[INTERVIEW] Lumir, out to light the world
[THE INVESTOR] A trip to India in 2014 was a turning point for Lumir founder and CEO Park Je-hwan.
After experiencing several blackouts there, Park -- an electronic engineering major who had grown up without having to think about power outages -- decided to try and come up with a solution.
His first product was a candle-powered light-emitting diode lamp, later named Lumir C.
In a recent interview with The Investor, Park said he had not started out to set up a startup. But he soon realized that he would need to build a sustainable business in order to reach more people. Therefore, Lumir, a portmanteau of the Latin “lumi” meaning light and “mir” meaning world in Russian, was established in December 2014.
Lumir CEO Park Je-hwan with Lumir K
Lumir C was a surprise hit in advanced countries, including the US and Japan. When it hit crowdfunding platform Kickstarter in 2016, the firm raised US$134,000, backed by more than 1,000 people from 56 countries.
But the product was not cheap, due to its design, materials and engineering. At a price of US$80, it was not affordable for developing countries, which was Lumir’s target market.
So Park developed Lumir K, a lamp running on cooking oil -- which is a much cheaper and efficient alternative to kerosene -- for a fraction of the price of Lumir C.
He chose Indonesia as the first market to launch Lumir K last year.
“Indonesia’s electricity shortage problem is especially severe because the country is made up of thousands of islands that are separated from each other, making it difficult to build large power plants that can reach all areas,” he said. “Lumir K can go in and light the area.”
“Indonesia, with rapid growth, is also a market where we can market both Lumir K and the pricier Lumir C, which is ideal for more developed cities like Jakarta,” he added.
Despite its initial success, Lumir has just begun its journey. “There’s a long way to go. We would like to get more impact investments in the future who understand our mission,” Park said. “Ultimately, we would like to become a good brand that comes to mind when people think of lighting.”
Following is an excerpt from the interview.
The Investor: How did you come to establish Lumir?
Park: When I was traveling in India in college, I experienced multiple power blackouts. I was never really exposed to power outages before, so they took me by surprise. After returning to Korea from the trip, I wanted to make a product to solve the problem. I made the prototype during an entrepreneurship class at school and received many grants and awards to follow up. After creating the final product, I realized in order to make the product available to as many people as possible, I needed to come up with a sustainable business model. So I established Lumir in 2014.
TI: What are your key products, and are there any other models in your lineup?
Park: We have three products so far. Lumir C is the LED lamp powered by a candle, without any external power supply. It was first launched through Kickstarter in 2016 with a retail price of U$80.
Lumir K uses more affordable cooking oil. The product, launched in early 2017, is priced at US$20 and is mostly distributed through NGOs, companies and government organizations.
Lumir S is our latest design. It’s a glass table lamp powered by USB or a regular power source. The lamp, priced at around US$70, resembles a lighthouse. Using some of the proceeds from Lumir S, we have donated the Lumir K in Indonesia.
We are planning to launch a decorative light bulb product around June this year in Japan, where the demand for home decor and lighting is high.
TI: Where do you manufacture your products?
Park: We are producing in both Korea and China, working with local partners. In the future, we would like to build the Lumir K product in Indonesia, as that will help reach the market easier and faster, while creating more jobs in the area.
TI: How many team members do you have?
Park: We have 11, including myself, and two local employees in Indonesia.
TI: What kind of support did you receive from KOICA’s CTS program?
Park: In 2017, we were selected by KOICA’s startup acceleration program CTS and received an award of 300 million won (US$276,450). Besides the seed money, we have received mentoring and networking opportunities through KOICA’s global offices, including Indonesia.
Lumir K distributed in Indonesia