Sean Darras, a Trajectify client and CEO of LUXTECH, a young, innovative LED lighting company in Old City, sat down for an interview with Mike Krupit during Trajectify Live. Sean founded the company in 2012 after reading reports on technologies with the greatest potential for carbon abatement. LED lighting topped the list, and over the last 6 years he has filled the company with people who care about the good of the company, the environment, and each person the products touch. The company has had impressive growth, and each quarter brings a new series of challenges for the team to learn from and conquer. In the Trajectify Live interview, Sean and Mike walked through some of the lessons learned in each phase.
The first step for the company, which was only Sean in the beginning, was to get a sale. Sean said, “A lot of entrepreneurs start with a big vision to conquer the world. I just wanted to figure out what to do to get one sale … because then you’ve created 70% of the business.” He focused on getting revenue to validate LED modules as a viable avenue for impact entrepreneurship.
Rather than risking his life savings or involving investors immediately, Sean chose to take small, measurable risks so that the downside of failure would always be manageable. For example, Sean’s wife’s income allowed him to focus all his time on building the company. They bootstrapped the company and agreed to give the business at least a year of experimentation, so even in the worst case scenario they would’ve faced minimal losses.
“By taking small steps, I wasn’t that fearful,” Sean commented. Bootstrapping and de-risking allowed him to avoid the fear and risk that can dissuade others from starting a business.
After validating the concept with early sales, Sean eventually generated enough demand that he could no longer process the orders by himself. Since every department needed to be addressed by only two people, the first hire was a generalist. Each subsequent hire became more specialized to help round out the team and fill in gaps of expertise.
A structural shift toward more formalized meetings and management occurred after first 5-6 employees had joined. Sean noted that CEOs face new and uncertain tasks every day, which can be intimidating. Sean advice for mastering those tasks is to dive in head first with the understanding that you can improve on each subsequent attempt. Today, that philosophy is incorporated as “Learn Quickly” into LUXTECH’s core values.
Building the Team
Sean carefully built out a Board of Directors and an executive team to take on the tasks of each department. Identifying experts can be difficult - resumes and personality traits can be dazzling, but it is better to look for evidence of what someone has actually done to determine fit with a potential hire or partner. One way to do this is to try a test run on a small project, or engage a candidate as a consultant. When asked how he built such a solid team, Sean credited networking referrals and organizations such as Philly Startup Leaders and Venture for America, which connects recent college graduates from top schools with startups in cities like Philadelphia.
Mike inquired whether Sean feels closer today to his vision for social and environmental impact, met with an enthusiastic yes.
By focusing on the mission and vision of social good early on, the company has succeeded in attracting employees who care, creating a strong, healthy culture, and contributed to carbon abatement by accelerating the adoption of LED lighting.
We are thrilled to have Amy Scheel, Director of Marketing at LUXTECH, writing this for Trajectify.