On this episode of The Art of the Kickstart podcast, we’ll be talking to Alan VanToai, founder of Lumira. Lumira is a future fashion brand that creates wearable art inspired by music festival rave and Burning Man communities. Their flagship product, the LED infinity mirror cat ears, is launching on May 1st and redefining high-end festival fashion. Join us as we learn more about Alan’s vision for Lumira and how he’s using fashion and technology to create something truly unique.
Short on time? Here’s what we talked about.
- Lumira’s origin story.
- What inspired Alan to be an entrepreneur.
- Lumira’s mission, values and vision (fun, play, and connection).
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Welcome entrepreneurs and startups to Art of the Kickstart, the show that every entrepreneur needs to listen to before you launch. I’m your host, Roy Morejon, president and founder of Enventys Partners, the world’s only turnkey product launch company.
From product development and engineering to omnichannel marketing, we’ve helped our clients launch thousands of inventions and earned more than $1 billion in sales over the past 20 years. Each week, I interview a startup success story, an inspirational entrepreneur, or a business expert in order to help you take your launch to the next level.
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Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today, I am super stoked because I am speaking with the co-founder of Lumira, Mr. Alan VanToai. He has created an amazing product that I’m super excited to show with my audience. So without further ado, Alan, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.
My pleasure, Roy. Thank you so much for having me.
Absolutely. So I’m really stoked to have you on the show because I think this product is just amazing, and I think the process that you’ve gone through to get to this point is amazing. So without further ado, give our audience the elevator pitch on your product.
Yeah, my pleasure. We’re building a future fashion brand called Lumira, and we’re building… It’s actually wearable art, inspired by the music festival rave and Burning Man communities. This Monday, May 1st, we’re launching our first flagship product and there’re these LED infinity mirror cat years. I think it’s a lot of light here, so you can’t really see the light coming through it, some glare, but you can imagine these are essentially defining a new category of these high end festival fashion and wearable accessories essentially.
So this will go live on Monday this week. So I believe we’ll be live by the time this podcast is published, and we’re super excited to be launching it in partnership with you guys. Yeah.
Amazing. So Alan, what led you into this product and this innovation, right? This is a really cool accessory for the folks that are going to these shows and maybe all the other opportunities for people to unleash their inner party animal, right? And shine their light on the world, which I love. What led you to solving this problem and has it changed over the months or years of coming up with this innovation?
Yeah, yeah, thank you for the question. I can tell my story and my journey into meeting Steve, the artist and engineer who created the first prototypes. Steve has his own story as well, which I can even give some sense of. And then we connected fall last year, so at Burning Man, August 2022. And then I’ve been working on this for the last six months.
But real quick, I’ll just give my story arc over the last few years that led to my meeting Steve. Essentially, my background is as an entrepreneur, I’ve been building software businesses since college. I built and sold three software businesses, got into crypto five years ago, had success in crypto as a contributor to a decentralized exchange ecosystem, and I always loved the work that I was doing there.
But in early 2022, early last year, I found that I was disconnected from the mission initial purpose that originally led me to that work. And especially as the crypto markets turn and tumbled, I found myself super burnt out and again, really disconnected from the purpose and the mission. I basically went on sabbatical at the beginning of last year. I unplugged from my previous projects and had the luxury of going on a several month sabbatical during which I went back to music festivals and raves.
I’d gone to my first festival when I was 16 years old and I just never stopped. They’ve always been a big part of my life. I’ve gone to hundreds at this point. And last year amidst my sabbatical, I focused on my wellness, my self-development, my community, my friends, my family, and then fun and play going out to these festivals and raves. And while doing so, I asked myself what I was actually getting from them. I was bringing inquiry to what are the values that these festivals and raves are bringing into my life? And I labeled them. I identify them as fun, connection and inspiration. That’s what I was getting from festivals.
