THE LIGGI IS A NON-DETACHABLE BICYCLE LIGHT. IT IS BEAUTIFUL, CHEAP, WILL NOT GET STOLEN, DOES NOT GET LOST AND IS SOLD AFTER SUNSET. WE ARE MANUEL OOSTVEEN AND TELMEN DZJIND, WE DESIGNED THE LIGGI AND FOUNDED STUDIO HIKARI. The problem We all know that feeling, the “if only I had…” feeling. It goes something like this: you postpone buying a proper bicycle light and resort to the dirtcheap HEMA lights to save a quick buck. You park your bike at the station and forget to take them off in the hustle and bustle of trying to catch the train. A couple hours later, you return only to find they have been stolen by the next opportunistic student. By this time, the night has come and you cycle home without your lights, only to be stopped by the police to be fined for riding without lights. Paying a fee that you could have bought a dozen lights for. There you have it, if only I had … bought a proper bicycle light and saved the trouble once and for all. This is the story of how we tried to solve this problem.
IF YOU’RE TOO LAZY TO READ, THIS IS A STORY ABOUT TWO GUYS WHO SOLVED THE BICYCLE LIGHT PROBLEM. THEY CONVINCED ALBERT HEIJN TO SELL THE LIGGI AND LICENCED THE PRODUCT TO AXA. By Manuel Oostveen & Telmen Dzjind
Like all good things, the idea for the Liggi brewed from with a nice cup of coffee. We came up with the crazy idea of making a sticker bicycle light. After ordering a flexible battery from the US we made our first improvised prototypes to check the feasibility of an actual sticker/LED combination. Convinced that this would actually work as a concept we entered the New Venture competition. Since we had no experience whatsoever with getting a product to market we were unsure about the way to go and looked for guidance from a former tutor, Jaap Huijgen (Studio Kees). Although he was positive about our plans, this did not blossom into a partnership. We faced our first hurdle, but we were determined to jump over it, so we focused our efforts on improving the functionality of the Liggi. This spurred on a better re-design which most of the characteristics of the final product, mounting it similar to a zip tie with the use of button cell batteries.
Getting married Still convinced of going to Shenzhen and producing the Liggi ourselves we had our meeting with Albert Heijn in may 2012. Although the meeting went quite well, Albert Heijn did not believe two relatively young students would be able to cope with the enormous amount of work of getting the Liggi produced, assembled, packed, shipped and distributed to 500 Albert Heijn’s spread around Holland. And disappointed as we were, we actually agreed with him. The plan was to team up with another company that already sold products in the Albert Heijn and had connections in China to facilitate the production. A meeting was set up with Lemnis Lighting, a leading company in sustainable LED technology. Prior to the meeting with Lemnis we started working on a plan to gather enough funding for the first batch of Liggi’s. We entered a meeting of the “Investeerders Club” where we got a chance to pitch our idea and asked close family if they were interested in investing in our recently started company in exchange for equity. When finding investments turned out to be pretty hard we started to think about licensing the Liggi concept. After our meeting with Lemnis we were even more convinced of dropping the idea of actually setting up an entire brand. We had compared the advantages and disadvantages of a licensing and we decided to aim for a license deal. It would save us a lot money, valuable time and effort, while still enabling us to design our first real product and reaching our goal of getting the Liggi to market. This way we could focus on being designers and avoid becoming tangled in bureaucracy. We set off searching for companies we thought would be able to produce and distribute the Liggi at a large scale. Since we had estimated the playing field at 5 million consumers, we needed a big player to get to get a large market share. With Albert Heijn as a potential launching customer AXA Stenman was, against expectations, very willing to meet us. Together with AXA we started a go/no go path split up in three phases and a declaration of intent was signed. The three phases consisted of a global cost calculation, first prototyping and finally negotiations with Ahold. The cost calculation turned out positive and we were able to see first prototypes in january 2012.
The launching customer At this moment, naive as we where, we still wanted to travel to China, visit factories, set up production and distribution and become millionaires. We decided we wanted to sell the Liggi at Albert Heijn and saw this as an integral solution for the bicycle light issue. People often think of the need for bicycle lighting when it is nighttime, but this automatically means that all the stores that actually sell bicycle lights are closed. In our opinion the combination of Albert Heijn’s solid image and their late opening hours made them a perfect launching customer. When procrastinating during our study we found the courage to just give Ahold a call. After accidentally being forwarded to the category manager non-food, we got the chance to pitch the concept. His reaction was better than expected. We got the chance to send him a polished PDF file with a concept presentation after which we quickly received a phone call. This led to us being invited to the headquarters of Ahold in Zaandam. Because we were very anxious about our idea getting stolen we asked help from the valorisation centre at the IDE faculty (Bart Ashmann). They helped us out with a non-disclosure agreement which made us feel a lot more confident about sharing all the product details with other parties. On top of that, Bart gave us helpful advice whenever needed. In the meantime we participated in the Blue Dot design competition in april 2012. This turned out very well with our submission coming in at a convincing first place. Since the prize money at the time was quite generous, winning the competition gave us enough funding to experiment and prototype the Liggi the following year.
For strategic reasons we had kept Albert Heijn and AXA separate up until this point. And since the prototypes had turned out fine it was time to bring the two parties together. Being present at this meeting was a very special experience. We knew both parties as very friendly and easy to talk to but when the meeting started both parties transformed into fierce businessmen. Afterwards we had a small chat with our contact from AXA and we found out that although we thought the negotiations were pretty harsh, the opposite was true and things turned out pretty well. From this point on we hardly interfered with the end development of the Liggi and focused on the package design. We still visited AXA a couple of times to look at different possible materials and package concepts and when these decisions were made production was started.
Reminicing And now, two years after that small cup of coffee and a crazy discussion about bicycle light stickers we have finally reached our first goal and were able to design a real product and got it to market. We have learned a lot about persistency and not giving up, how it is like to work with huge multinationals, but most of all it gave us the chance to figure out this is exactly what we want to do when we finish our studies. We would like to share a few main lessons, on a side note, they are somewhat cliche but very true. Guess you’ll realize it by doing it.