5 Secrets to Product Disruption: Nanoleaf Shares How Smart Design Transformed the Conventional Lighting Market

Two things are at the heart of every Nanoleaf lighting product: stunning, people-centric design and exceptional energy efficiency. In fact, their #LiveSmarter campaign is about what they call “human-centricity. They noticed that lighting products have traditionally been about being turned on or turned off, which was a style of thinking that screamed ‘turned off’ for their entire team. The challenge of redesigning and selling such a ubiquitous item as a light bulb was not one they approached lightly – addressing patent obstacles, getting top notch PR, deciphering customer needs and wants – so we were eager to hear from Nanoleaf directly on how they succeeded at disrupting a product category due for a revolution.

Disruption secret #1: Take an established product and find the element your competitors have overlooked but your customers crave

For Nanoleaf, they were invested in what their shoppers were thinking and feeling from the get go. They paid close attention to the features that were important to consumers but weren’t being served by other brands, which in the case of lighting was that LED’s had been broadly painted as offering an undesirable tone.

“Our customers really respond to the unique design of our products and also the freedom in options it gives them. The Gem is the first décor LED bulb that emits gorgeous warm light that looks exactly like an incandescent, but uses just a fraction of the energy. Most people are shocked to learn that it’s actually an LED. Something that we frequently hear is how beautiful and inviting the light looks, which is a major issue that people have had to deal with when choosing LEDs.”

Disruption Secret #2: Deliver a sense of joyful excitement to everyone who uses one of your products

Nanoleaf created the Gem when they “noticed that people were being forced to choose between beautiful design or efficiency, and wanted to give them something that has both, without compromising on either.” Their desire to create an amazing experience guides their product design and how they connect with customers. Their Classic Series lineup is traditional lighting, reimagined to be more visually appealing and more efficient than existing lighting products. “If you want simple, reliable screw-it-in-and-flip-the-switch lighting, this is for you. The dimmable Nanoleaf Gem, draws as little as 5W of power when in use and is rated for 25,000 hours. It’s also visually stunning, both the physical form and the light quality.”

Nanoleaf’s Smarter Series lineup is bolder and treats lighting as an experience to be enjoyed. “These products feature our signature design aesthetic and can be controlled via the Nanoleaf smartphone app or with Siri (for people using the iPhone). Through the app, you can set schedules and triggers to automate your lighting. Why wake up to a blaring alarm clock when you can gently wake up to a soft caress of light?”

The Nanoleaf Android app will be available by the summer, and all of the Smarter Series products will work with Amazon Alexa and IFTTT by the end of 2016, and related to the Ivy Smarter Kit and Smart Ivy product line in addition to the upcoming Nanoleaf Aurora. “The control hub that ships with the Smarter Kit is a design masterpiece. You’d actually want to feature this in your living room, not tuck it away beside that ugly modem the cable company gave you for internet access.”

Disruption Secret #3: Enduring the pain of filing for patents will reward you longterm

Nanoleaf learned there are two things young companies should know about patents (sometimes the hard way):

1) “If it’s critical to the function of your product and gives you a competitive advantage, file a patent. If you don’t have experience filing patents, get help from someone who does.
2) A patent is only as good as the size of the bank account willing to defend it (the patent system is horrifically broken). If the other party to a patent dispute has a bigger war chest than you do, they’ll win—regardless of right or wrong.”

Bottom line: patents are worth the effort. They definitely require consulting with legal and technical experts and as many companies like Nanoleaf have discovered, based on the business environment that prevailed a century ago. “Filing patents is a drawn out, tedious process—but it’s also critical for companies that invest significant time and resources into developing great products. We currently hold patents or have patents pending for technology innovations, manufacturing processes, and industrial design.”

Disruption Secret #4: get your products into the hands of retailers with good ol’ fashioned exploratory hustle.

Apply the Nanoleaf approach for success: “If it makes sense, we’ll try it. If it works, we’ll do it again.”

For Nanoleaf, hearing people leave their booth saying “I love it” made the long days and nights worth it. “Trade shows are great because we get to meet so many different people in such a short amount of time, and get to speak directly to customers and see what they like or don’t like. We actually just got back from ICFF in New York and had an incredible experience there. The Aurora was a real show-stopper and we had dozens of people tell us it was the best thing they’d seen in years.”

Best exposure? “We’ve gotten some great PR in great channels like CNET, Design Milk and CNN. This exposure has a big impact for us because we can see the spike in sales and people visiting our website from just one article. We often have people writing in saying they saw us from this or that outlet and that they must get one of our bulbs “right now!”

“Door-to-door visits are probably the most challenging. Our sales team has made visits to almost all of the design stores in Toronto (with lots of positive responses) and also some not so enthusiastic ones. We’ve established great relationships with the design community here and it’s been a solid channel of distribution for us, and has helped to guide the design of our products.”

Disruption Secret #5 – Ask yourself: What are the habits and behaviours of people in the spaces that they occupy? What would make their lives easier, more enjoyable, or more affordable?

The lighting industry isn’t known for taking design risks—most lighting products are very traditional, and were created to simply meet the needs of the fixture over the needs of the user. In other words, boring products that didn’t create anything remotely resembling excitement for the people using them. The Nanoleaf #LiveSmarter campaign “is all about inspiring people to think beyond turning the lights on or off—it’s about helping people imagine what they can be when the lights are off, on, or anywhere in between.”

Exciting things are coming for Nanoleaf. “Our next product—the Aurora—isn’t evolutionary, it’s revolutionary. Light fixtures and lamps are very limiting, and the idea of setting light free from traditional limitations has been on our mind from the very beginning. For us, light isn’t simply illumination… it’s a critical part of the environment that you’re in. It can define the mood of a space, and impact the mood of the people within. It seems only natural to us that you should be able to have control over this connection between light, feeling, and emotional wellbeing. With the Aurora, you finally can—in a way that’s both simple and intuitive. It’s coming this fall. Stay tuned!”

Be sure to connect with Nanoleaf on Hubba and see their beautiful line of lighting products