In case anyone is wondering, I've seen this competitor. I don't have any strong opinions yet.
Lumenators are very bright lamps (>20k lumen) that are fairly commonplace in the rationality and effective altruism community. Currently, all lumenators are constructed by individuals, at significant time and cost. However, this appears inefficient, and specialization would probably reduce the cost of lumenators and increase their quality.
This untapped opportunity was noticed four years ago already, but hasn't yet been taken: While therapy lamps exist, they are not as bright as lumenators (delivering ~10k lux only if one sits directly in front of them), and people who do not experience seasonal affective disorder do not tend to use them. Given that quite a number of people have built lumenators themselves, I assume there is a much larger contingent of people who would like to have one but don't have the time to.
My plan is to build a bright home lighting company, selling lumenators (>20k lumen, 90%+ CRI, price <$500) initially to individuals, possibly branching out to businesses later.
The customers would be mostly upper-middle class people who are interested in well-being and technology. The raw materials for a lumenator built by a hobbyist fluctuate from ~$250-$400, which would enable a $50-$100 profit per unit sold. Assuming there are ~10 cities in the European Union and North America¹ with ~10k individuals each who would purchase a lumenator, this would give $5mio. to $10mio. in total profit.
To work on this for half a year, I would probably spend ~3k€ on food and health insurance and ~4.5k€ on money for prototype materials, legal fees etc, totaling ~7.5k€. I am applying for 5k€, supplying 2.5k€ of my own savings.
I would at the end of each month evaluate how much progress has been made, terminating the project and returning the money left if I decided that this was not a good idea anymore, spending my own money "first".
1. month: Build & compare several prototypes, discovering bulbs/LEDs, sockets, dimming that work best. Review scientific literature on bright lighting and mental health benefits.
2. month: Set up basic legal infrastructure. Likely more legal work around liability.
3. month: Figure out shipping within the EU and to the US. Set up website, payment, ordering infrastructure.
4. month: Limited announcement of the company², get pre-orders for first version.
5. month: Create more refined second version, set up medium-scale production.
6. month: Large-scale advertising³. Achieve profitability.
After achieving profitability, I would continue working on further iterations of the product, running studies with participants etc.
Most likely, these steps would not be performed in this exact order one after another, but more interwoven.
I am a signatory of the Giving What We Can pledge, so 10% of the profits would be donated to effective organisations⁴, which in the basic scenario outlined above would be ~$500k - $1m. In the 90th percentile success, I would also start selling lumenators to businesses which care about mental health and productivity and are able to measure it, such as packaging centers, hospitals etc, returning large profits.
It seems like very bright lighting has noticeable health benefits (see Sandkühler et al. 2021). Quantifying these benefits is outside of the scope of this proposal, but I hope to be able to do such an estimate. I also hope to be able to run (non-blinded) RCTs with willing participants who might receive the lumenator later, but at a discount are willing to provide experience sampling data of mood & productivity.
Such RCTs would be necessary to provide enough evidence to convince businesses that a lumenator is worth investing in.
Finally, having a profitable company would make me financially independent, and allow me to pursue more ambitious projects in forecasting research and AI alignment. This would be especially relevant if the company turned out to be profitable, but the ceiling of profits that could be achieved were relatively low, so that it would make more sense of me to then act as a "free agent" while spending ~5-10h/week keeping the company running.
If the startup failed, the experience gained from starting an organisation might still be useful when considering starting other organisations, unless I'd have decided that I was not cut out to run organisations.
This would be my first startup, and I have little experience building physical products, my background being in computer science. I estimate a 25%-30% probability that the company would be profitable after 6 months, with most of the failure scenarios coming from worlds in which I discover that I don't have the conscientiousness to run a business, existing products already filling the niche, and from legal barriers around shipping and liability being too big. In this case, the money from the grant would be lost, although I would then continue to go on and still donate the money committed through my GWWC membership (signed as "Isidor Regenfuß").
I do not see any other risks.
In the counterfactual, my plan looks something like this:
Apply to an LTFF grant for elaborating on the consequences of my (AI-alignment related) thesis work/distilling what I've found out.
Finish a previously started project related to forecasting (potentially apply to a grant for that).
Apply to SERI MATS in some stream that is related to agent foundations (will give me info whether I'm suited for alignment research).
Get 80k hours career coaching.
Apply to the Forecasting research institute, Convergence Analysis and Aligned AI (all three related to personal research).
Apply to alignment related research engineer positions (using e.g. the 80k job board).
Apply to regular software engineering/data science jobs (default back to earning-to-give-a-bit, i.e. 10%).
Try to get any job whatsoever (default back to earning-to-give-a-bit, i.e. 10%).
I believe that most of the outcomes in those worlds would be less impactful than a successful lumenator startup. Especially further down the list of options, I believe that most of my impact would come from hobby projects I would be working on in my free time.
¹: E.g. London, New York, Dallas, Bay Area, Berlin, Houston, Paris, Sydney, Los Angeles, Chicago, with a total of 88.81 mio. inhabitants, so 100k would be ~0.1%.
²: On LessWrong, perhaps other related communities where bright lighting is an accepted intervention.
³: Hacker News, subreddits for people with seasonal affective disorder,other social media.
⁴: My past donations have split my donations 50%-50% between the LTFF and the Animal Welfare fund.
5 days ago
I built my own high-illumination system and would have loved to have a high-quality product to buy at the time. I'd be even more excited about this project if there were someone with hardware startup/business experience on board. I also think the timelines could be more ambitious, especially if the first prototypes are just pre-assembled kits of existing components. 2 months of legal work and setting up an online shop is quite long.
