Buying Lights.com was a Bright IdeaMike Sullivan
Drawing from her experience working in design and lighting, Lights.com co-founder, Sheva Knopfler had a thought: buying well-designed, well-crafted lighting should not be nearly as complicated or expensive as it is. In the age of the internet, why are we buying four-figure chandeliers from pushy salespeople in a showroom? Instead, why not provide outstanding value by offering thoughtfully-designed goods directly to our customers?
Sheva’s husband, David, joined her in this vision, bringing to the table his expertise in marketing and business development. They cultivated a team of people, not only knowledgeable about lighting, but also well-versed in art, fashion, technology, and interior design, lending outside perspectives on what a lighting company can and should be. Together, they are striving to surpass industry norms and to discover new ways to offer their customers exceptional product and exceptional service.
Mike: Tell me a little bit about how David and Sheva decided to launch Lights.com?
Josh: Sheva, one of our co-founders, had been working in the lighting industry for several years and realized there was a huge gap in the market for well-designed, responsibly sourced and fairly priced lighting. The only options at that time were either mass-produced, poor quality or ridiculously expensive. She realized this better option could be accomplished by avoiding the traditional showroom model and selling directly to the customer online, and so Lights.com was born.
Mike: What has the growth been like over the past five years since they began?
Growth has been continuous. We certainly share challenging moments that come with the kind of expansion one sees in a small business, especially in a dynamic consumer goods industry. The challenge is staying ahead of consumer demands and updating product lines, while maintaining a tight supply chain that is uncompromising in both quality and design. At the same time, we ensure that our customers have access to our full line of lighting products at fair prices. We invest in quality and are proud of the outcome.
Mike: How did they acquire the name? Can you tell us the cost?
Josh: When we were a pretty small company, we received an email late one night from a domain broker who offered to sell us the name, Lights.com. It was a chance for Ambient Lighting to have the kind of reach and growth that would let us expand in a way that competes in a global sense.
David’s real estate background taught him to always say yes to a good deal and figure out finances later. This is what he did. Although it proved much harder to finance a domain name than real estate. The deal included an NDA so we’re unable disclose the price but we paid a good sum. It turned out to be a great investment.
Mike: You play an important role in the company as Marketing Director. Can you tell us more about your role?
Josh: I oversee the team here that manages all of the marketing for Lights.com. We currently focus heavily on digital channels, primarily social media advertising, SEM, SEO and email. As an online-only business, the performance of our website is deeply intertwined with our marketing results, so I lead all update and optimization projects, working with our designers and developers to make sure our site experience is the best it can be.
Mike: What challenges or benefits have you found in running an online business? Is it harder than most people think?
Josh: The most challenging aspect is that the challenges are constantly evolving. You will see another retailer (or ten) pop up that uses your exact value prop, with similar products, for the same price or less. Amazon continues to dominate e-commerce more and more and pull customers away from independent retailers. The barriers to entry to start an online business continue to get lower and, while a positive in many ways, this has cluttered the marketplace and driven up costs across advertising channels. It requires being more creative to get in front of the correct audience than it did even 2 years ago.
Mike: How many employees does it take to keep the “lights” on in a business like lights.com?
Josh: We have 17 people in our NYC office and 8 in our Los Angeles warehouse.
Mike: What role has the key word domain name played in the companies success?
Josh: Aside from receiving some traffic from people optimistically navigating directly to our website, I believe having a domain like Lights.com offers an air of legitimacy to the brand that would be harder to develop otherwise. The only downside is that because of how broad the name is, it takes extra effort to identify and communicate a strong brand personality.
Mike: What type of traffic do you see from people strictly typing in the domain name?
Josh: Metrics for this are tough to measure but anecdotally I’ve heard from customers who have found us this way. They’re typically a little less tech-savvy and may not be aware of the other methods for surfacing the products they’re interested in finding. They may also just be curious, and then we enjoy pleasantly surprising them!