Xianyi: How His Startup d.light Raised Over US$20M
This interview with Xianyi Wu, founders of d.light, was conducted and condensed by EntrepreneurHK.
Xianyi is a co-founder of d.light, a for-profit social enterprise that has served over 30 million people who live without reliable electricity. d.light designs and produces solar light and power products for the 2 billion people who live without access to reliable electricity around the world. The lights provide a clean, safe, affordable alternative to kerosene as a light source. d.light has sold lights in over 40 countries through 10,000 retail outlets, has offset over 2 million tons of carbon dioxide, and provided almost 8 million school children with reading light.
Were you doing entrepreneurial things when you were younger?
Actually, growing up in Singapore, I was not exposed to entrepreneurship much. My Dad was in business for a while, but I come mostly from a family of teachers. It wasn’t until I got to silicon valley that I caught the start-up bug.
Do you have any mentors?
My mentors when I was younger were in the field of sports. I did a lot of running and triathlons when I was younger, that translated into discipline, perseverance, and tenacity when it came to starting a business.
What did you learned from them?
I feel the most important thing I got from my mentors was the importance of character in all that you do. More important than whether you win or lose, is how do you carry yourself in winning or losing. More important than the actual result is the process of getting to that stage, determining if you applied yourself to the best of your ability. That translates really well to entrepreneurship as well – the saying “1% inspiration, 99% perspiration” is so true.
Let’s talk about d.light. How did you came up with the idea?
I was a on missions trip in rural East Timor when I saw a boy who was badly burned on his face with an accident with a kerosene lantern. A few years later, I met my co-founders at a class at Stanford called “Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability”. We wanted to tackle the health and economic burdens that kerosene placed on families that lived off-grid. We decided after the class project that we had something that had a lot of potential, and decided to try and start-up a company.
What’s the ultimate goal?
There are 1.3 billion people around the world without access to reliable electricity. The goal is to tackle the energy poverty in these regions by applying technology, products and services to serve them. d.light isn’t driven just by profit, but also by the social and environmental impact that we make with our products.
Hardware startup requires relatively big upfront capital, how did you manage to get your business funded to test the idea?
The catalyst was a business plan competition from the venture firm DFJ. Through a miraculous event, we ended up joining the competition and winning it, and that was what enabled us to raise a seed round of USD1.6 million, which eventually became a USD4 million series A round.
Where did you found investors for bigger round of investment?
We kept mostly the same investors, but also took on a new major investor in later rounds.
Give us 5 practical tips for hardware startups that are looking for funding.
Don’t be afraid of rejection, learn to have a thick skin. Don’t just take any investment from anyone, ideally look for investors who are aligned with your vision. Prototypes speak louder than presentations. Having prototypes to show and tell are more compelling than a bunch of pictures.