Bright idea: Smart light switch
He reinvented the light bulb, now Australian entrepreneur Phil Bosua has caught the attention of one Silicon Valley's biggest venture capital firms with plans to reinvent the light switch.
On Monday, his start-up LIFX raised US$12 million (NZ$13.75 million) from funds led by Sequoia Capital to turn his Wi-Fi connected smart switch idea into reality.
Speaking to Fairfax Media, Bosua, 40, said his company would use the money to grow, expand globally, and work on a new type of light switch for homes that could also be used for other things, such as changing the volume of music, and opening and closing blinds.
The latest investment – which also counts with money from Bevan Clark and Guy King, Australian angel investors and co-founders of coupon website RetaiMeNot – brings LIFX’s total funding to $US16.6 million. It also sees Sequoia partner Omar Hamoui join the start-up’s board.
Asked whether it meant he was now a millionaire, the software developer who built over 600 apps for Apple's App Store laughed, replying "on paper, maybe".
Bosua's company is known for selling the LIFX, a Wi-Fi enabled, multi-colour, energy efficient LED light-bulbthat can be controlled with an iPhone or Android smartphone. The device costs $129 in Australia, and so far the company has shipped over 100,000 of them around the world.
“It will be circular and mount on the wall with three m-strips or via a magnetic mounting plate,” Bosua said at his company’s rented out mansion on 24,300-square metres of land in Los Altos Hills in Silicon Valley. It has its own playground, tennis court, pool and counts billionaires, wild coyotes and deers as neighbours.
“It will give you full functional control over your LIFX bulbs and also have an open [application programming interface] so [that developers can make apps that] turn the light switch into a volume control for a Sonos speaker. It could also open and close blinds and alert you if someone’s at your door."
The prototype will have rechargeable batteries that last between six and 12 months, and use Wi-Fi to connect to light-bulbs and other devices in the home, reducing the cost of traditional copper wiring.
“If you were building a new house you would save almost 50 per cent on copper costs just because you’re not running wires down to switches,” Bosua said.
The entrepreneur, who regularly commutes between Silicon Valley and Melbourne, where his wife and kids are based, said a chunk of the money would go towards hiring engineers, marketing, and sales people to help “create the best internet of things companies in the world”.
Internet of Things is a term used to describe the growing number of devices connected to the internet – from ATMs and toothbrushes to light-bulbs.
Bosua said he had no plan to make other gadgets.
“We want to the be the best smart light company in the world – and lighting is a huge market.
"I think it would be irresponsible to not focus on a market this size… There’s 5.8 billion light sockets in the US alone. So why would we focus anywhere else?”
Bosua has come a long way since launching the smart light-bulb via a crowd-funding campaign in September, 2012.
It raised just over US$1.3 million, was delayed for several months and attracted disapproval from financial journalist Felix Salmon, who called it vapourware.
“If the LIFX bulb ever ships, it’s going to be a gimmicky disappointment at best,” Salmon wrote. “The ‘white’ light won’t be warm and rich, the illumination will come out in clumps rather than being even, the bulb will hum when it’s dimmed, the electronics will fail in the heat.”
LIFX eventually shipped and the complaints weren't as bad. Most centred around the light-bulb not doing what Bosua said it would do in the original video, like flash for a tweet or Facebook notification.
Bosua said the a new app and cloud product would enabled more featuresin the next two months.
There "was probably some legitimacy" to critics' concerns because LIFX was "attempting to make the world’s best lightbulb" despite never having made a light-bulb before and having no engineering experience.
"But as is the nature of innovation, resourcefulness, grit and determination, we got there … and made something a lot better than we had originally anticipated."
He wouldn't disclose how much equity Sequoia Capital and others received as part of the funding round, and refused to say is he remained majority shareholder. "It’s a complex question," he said.
The US-based company can now hire some 40 people to help it grow, he said. At the moment, seven of the 25 staff reside in the US, with the rest in Melbourne, Australia.
REF: Sydney Morning Herald
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