And I realized whatever I did next, I really wanted to be associated with bringing more of those values into my community and into the world. And so, I carried that inquiry around for most of the year last year. And I wanted to find something that was, again, fun, bringing fun connection and inspiration, but also had real potential as a business and as a brand. And I was asking that question throughout the year until Burning Man, last August. And if folks are familiar, Burning Man is just the granddaddy of festivals, if you can even really call it a festival. It’s this week long community art experience in the desert outside Reno, Nevada, and some of the most incredible art music thinkers, talks, workshops from around the world congregate in this temporary city in the desert.
And it was at Burning Man where I ran into a guy named Steve who had this incredible 3D printed mushroom LED infinity mirror lantern on a stick, basically a totem. It blew my mind. It was one of the most incredible art pieces that I’d seen that week. We traded contact info originally for me just to potentially buy some of his work off of him. And in talking to him in the weeks after Burning Man, I found that he actually didn’t have a business built around it. He was doing one-off commission pieces and just getting by on commission work.
And I came to him with the idea. I was like, “This art is so incredible. We could build something here that really has impact in bringing this to more people.” And he obliged, that was October last year, so maybe six months as of this podcast. We picked the cat ears, one of his prototype cat ears as the first product to bring to production, bring to the market, and had been on that journey for the last five, six months together. He recently moved to Austin where I’m based to be closer to me as we build this together and we’re all in, and we’re super excited about the future. So yeah, that’s the journey and the arc that led to discovering Steve and his work, and then building this business together.
Amazing. So how’d you come up with the name for the product?
Oh my goodness. It took two months to come up with Lumira essentially. And it’s so important. I’ve built business tools in the past that were relatively easy for me to name because I just combined two words in the related market together. And it was SimpleCrew, TeleFuel, CrewFire. There’s a relatively easy format that worked for business tools. But for a consumer product, it was so important to us to have something that was sexy, that was catchy and memorable, that was on brand for what we wanted to create in the world that you could really imagine being…
We’re not just a consumer brand, we’re also fashion, right? We’re fashion accessories. So it had to feel like sexy and attractive in the way that a fashion brand would feel. And then it had to be available, which is a whole another thing. So for any name that you might think of, check the US Patent and Trademark Office, uspto.gov, and you might find that, for example, the name Lumia, which was our first love, had 16 trademarks out on it, including Microsoft’s phone. So can’t touch that.
And so, we brainstormed and brainstormed some of the ingredients that now make up the name. As you can see, lumen is Latin for light, and then Mira is Spanish for to look or to see, and also references mirrors, which are a staple in a lot of Steve’s art. And so, it took literally over the course of a month and a half, two months, we just brainstormed hundreds and hundreds of names. We used tools like Wordoid or Lean Domain Search.
We workshopped it with friends, we had brainstorming sessions, and we just came up with all sorts of permutations and eventually Lumira jumped out at us among… We picked top five, we did an Instagram poll to our community, and the community voted for Lumira as first. And today it feels really, really right. So we’re really happy with the outcome there.
Absolutely. I love the process there, right? You’re already involving the crown, the community in this process, just with the naming it alone. And I think it’s just a testament to you as a founder with Steve really one, capturing the audience and the community that you’ve built after years and years of attending these events, but knowing what the consumers are looking for.
But this crowdfunding seems like this pure culmination of all of these efforts and building all of this community and trust that you’ve built and the community that you have to then hopefully come in and fund this campaign once it goes live, when this publishes.
So I’d love to know some of the things in terms of the forward fashion side of things in terms of how the uniqueness of this product, because nobody’s ever seen something like this. What are some of those unique elements that you guys have included in the product, and maybe just a taste of what you see the future look like?
Yeah. Oh my gosh, we could talk about this for hours. It’s just such a passionate interest of ours now, now that we’re in the space. And the key ingredients that we’re bringing together for the cat ears and for… We’re looking already ahead to next year’s catalog. I guess I could explain my thinking around building for the festival and Rave community this, there’s a lot of creative energy in that community, but we haven’t seen category defining large brands being built out of it yet. Not at least in the same way that you might look at the athletic apparel market or the sportswear market. In sports and athletics, there’s on the high end, you have obviously Nike, Adidas, Reebok, $40 billion, $50 billion I think in annual revenue. There’s insane numbers.