10 days ago
This is an interesting idea, you've gotten some very good feedback already that you should take seriously. I'm a hardware engineer at a startup and run a small electronics business on the side. If you've never shipped hardware before, it's way harder than you think, but I still think if it's your best personal fit then hardware startups are underrated avenues for impact. I'm happy to chat and help in any way I can.
about 1 month ago
Funding this. I like the lumenator part, but I particularly like the more ambitious life trajectory point.
On your application, you mention:
returning the money left if I decided that this was not a good idea anymore
Please consider not doing this; rather, please either pivot to a better opportunity or keep it until a good opportunity arises.
about 2 months ago
Could you say a bit more about why this beats your counterfactual?
For 1 & 2, I have done similar things in the past and their impact looks very limited at best, and especially the AI alignment things I'd be doing would have a pretty big theory-practice gap that seems really hard to cross.
Having met a bunch of SERI MATS scholars and people who barely did/didn't get in, I think I don't quite get to their level of technical competence.
4 is more a statement of "get more information on what plan to pursue", which I can do in any scenario.
On 5 & 6 I believe that I'd be way more replaceable than if I started the lumenator company, my intuition is that people have a bias towards joining existing organisations rather than starting new ones.
7 onwards appear obviously inferior to me in terms of ambition/impact,
but I can elaborate if this is not clear.
In general, if I succeed in following through with this project, it looks to me like there are at least three classes of success:
Steady small profit: The startup succeeds but doesn't return enough profit to support me full-time, but enough to keep it running on the side. In this case I could go on to pursue the other options.
Steady medium profit: After some years, the company generates enough profit to support me (and some more beyond that), but having plateaued, and can be maintained with below-full-time effort. In this case I would be free to pursue projects that I evaluate as being valuable in the rest of the time.
Full-time with medium-large profit: This would be the standard entrepreneurship-to-give scenario, in which the startup generates enough profit and grows enough to justify me spending my full time on it, and donating the money to support good altruistic projects.
I expect there to be some path-dependence here, that if I pursue any of the options in the counterfactual I'll very likely not try to start the company (out of complacency/comfort), but if I start the company I am okay with going back to the rest of the plan.
about 2 months ago
Hi Adrian! Thanks for submitting this proposal. I'm not actually sure why people are downvoting you -- I do think this kind of project idea is pretty cool, and I would love to see & fund examples of "good rationalist ideas actually making it into production".
That said, in startups, the mantra is "ideas are cheap, execution is everything". To that end, I'd be unsure as a funder if you'd be able to spin up a business around this. A few things:
It seems like you haven't built a lumenator before? I'd suggest trying this just as a proof point of "yes I actually can make & enjoy making hardware"
Validate demand for lumenators! Just because a bunch of EA people have said nice things about them doesn't mean that they would actually buy them; or that the audience extends beyond EA. Before committing to this, see if you can eg pre-sell 10 lumenators to people willing to put down $100 today for a $200 discount on delivery.
The "Tesla Roadster" strategy could make sense here -- even if your goal is to get them <$500 for mass market, to start with you might sell bespoke custom lumenators at $2k to the rich rationalist folks first.
Stop worrying about legal issues, 99.9% of the time this project fails because you can't build lumenators cheaply enough or you fail to find demand.
If you haven't run any kind of side project before, I might start with software -- much cheaper to try and release things, so you learn about the other sides of entrepreneurship (marketing, selling, customer support, biz processes) much faster
Find a cofounder? I'm less sure about this one, but it's standard YC advice, and in my experience projects done in teams have a way of going much farther than projects done solo.
If you actually succeed on 1 & 2, that would be a major update for me towards wanting to invest in your company -- I'd probably invest $10k, at least. Some resources for you:
Thanks for the feedback, Austin! These are very good points and I feel embarassed that I didn't make them clearer (and in the case of 2. hadn't thought through on it).
Having done some low-stakes iteration before writing anything about it publicly would have been a wiser decision.
1. I have not, and I should've at the least made that clear in the proposal, or waited until I'd built one and then posted it. This was my biggest point of hesitance in posting this, and in retrospect I should've just gotten some hands-on experience first.
2. Good point. I hadn't considered the pre-selling with discount.
1. My model here is that a surprising number of people have built lumenators themselves, resulting in a sort-of-shitty product at some significant time investment (a friend of mine spent ~5 hours researching the right materials before buying), and extrapolating from how many people get filtered out by trivial inconveniences
2. The "Tesla Roadster" strategy is kind of hindered by the existence of Coelux and InnerScene, which sell expensive lumenator-like lamps. Their stuff is expensive enough that they even don't list it in their catalogue or on their website, but this website says it costs ~$40k and someone from InnerScene also states that their product is about as expensive as the Coelux product, and their lamps are a bit too dim (I've seen up to 6k lumen), so it could be possible to slot below them on the price scale.
3. Okay, good to know.
4. I guess I just don't feel motivated to do software, outside of a dayjob? And there's no thing I want to make that could also generate profit?
1. I haven't run any side projects that generate profit before. (I have run a number of side projects, some of which have involved making physical things).
5. I would really like to have a cofounder. I'm in contact with two people, but think both are unlikely (<25%) to join in. Given how much I'd like to have a cofounder I should invest much more work in finding someone.
Wow, that's a strong vote of confidence! Both 1. and 2. look like I can just do them in <2 weeks at low cost, so I'll do them and report back.