Exclusive Interview with Francois-Xavier Souvay, CEO Lumenpulse
Founded in 2006 in Montreal, Canada, Lumenpulse has seen rapid growth. Since its inaugural appearance at Lightfair 2010, the company has received a prestigious Red Dot Award for the design of its Lumenbeam LBX and was also recognized as a Top New Growth Company in Profit Magazine’s Hot 50 in 2011. Francois-Xavier Souvay (universally known as FX ) talked to Lighting.com editor Julie Allen about why Lumenpulse is different from the ‘big’ fixture manufacturers and his thoughts on where the company will be two years from now.
Allen: The first time we met was two years ago and that was your first time showing at Lightfair. What do you see as the big differences between two years ago and now?
FX: As far as the industry is concerned – yes, definitely, a big difference. You see that the industry is really moving forward with solid state lighting. At the LightFair Innovation Awards, nobody was submitting products without having LEDs involved. It’s interesting because it’s more of a long-term commitment – in today’s reality only 10% of the market is LEDs. But definitely there is a big push, so it confirms that by, say 2020, this industry will be at least 70-80% LEDs – just by the push from the manufacturers. So that’s a big difference compared to two years ago; then we were still able to see fluorescent and HID fixtures and now you really have to look for them.
Allen: Are more fixtures being designed specifically for LEDs?
FX: Yes, so the market is getting better educated. I see that there are more companies doing better things, which is good because it’s going to speed up the adoption of LED’s. People are realizing that they need to do the capital investment if they want to really address the opportunity. They can’t just have a ‘stick an old lamp in a new box’ mentality. They need to design new fixtures. They need to have new products designed around the technology from the beginning. It’s exciting to see this because it’s a confirmation that what we started as a company six years ago was the right direction to take.
Allen: You didn’t have a fluorescent and HID legacy. Do you believe that is what sets you apart from most of the other fixture companies?
FX: Yes, which is what we wanted to do as a company from the start. We knew that the first comers we saw in the LED space were electronic companies with the ability to design the PC boards, the firmware, the software, etc. – and it was natural for them to do that. But they had very little knowledge of the lighting industry. Their products were not necessarily addressing the real lighting challenges. But they were the first ones on the market and everybody was very interested in the products.
We felt there was an opportunity to focus and get experienced industrial designers from the architectural lighting field combined with electronic experts, under the same roof, so that we could develop an LED fixture product family approach from A to Z. And do it much faster than anybody else. So that’s what we did. We are completely designing our firmware, software and our electronic embedded engineering. We also develop our optics and our industrial/mechanical thermal designs so it makes us very self-sufficient and able to rapidly address the opportunities that arise.
Looking at Lumenpulse, I don’t see us competing with the other electronic companies; I see us competing with the other traditional lighting fixture companies. Not only those in North America but European ones too, like Erco and iGuzzini. All those companies around the world that have been extremely successful by staying focused and having a strong product branding strategy without deviating from it. In the past, they’ve been very successful in the traditional market. What they are experiencing now is that they have legacy businesses to protect and it is very hard for them to retool the entire product line which is heavily capital expensive. So I sincerely believe that we are truly the first technical architectural LED lighting company in the world that is only doing that. And I think that’s the reason why we are gaining success very rapidly. We have grown to 150 employees and are still growing. All of them, when they wake up in the morning, have one thing on their mind: how can we become the worlds leading company in architectural LED lighting? We don’t have internal battles to protect legacy business. It’s a common goal being embraced by everybody. So that’s exciting.
Allen: At the moment you have new headquarters in Montreal and you have offices in Boston and London. How are you going to manage the logistics of that?
FX: Montreal is our corporate headquarters. This is where the company was born. This is where we do the overall product management as far as the vision of the products, industrial design, mechanical/optical development and where we do the final assembly. We don’t make products in China. We source certain components if it makes sense in China. But we control the final assembly process in Canada.
In Boston our office has two focuses. It is a global technology center for embedded electronics. Our CTO is based there. Boston is an unbelievable incubator for embedded engineering because of the university and because of the people experienced in solid state lighting coming from there. So we are able to get talented young engineers very rapidly to be part of our team. They design firmware, software and board layouts and they work very closely with our Montreal group. And the electronics are manufactured in Massachusetts because it’s close to our technical center. In Boston we also have customer service and sales support for the entire U.S.
London is a new regional office that is growing rapidly. We’ve already hired six people there and now we are hiring five more. We are expanding to support the UK domestic market and also to be able to support the expansion we have planned for the rest of Europe. The London office is going to grow significantly because it’s going to be the hub to support all of the expansion for the rest of the world except North America and South America.
Allen: Who would you say is your biggest competitor?
FX: I don’t have a biggest competitor – it’s everybody – as you know the industry is so fragmented. Even Philips – as the largest player in the world – owns only 7% of the world fixture market. When I say that to people, they can’t believe it. They would think that Philips owned 70% of the market because they are so big.
It’s application driven. My father was a lighting designer, in the theatrical space. Localized in Montreal. And he did a few architectural lighting projects – in building interiors.
Allen: Is that how you got into this business – by the influence of your dad?
FX: Yes. Well, actually, I worked with him when I was studying business administration. I worked in his firm and I was working with him on projects. That’s how it began. Later I went to work for an architectural lighting fixture company and had a minority stake in the business. It grew it very rapidly and I developed the U.S. market for it and then we sold the company. I spent a few years consulting for other companies. After that I bought an independent architectural lighting distributor in Quebec City and I expanded it into Montreal and made it the leader in Eastern Canada. And that was the foundation of Lumenpulse. It was very profitable and I was able to fund the start-up of Lumenpulse without having any Venture Capital. My partner and I own 87% of it and we have 13% that we sold to private investors that are friends. So nobody is rushing us to do anything. We can own it, operate it, grow it and then be proud of it. That’s essentially what we’re doing.
Allen: When I sit here two years from now, what is Lumenpulse going to look like?
FX: It’s going to look exactly like what you see now but with a lot more products. I don’t want to disclose them now because I want to make a big surprise in the market (smiles). But we are going to continue to expand into functional interior architectural lighting. I don’t want to do architectural decorative. I want to do functional/technical lighting. And we are going to continue to expand our exterior lighting portfolio. We have our 10 year roadmap and we are going to continue to innovate in technology and design.
I think two years from now I could see ourselves having at least one third of our revenues in Europe and the Middle East. It’s going very rapidly for us and I could also see ourselves having an office in Asia to support the South East Asia market. And I could see ourselves having more regional offices in Europe.
Lastly – great branding. That’s the key. We want our catalog to summarize how we think: we think in families and then we show all the different options and we have different ways of communicating. Using great imagery, we show what it (a product) does, and introduce icons so that people can follow what’s available. All these things make a difference. What we are doing is introducing formats that the market is accustomed to see from European companies. We’re about packaging, great branding and simple messaging that is consistent throughout everything we do.
Allen: And what will be your biggest challenge to that?
FX: I think we are clear about where we want to go with innovation and so our challenge will be education. What we want to do is become the best company in the world to educate people. We want to make lighting education ‘for dummies’. Our goal is not just to help increase the market adoption of LEDs but to help everyone benefit from more efficient, better quality lighting. And in order to do that, people need education.
Written by Julie Allen