bulbs weren’t cutting it. And I just didn’t think it was fair or necessary to make people pay a much higher price for a long-lasting, energy-efficient light bulb that doesn’t produce quality light.
So Goscha got to work figuring out the world of lighting, starting his company three years ago.
"I set out to build a bulb with everything you love about your incandescent, just without the energy waste. Nobody was replicating the incandescent glow that we love…I thought customers deserved something better – an energy-efficient bulb that actually captures the nice, warm and reassuring glow that we all grew up with.
Armed with the credibility he had gained during his IdeaPaint years, he pulled in a team of top lighting scientists.
"In this company, I brought together some of the most brilliant minds in lighting – from some of the biggest lighting companies – to build a better light bulb. One that produces the right light: warm, energy-efficient, long-lasting and affordable.
Presumably, that type of talent doesn’t come cheap, so I asked Goscha how he was funding the endeavor.This team represents some serious firepower: his Senior Technologist, Dr. Victor Roberts (formerly from GE), holds 30 U.S. patents in lighting. His Chairman of the Technology Board, Dr. Jacob Maya (formerly from Sylvania), holds another 59 patents with 20 more pending. The Director of Research and Development, Dr. Walter Lapatovich (also formerly from Sylvania), holds 55 patents as well.
"Thanks to the success of IdeaPaint I was able to sell some of my stock to investors in IdeaPaint. I was the first investor in Finally, and a number of my angel investors who had invested in IdeaPaint came and invested in Finally as well. These investors include professors and other individuals I had met at Babson College who had enjoyed their experience with IdeaPaint.
The basic technology is simple in its concept, but of course it is far more complicated than that.
"We’ve developed a unique way to harness and compact induction technology. We call it Acandescence. We have 50 patents pending, the first few of which have already been issued. We don’t rely on a computer chip or a tungsten filament. Instead, you’ll find a copper wire inside our bulb. When that wire is powered, it generates an electromagnetic field and creates nonvisible light. The inside of our bulbs are coated with phosphor which turns the nonvisible light into that warm, omni-directional glow we all seek.
Three years into the endeavor, they have a real product. The Finally bulb is under test prior to certification with a number of government entities including the Department of Energy (performance and life), and the Federal Trade Commission (performance and life). The lamp is also being tested by Underwriters Laboratories (safety), and has been tested for TCLP (hazardous waste – the bulb has just under two milligrams of mercury in solid, amalgam form). The Finally bulb will shortly be submitted for ENERGY STAR testing, which will qualify it for utility rebates in many parts of the country.
It has the same familiar A19 shape and uses 75% less energy than an incandescent bulb, using 14.5 watts. It lasts 15,000 hours, which is about 15 times longer than your old bulb. It has a Color Rendering Index (CRI – the ability to reproduce colors relative to natural light: sunlight has a CRI of 100) of 83, and a warm white of 2700 K (how warm or cool the light is), and retails for just under $10.00.
In many ways, the bulb is very comparable to the latest soft white True and Natural offering from Cree, which says a good deal, since that is one of the best offerings in today’s market. The Cree bulb – also with the familiar incandescent form, has almost the same efficiency (at 13.5 watts), and lasts 25,000 hours. Its CRI is 93. It retails for $19.97 ($15.95 on Amazon.com AMZN +1.07%). Both bulbs are omni-directional.
With this new bulb Goscha and team are confident they have a contender, and they are intent on bringing the bulb to market in short order.
"I’m proud to say that the first product will be available on the shelf at retailers this summer. We are currently working through the details with big box retailers, but the bulbs can be pre-ordered on our website. In the last week we’ve received a tremendously positive response. I think the consumer clearly has a pent up desire for a better bulb.
Very soon Goscha expects to be able to use the economies of scale from the factory in India to bring the product to market below $8. Once the ENERGY STAR testing is complete, the price to the consumer will get even more attractive.
At the end of the day, Goscha is optimistic. He is fairly certain that he and his team have built a better mousetrap, something customers will readily embrace.
"There’s a lot of ways to measure light, but I think the real proof is when you look at it, and how you look under it. The bulbs we have in our home shouldn’t make you look and feel washed out. That glow is what I was looking to reproduce… If Edison were alive today, this is a bulb he would be proud of.
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