In a crowdfunding campaign that wrapped up on August 13, 2015, Lumos raised US$809,551 with 6,072 backers supporting its next generation bicycle helmet.
The Lumos helmet, resembling a functional version of the sleek gear worn in Tron: Legacy, is designed to improve a biker’s visibility and ability to communicate with motorists at night. Equipped with automatic brake lights and turn signal indicators that can be controlled wirelessly via handlebar, the helmet is also laced with LED lights that stay on. Charged using a micro USB cable, a full charge lasts a week, given 30-minutes of use per day.
Not taking any breaks post the campaign’s success, the duo is speeding ahead with full force despite being slightly blurry-eyed from weeks of prep work, when they spoke with e27.
“Making our goal was really the easy part,” says 23-year old Jeff Chen, who recently graduated from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “The hard work is ahead of us, the pressure of creating a high-quality helmet. Then we have to start focussing on retailers back in the US,” he continues.
“But it’s nice to have so much support! ” he finally admits, when prodded about the startup’s impressive success and positive feedback from the tech community, including an enthusiastic show of support from none other than Bill Nye the Science Guy.
It’s this precise ability to look far into a long, dark highway (we’re being literal and figurative here) and stay focused on long-term goals that has been driving this team.
Origins and development
The idea was first pitched at an event held by Harvard Innovation Lab last year, where the Co-founders met.
“I pitched this idea, to create a visible brake light for a helmet. It was one of the things that was on my list,” says 30-year old Singaporean native Eu-wen Ding, then in Harvard Business School.
Since both trained as mechanical engineers, developing a product from scratch was no issue for the team. The helmet prototype was developed at a hackathon at MIT, where they won the competition. Ding saw serious potential in the prototype, so much that he tried to convince Chen to drop out and work on their idea together. Chen, a Chinese native studying abroad at Harvard for the semester was still an undergrad and had yet to receive a diploma.
“No way that was happening,” laughs Chen.
Following through with his vision, Ding, who in person emits a quiet but reassuring confidence, left Harvard Business School late August 2014 and flew to Hong Kong.
“It was important to be headquartered in Hong Kong as we wanted to be close to manufacturing and China,” says Ding.
Chen had returned to Hong Kong to complete his undergrad, and for two months Ding crashed at Chen’s dormitory. During this time, they hustled to find a factory, build a prototype, manufacture the product and create the campaign.
Finding a factory was one of their biggest problems and after reaching out to their entire network, they were able to enlist the help of Peter Maken, an expert in sourcing materials, with over 20 years in the industry. Maken became a strategic advisor and introduced Lumos to a factory.
“Once we had the prototype, we had the confidence that we could actually build this thing,” says Ding.
(For those concerned, by the third month, Ding had progressed from dormitory floor living to bunking in a hostel in Mong Kok).
They started preparing for their crowdfunding campaign in February, registering the company in the US. Ding headed back to Boston for a few months to begin canvassing.
“I was participating in all the cycling events, and I’d show people the product, tell them about what we were doing and collect their emails. That’s how we built up the mailing list,” says Ding.
An unanticipated challenge of the campaign was figuring out who should represent Lumos in the campaign video.
“Our prime demographic is in North America and the UK. We debated whether it would be better to hire an actor to be the face of our company. But we decided as there were already so few Asians in startups, it’s nice to depict Asians in the industry,” says Ding, who ended up introducing the helmet in their video.
What happens next
For the duo, the emotional investment they’ve poured into Lumos rides heavy at times on their shoulders.
“Of the thousands of comments we get on our Facebook page, most are positive, one to five per cent negative. Despite the low number, it’s very challenging to focus on the positive elements. When you start engaging with the negative feedback, it absorbs you, and it’s hard to take a step back and realise that most people are saying great things. You become very vulnerable during this process,” says Chen.
“It’s hard not to let it affect you. We try to focus on being honest and transparent,” adds Ding.
What is the biggest hardship of being based in Hong Kong while targetting a market on the other side of the world?
“We are operating on US time, which means we basically sleep when the sun comes up,” says Ding, as he takes a sip of his coffee during this interview, around 7 PM.
The first batch of helmet rollouts is targetted for April 2016 and Lumos has a waitlist for those who missed out on pre-orders.