Christian Yan is looking to the future with plans to launch new and exciting innovations in 2018. His efficient lighting business, Nanoleaf is set to expand and “revolutionize the way we illuminate the world.”
What’s your story?
My name is Christian Yan, Chief Officer of Operations at Nanoleaf. I was born in China, later immigrating to Toronto, Canada where I grew up. There, I attended the University of Toronto to study electrical engineering. At UofT, I discovered my passion for sustainability and green technology, as I worked to develop a solar car with my best friends Gimmy Chu and Tom Rodinger.
Following graduation, I flew back to China to support my family’s business that grew from a trading company to a full fledged manufacturer of high-end bathroom appliances. I managed our top accounts and oversaw the operation and management of 200 factory employees. It was these crucial first years in China where I gained a solid understanding of operations, supply chain logistics and doing business in China.
2012 presented the opportunity to start a company with my two aforementioned colleagues. Tom’s idea of building an ultra efficient light bulb, as a way to leverage technology to address the environmental crisis reunited Gimmy and I to start prototyping the “Nanolight”. In 2013, we debuted our Kickstarter campaign as “the world’s most energy efficient light bulb” and received immense community backing, smashing our $20,000 goal by 13x fold, garnering media and VC attention alike. Upon receiving initial funding, we have since released 6 fully certified products to revolutionize the way we illuminate our world and crossed into the realm of consumer electronics.
Our classic series bulbs are supremely efficient and brilliantly designed bulbs that set the standard in lighting quality
Our smarter series includes the Nanoleaf Ivy – an ultra efficient smart bulb that can be controlled with your voice through Siri or Amazon Alexa. Our newest product – the Aurora, is a set of nine triangular shaped panels that can be illuminated to the tune of 16.8 million colors through your smartphone. Both products are compatible with Apple HomeKit.
Right now our focus is preparing for a busy last quarter in terms of maximizing sales while preparing the launch of new and exciting innovations in store for 2018.
What excites you most about your industry?
The competition of the industry. Smart lighting is projected to be worth $47.1B USD globally by 2020 and the door is wide open for competition. While industry giants like Philips and Cree have garnered most of the attention, the agility and steadfast commitment of our small team has caused significant disruption in their market for them to take notice. Despite our brief history, our efficiency standards are unparalleled, design unmatched and innovative approach to problems a staple part of our culture. We are proud to be the smallest and youngest company that Apple is partnered with on their Apple Homekit Platform.
What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Tianjin, China and moved to Toronto, Canada with my parents when I was 6. After graduating uni, I moved to Hong Kong to help out with the family business. For the last 10 years and most of my adult working life, I’ve been living, working, and travelling throughout China and southeast Asia. Thanks to my parents’ influence, I am able to speak Mandarin with native-like fluency even though English is undoubtedly my mother tongue. Language proficiency along with an intuitive understanding of both cultures has been critical in bridging the gap between my Chinese and Canadian associates, customers and investors.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hong Kong is an international city and financial hub of Asia with lower regulations and close proximity to China. There is a culture of speed and efficiency that can be witnessed at every level of customer service and business. English is an official language which is an oasis for any western foreigner visiting or working in Asia.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work. – Gustave Flaubert
Who inspires you?
I am proud of our small but elite team of performers and they inspire me on a day to day basis not just to do more, but be better, stronger, smarter, and faster in business and life.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Recently there seems to be a lot of talk about how “hardware is hard.” I hate when people complain about how “hardware is hard”. Hardware is hard because people don’t take the time to understand their product and customers. Hardware is hard if you are not willing to engage with the local suppliers and get your hands dirty to make sure things work properly. People underestimate what it takes to run a successful company and then wonder why companies like Jawbone and Pebble go belly up, both of which did an amazing job at the beginning but could not sustain.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
In reference to my uni career, I would have done more practical hands on projects instead of theory and books.
How do you unwind?
As a business owner, improving the company is always on my mind. I enjoy networking and meeting like-minded entrepreneurs as a fun and natural way to continuously learn and unwind in an informal setting. Evenings and weekends are committed to spending quality time with my fiance, our new puppy, and dragon boat practice. I recognize the importance of adequate sleep, regular exercise, and a healthy diet and manage my social life around those parameters in order to maintain more than just an image of success but to fuel my body to be at my best.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I have been going to Phuket (South East Asia in general) quite often in the last two years for diving. Sometimes people in Shenzhen and Hong Kong forget how lucky we are geographically. We have such quick access (and cheap flights) to some of the most beautiful places in the world. Going to these places once a while allows me to get some perspective in life by observing how people in those countries live and are happy with their lives. It really makes me wonder, what are we doing all of this for?
Everyone in business should read this book:
The Big Pivot
Shameless plug for your business:
The Nanoleaf Aurora is on display and being sold at the Museum of Modern Arts (MoMa) in NYC, SF, and Tokyo. The Aurora is also featured in over 800 Best Buy stores throughout North America and over 100 Apple Stores Worldwide. We have also partnered up with local distributors in 40 countries! Look for us a Apple Store near you or check out our webstore on how you can get your hands on a set of Nanoleaf Aurora panels!
How can people connect with you?
E-mail: [email protected]
WeChat ID: christian_yan28
This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:
Callum Laing invests and buys small businesses in a range of industries around Asia. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is the founder & owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 12 countries. He is a Director of, amongst others, Key Person of Influence. A 40 week training program for business owners and executives.
Take the ‘Key Person of Influence’ scorecard <http://www.keypersonofinfluence.com/scorecard/>