Yeah. Just little startups just trying to get by. And then you have this middle market, giant middle market, and you have things like Gym Shark doing $500 million a year, a lowest smaller than them. You have things like NOBULL coming out of the CrossFit community at, I believe somewhere, I don’t know, estimates around $50 million to $75 million a year.
And then you have a whole down market industry of dozens or hundreds of athleisure and athletic apparel brands that are doing eight figure, $10 million, $25 million, $50 million in revenue like Vitae Apparel and a bunch of others. To my eyes, I haven’t seen yet any of these iconic brands being built out of the festival and the rave and the Burner community. And so, I believe we have an opportunity here to create a really a category defining brand.
Some of the aspects that make our products unique is being built for nightlife. We’re bringing lighting into these wearables, things like LEDs, a lot of LED work. Obviously for our first products here, we have what are called infinity mirrors, which if people can go to our website and take a look at getlumira.com, you can see the effect.
It’s akin to if you’re ever at the barbershop and they give you the hand mirror to look at your face and you can see down the reflection of the mirror behind you and you get this infinity effect, it creates this portal to infinity is really the only way I can describe it. And it turns out that when you combine that with LEDs around the perimeter of the infinity mirror, you really capture something special.
Most people have never quite seen anything like this before in a wearable, certainly, let alone there are pieces like home decor or wall fixtures that utilize this technology and this art. And so we’re taking this art and bringing it into first things like cat ears, and eventually we can bring it into things like bags or backpacks, hats. We can bring LEDs into things like harnesses or holsters that people wear commonly at festivals.
And in general, the way that we think about creating what products we want to create. There are a lot of accessories and toys that include lights that are being taken to festivals and raves, and a lot of that’s been done. We want to do things that have never been done before, and then to a level of polish is really what we’re looking for. So if you take a look at what’s coming here with these cat ears, like this is a design prototype, so this is hard plastic, but this is going to be silicone rubber in the production model.
You can see this is going to be a single injection molded piece, and it has really the aesthetic and the polish that you might look at. Honestly, it’s a cliche, but an Apple product is a major inspiration for us. Bringing that degree of polish, integrity and artistic talent into the work through Steve’s vision. I can’t give enough credit to Steve Galle, my partner, that I think will set us apart from the earlier entrance that have experimented in this space, but then also bringing production scale and a degree of investment and marketing, brand and distribution that I believe will let us create and define a new category.
Yeah. Speaking of that investment into the brand, the marketing, I know you touched on it earlier in terms of the naming convention, and again, this has been six months in the making. So for a lot of the hardware founders out there, this is record speed, light speed of you guys being able to go from one prototype to innovation to name, to now getting the campaign ready and getting your community ready to go on day one when this thing launches.
So talk a little bit about to our community now, some of those steps that you’ve taken over the last months, last month, whatever it may be, to put the company and put this product in such a good position to make sure that this thing supersedes all of your goals on the Kickstarter launch, this forthcoming.
Yeah. Oh, man. If I had to think about the steps, first off, we already had, when I met Steve, the first functional prototype already existed. He was creating, and I have pairs of this in the other room, but these 3D printed and laser cut prototypes that he did himself. And if you can imagine, they’re just these three printed components that were hot glued or epoxied onto an Amazon headband. And so, they were functional, but in terms of the design polish and the finalize aesthetic, they weren’t quite there yet.
So the first thing we did was we found an industrial designer to help create what’s called a DFMA ready design, which is a design for manufacturing piece. And this is a design, it’s a 3D model that incorporates all the individual elements, and then a manufacturer can take those and create molds that can be no longer… We wouldn’t use 3D printing for our production ready model, but work with overseas manufacturer generally to create injection mold versions so that these can come off the line really quickly and consistently and lower cost. And in order to have that, we need this manufacturing ready design DFMA.
