Digital Dallas interviewed Corey Egan, CEO and Co-Founder of ilumi. ilumi is a series of color tunable LED Smart bulbs controlled through an easy to use mobile app via Bluetooth. Bright, simple, and programmable – ilumi gives you both energy efficient lighting and a cost effective control system with the ease of screwing in a light bulb. Transform your space into a place with ilumi and live your light.
Digital Dallas: Talk to us about how ilumi was created.
Corey: My co-founder, Swapnil Bora, and I were classmates at the University of Texas at Dallas (UT-Dallas). While in school we saw what was saw big things coming in both wireless control and LED lighting and put the two together. We first submitted the idea to the UT-Dallas Business Idea Competition during the fall of 2010. The judges saw promise in our idea and awarded us a prize of $4,500. Swapnil and I decided to put that back into the company and continue to develop the concept vision. From there we entered national and international competitions, such as the Carnegie Mellon McGinnis Venture Competition and the Rice Alliance Business plan competition and won an additional $45,000 in prizes. At that point we knew that ilumi was going to be big and it needed to be much more than an idea. A support system like this is invaluable and was a big reason why we were able to take the "leap".
Digital Dallas: What made you take that push to go full time?
Corey: It’s all about time, literally having the time to dedicate your focus. We knew that in order to achieve what we wanted and needed to achieve that we had to go out and just get it done. If you believe in what you have, then you should move forward with all of the focus and persistence that you have. Creating a company from nothing is obviously a difficult and time consuming task. Thankfully we have supportive friends and mentors, and we have extremely supportive families that have allowed us to dedicate our full focus. A support system like this is invaluable and was a big reason why we were able to take the ‘leap’.
Digital Dallas: Describe some of the first challenges you encountered.
Corey: The main challenges were ones that just about all start-ups face – access to sufficient capital, having enough time to devote to you idea when it is in its infancy, and being able to successfully balance all the thousand things you have to do to get a startup off the ground. We were a two-man team in the beginning and we had to outsource a lot of work. Once you start outsourcing pieces of the project, you realize that strong, effective communication becomes essential. So we worked very hard at keeping everyone in communication as we started to branch out with our resources. Another challenge we faced was simply the fact that we were first time entrepreneurs and new to the lighting and CE industry. So, there was a lot of learning on the job. We just stuck to our vision and persevered.
Digital Dallas: You mentioned the importance of effective communication. Talk to us about how you handled that aspect.
Corey: From a product requirement perspective, we had to give detailed specifications to each developer. But it was tough because there were always decisions along the way – virtually no project will ever occur without unexpected bumps in the road (and that is especially true with the development of brand new concepts). So having an open dialogue of the good and bad is essential.
Digital Dallas: What made you decide to go into crowd funding and how did it help you?
Corey: We knew early on we wanted to pursue crowd funding, as we saw it as a viable channel and opportunity. As an entrepreneur, crowdfunding is incredible to be able to go to market outside traditional channels. It took us a little bit to realize that it was a real and very valuable marketing tool and should be treated as such.
Digital Dallas: So you were on ABC’s Shark Tank, what was that like?
Corey: We auditioned for Shark Tank in April 2013 and we felt like if we could make it through the process ilumi would be successful and translate really well on TV because it is a tangible product. Throughout the process, we pursued it going from step to step but wanted to make sure it wasn’t a distraction. Finally when we were asked to go out last fall to film for the show we spent a lot of time preparing. However, we always knew the risk of what could happen in the ‘tank’. Obviously it worked out amazingly for us as Mark Cuban thought ilumi was a bright idea too. Since our appearance (and success) on Shark Tank things have been going crazy. New opportunities arise every day and the exposure has been phenomenal. It just allowed us to share how great ilumi is on a different scale and working with Mark Cuban and his team has been very valuable I’ve been extremely happy with that interaction so far and I know it will continue to get better.
Digital Dallas: And, where do you plan to go from here?
Corey: We just want to make customers happy and put bulbs in customers’ hands. We have started shipping (as of late May 2014) to our Indiegogo and Kickstarter backers. And we have exciting things in the works for the near future. I think once people see and experience ilumi we are going to get a lot of smiles. If you have an idea and are passionate and believe in it, do it. Don’t half ass it. Do it with everything you have. There’s never going to be a perfect time, and a good idea on the shelf will go stale quickly.
Digital Dallas: What advice can you offer to entrepreneurs or someone who has an idea they want to execute?
Corey: The opportunities out there and tools to capture them are endless. If you have an idea and are passionate and believe in it, do it. Don’t half ass it. Do it with everything you have. There’s never going to be a perfect time, and a good idea on the shelf will go stale quickly.
So get out there and build your dream. And when others see you pursuing your vision with passion and ferver, you’ll be surprised how many people will help you build it too. Like Digital Dallas, thank you for being such a great supportor of ilumi and for being part of our journey.