In 2007 John Kujawa, a Stanford-trained engineer launched Lumitec, a product development company focused on the conceptualization, development, and manufacture of extreme environment LED lighting. With an early focus on the recreational marine industry Lumitec quickly got noticed by delivering high quality, attractive, high performance products. Today Lumitec products are in use by more than 100 boat builders world wide, and carried by the worlds largest retailer and distributors.
MO: What initially attracted you to the high-tech and marine markets? And what was your inspiration for creating Lumitec?
John: I have always loved being on the water. Since I was old enough to ride a bike I’ve been fooling around on boats of all types and sizes. Several years ago while working in the tech industry in Silicon Valley my wife and I decided to move back to Delray Beach Florida to be closer to family. When I chose to start a company a technology-focused play in the marine industry was a natural choice.
MO: Where did your inspiration for Lumitec come from? How has your previous expertise and background in product development, operations and marketing contributed to the development and success of Lumitec so far?
John: I saw an opportunity – but not the opportunity just to sell a bunch of LED lights. Rather, the opportunity to build a company that would be far better equipped to win in this space. Having spent a large part of my career in high tech, in 2006 I saw LED lights as electronic devices while most of our competitors thought of them as lighting devices. Historically lighting devices have moved very slowly. Semiconductors, conversely, move at a blistering pace. By building a company focused on innovative, rapid product development we could leverage the latest technologies and always innovate faster than our competitors.
MO: What are some ways that you’re differentiating yourself from the competition?
John: There are several key ways that we differentiate ourselves from the competitors:
Constant innovation. We have well equipped electrical, mechanical, prototyping and optical labs here on site. This means we can take an inspiration or an interesting customer suggestion and quickly bring it to life, test it, play with it. Since most of us here are also boaters we have a good feel for what will work. Also, being in Florida many of our key customers are easily accessible to us. We involve them in the design iterations to refine and perfect the final product.
Responsiveness. Because we manufacture on-site and buy from mostly local suppliers we have the ability to respond quickly to customer requests. Our suppliers accommodate our requests for things like custom paint colors or specialized short-run circuit boards because of the long-term nature of our relationships.
Ability to adapt. LED technology is evolving at an extraordinary pace. Consumers and competitors are becoming more sophisticated. Yesterday’s products and features are not good enough or just plain stale. We have to adapt to survive. One of our core operational philosophies is to develop processes which are scalable and structured, but allow for flexibility. Our production tables and fixtures are on wheels. A single circuit board may be used in 12 different SKU’s. Features are software driven instead of hardware defined. Adaptability is part of our corporate DNA.
Focus on a great work environment. We make happiness an objective, starting at the top. One of Lumitec’s core driving values is to “…provide a stimulating, fulfilling, fun work environment.” It may sound obvious, but just publicly stating that it is important helps to ultimately make it so. It shows employees that management is willing to be accountable for this. It also allows management to set the expectation that employees are partially responsible for their happiness – a ‘help me help you’ situation.
MO: What are some of the specific challenges you face in creating in marine LED lighting solutions that you don’t find in the more traditional lighting industry?
John: We place a very high emphasis on reliability and weatherability. Unfortunately the marine environment is an extremely harsh one. With sophisticated electronics and components which often times are considerably smaller than a grain of rice, it is imperative that designs are carefully vetted for corrosion resistance, water ingress, vibration resistance, electromagnetic interference, etc.
MO: Lumitec has enjoyed average annual growth of 120% since it was launched back in 2007. What has been the secret of your success?
John: Focus, hard work, and great people. To foster focus, early on I spent a lot of time crystallizing who we are and what our core values are. Everyone in the company now knows that first and foremost we are a product development company, and that our leading core value is delivering exceptional value to our customers. This clarity has helped us avoid distractions that may have been profitable in the short term but which probably would not have laid the foundation for continued growth. We’ve been fortunate to have been able to build a great team of people who, without exception, are genuinely interested in pleasing the customer. They work hard to that end.
MO: What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for Lumitec in 2012?
John: We’ve invested very heavily in tools and technology in the last 5 years while also building a world class engineering team with deep expertise in LED’s and related technologies. At the same time we’ve aggressively grown sales and scaled production. Now, as consumers’ appetites for the “second wave” of LED products really get into full swing, I feel that we’re perfectly poised for explosive growth. Exciting new products are the engine that drives this company, and as we look forward today the road ahead looks long and prosperous.
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