We also wanted to work with a electronics manufacturer or electronics designer to design a new control board what’s called a PCB, which is basically a little computer that controls all the logic and controls the lights, essentially the logic and the lights in the prototypes we were using off the shelf components. And then for the production version, we create and design a custom PCB so that we can make it smaller exactly to our specs.
After we had the PCB and the production ready design, we wanted to find, you can either try and use Alibaba or some other marketplaces to connect with an overseas manufacturer, or in our case, we used a supply chain partner who were super happy with they’re called Bright Ideas Supply Chain Solutions. I also know that Enventys does also have their manufacturing and supply chain. They’re sourcing division as well, and definitely a great option for people to check out.
And so that’s on the product side. The last six months have been going from functional prototype to DFMA, designed for manufacturing to working with our supply chain partner to get source all of these different ingredients together to make the final component and the final piece. That’s on the product side.
And then on the marketing side, there are some things that we wanted to handle in-house, like our logo, our brand identity, our communications, our marketing, and our messaging strategy. That all happens in-house. But then for our Kickstarter, it occurred to us two things. One is there’s so much that happens in a Kickstarter. We could talk more about that. There’s so much that goes into making an effective Kickstarter, and because a lot of that, we’re not going to do that many Kickstarters every year. It’s not the kind of thing that we want to build. We necessarily need to do the research and build all of those capabilities in-house.
It occurred to us that we want to work with a best in class agency and a best in class service provider who we can partner with to execute those deliverables for the Kickstarter side. We talked to two different agencies and two different kind of freelance contract service providers, and among those of course was Enventys. And just through talking with your head of business [inaudible 00:18:42] and getting a sense for the processes, the case studies, the success that you guys have had over 5,000 Kickstarter projects you’ve collaborated with on now. We felt super solid and secure in going with you guys.
I believe we signed that deal maybe six, eight weeks ago now, and now we’re a week out from launch. We’ve been super happy with the work that your team has done. Everything from email marketing, building, landing pages, PR, influencer outreach strategy, paid traffic, some of the social media marketing, basically everything except for the messaging. And we decided to take content in-house.
Yeah, so that working with an expert like you guys on the Kickstarter management side has been such a big win. Actually, that last phrase just reminded me that the other major aspect of marketing that we decided to do in-house was we wanted to do our content in-house. Our products are super visual and they’re super unique. There’s nothing quite like them. And we decided that we wanted to do the photo shoots and video shoots to create the overall content that will eventually make it onto our website, onto our marketing, and onto our advertising and social media and such.
So yeah, that’s a pretty high level overview. It’s been six months since I met Steve and we started off on this thing. I’m really happy with the speed of our progress. And still knowing what we know now, there’s ways in which we could have shaved one or even two months off of it and gotten to market even sooner because we do want to move quickly. But yeah, overall super happy with the progress and the speed and tempo with which we’re executing. So yeah.
You guys are crushing it. So for our audience’s sake, any of those nuggets of wisdom you wish to share in terms of maybe some of the hurdles that took a little bit longer to get over, or some of the things from a marketing standpoint that moved the needle faster than you thought?
Yeah, let’s think. I think on the marketing side, by and large, very happy with our speed of execution. The manufacturing side is one where… This is my first time and Steve’s first time bringing a physical product to market. This is not off the shelf stuff. We’re not doing drop shipping. We’re not private labeling existing products that we’re finding at Alibaba at the Canton Fair or anything. We’re creating something from scratch here.
So there was a lot of unknown unknowns for us. And one thing that struck us was it didn’t occur to us how long it takes to actually source all these individualized components, bring them together, manufacture them, put them into a shipping container or onto a pallet, and then have it shipped. That total turnaround from the time that we even finished the design for manufacturing portion and then go into the production of our first molds.
So from that moment to getting product landed in a warehouse, I was hoping it would take four months or so, more like eight months or nine months, right? And that’s like if everything goes right. And so, when I first heard that and I realized we’re we’re going to miss this summer season in terms of shipping, which given how much of our audience is festivals and raves that happen really, really bloom over the summer, I was a little bit disappointed about that at first. I came to peace with that and I was like, “Screw it.” If it takes eight months, if we ship in October, November, this is a business that we’re going to be doing for a decade. There’s no need to rush. You’re calling and your dharma ultimately.
And in the meantime, there’s so much we can do. So the business, it’s not like the business isn’t gaining momentum during that time, we will be able to continue to grow market and knowing what we know now, having learned that lesson, if anything that we want to be ready for next summer season, we need to get in flight now.
And so that was a big lesson that we learned. I think some of the other things that I think we could have been faster with were we went to Upwork to find our industrial designer and our PCB designer, and we’re ultimately happy with where we’ve arrived. But sometimes, especially when you work with overseas contractors and freelancers, they don’t necessarily have the same sense of urgency and timelines that you might have either in-house or working with higher level contractors and service providers.
They say that there’s a trifecta. You can either, or a triangle dilemma where it’s like you can either have things done fast or inexpensive or good.
Yeah, [inaudible 00:23:29].
Fast are good, and you pick two maybe. And so, we went with good and inexpensive, but our timeline for delivery ended up, I think we could have shaved shaven anywhere from six to eight weeks off of our timeline if we had gone for higher cost or domestic service providers. And so, those were some of the learnings that we’ve had over the last few months.
Nice. So I’m really interested to hear your take on what role you see your hardware product and or hardware products in general, shaping the future of fashion.
Oh, I love that question. We’re really excited about two things. One is I think that we’re building products that are… I’m careful to say they’re not for the rave and festival community, but they are inspired by the festival and rave community. So things like the cat ears, obviously, they fit very much in a rave or festival context, but we have friends wearing them to birthday parties, bachelorette parties. They could easily be worn to a high school dance or a middle school.
My daughters want to wear them. They’re like, “Daddy, I can’t wait to wear the cat ears. It’s going to look amazing.”
Yeah. And so, we can take that things that are inspired by festivals and raves and then package them in products. And this is an important, we could do anything for our next year’s catalog for 2024, but we want to be very intentional about picking things that will have a broader appeal than just the festival and rave community.
And so, we’re really attracted to bringing lighting into clothing and bringing plastics, and bringing other interesting materials. So for example, laser cut and laser engraved plastics do using things like mirror films or actual mirrors to create interesting effects that are a bit more unique. They’re more attention grabbing than just normal clothing and apparel.
And the ultimate effect is festivals, raves, and Burning Man, what make these containers unique among several other things. They’re unique in that people come to them. There’s a really high value on self-expression and on expressing yourself through unique, bright, colorful, glowing, shining, shimmering, you name it, clothing that sets you apart from the crowd.
Admittedly, it’s not for everybody like these. If you wear these, you get a little bit… They bring a particular energy into the container and they stand out, and they bring a bit of attention. And not everybody necessarily wants that attention. Some people just want to be more subdued in their style and their aesthetics. Some people don’t necessarily want to have that conversation starter, and they’d rather just be in their own experience, and that’s great.
But for us, we’re excited about the opportunity to bring, to use these technologies like lighting, like advanced manufacturing techniques and materials like plastics and acrylics, and synthetic, rubbers and polymers, and then electronics, PCBs, and batteries to create really attention grabbing unique pieces that really help you stand out from the crowd.
Well, I can’t wait to see this thing come to life. With this, Alan, we’re going to jump into the amazingly fast, rapid fire round where I’m going to shoot some questions your way. You’re good to go?
Let’s do it. Yeah.
All right. So what ultimately inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
Freedom and personal growth, and other entrepreneurs that have gone before me and shared their stories and made it seem possible. Yeah.
Speaking of other entrepreneurs, if you could meet with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would you want to go to a party with?
Want to go to a party with? Ooh, man, that’s a good one. Who would I want to go to a party with? There’s a guy named Pasquale Rotella. I think that’s how you pronounce his name. Actually, don’t quote me on that. Probably wrong actually. But he’s the founder and CEO of Insomniac Events, and they host Electric Daisy Carnival and many of the biggest music festivals and raves in the United States.
And you can tell from from his work and his events and experiences, how much he genuinely cares about the experience, and it’s not about the money, even though they are massively successful, they really care about the experience and the attendee, and it really shines through the experiences that he designs. And that’s a major inspiration for us.
Amazing. What would be your first question for him?
I’m very curious about how we can raise the vibration, and particularly things like health, wellness, self-development in that community. I think not only do I like to have fun and party, and go to raves and do all the things associated with raves, but also health and wellness and self-development are a big part of my life. And that’s something that I think a lot of the festival and rave community does not really have that much intention around.
And so, one of the intentions I have around Lumira is if we can not only bring fun and connection, inspiration into that community and into the world, but also through our products, our messaging and our leadership, if we can also just bring a little bit more intention and focus to self-development and wellness and see if there’s other allies in that mission, maybe Insomniac would be open to that conversation.
Amazing. Any books you’d recommend to other startup founders?
Depending on the stage and the development. 80/20 Sales and Marketing, Four Hour Workweek, and Rich Dad, Poor Dad for those that are early at the very early onset. Yeah, the Four Hour Workweek, and Rich Dad, Poor Dad were the two that gave me the initial roadmap.
Nice. What would you say are the top three skills that you think every entrepreneur needs to be successful?
Top three skills? So first would be resourcefulness. And also I’d include creativity in there, so resourcefulness and creativity. Grit and determination. And then I’d package in one thing like sales slash influence, understanding the psychology of influence slash marketing. Everything will come down to from recruiting, to leadership, to sales and marketing. All of it will come down to understanding and being able to enroll people into your vision.
Amazing. Last question, Alan. You’re doing amazing. And I know your campaign is about to launch, but very interested to hear your take on what does the future of crowdfunding look like?
Future of crowdfunding? So this is my first time crowdfunding, but I do have some thoughts around two things. One is probably an increase in what’s called Reg D equity crowdfunding. A lot of the crowdfunding that happens on platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo are just pre-sales of product. But not too long ago, US regulators opened up with equity crowdfunding so that startups like us can actually raise and sell equity in the company to potential everyday mom and pop main street investors.
So I think that’s been live for several years now, I think. I’m sure you know. The other thing I’d imagine is I do think that there’s probably some disconnect. I know of other projects where they just never shipped product or they under budgeted and all of a sudden they’re losing money on product. And so, maybe some increasing scrutiny from the community for founders and projects that are better bets clearer down their execution path and maybe increasing scrutiny over time over are they actually going to ship in time the product that I ordered.
Amazing. Well, hopefully those things get solved soon. But I’m with you there. Alan, this has been amazing. This is your final opportunity to give our audience your pitch, tell people what you’re all about, where people should go and why they should check out Lumira.
Awesome. Yeah. The thing that I love to communicate about what we’re building here is this, we feel really strongly connected with our mission to genuinely bring more fun connection and inspiration into the world. The way that I explain it is there’s so much to genuinely be skeptical or cynical about in the world today. And all that work to do is still there. But if we approach it from a place of optimism and positivity, which are things that we can get from having more fun and connection and inspiration in our lives, it just makes that journey so much more worthwhile and so much better, and so much stronger.
So we feel super strongly about our mission to bring that positivity in the world through our products and our messaging and our leadership as I’ve said before. If you want to support us and check us out, you can go to kickstarter.com and search for LED Infinity Mirror Cat Ears, or Lumira, L-U-M-I-R-A, and then… Or go to our website, getlumira.com, and there’ll be a link to the Kickstarter there. The last thing I’d say is you can follow us on social media. We’re on Instagram as @GetLumira. So yeah, check us out there and we’ll see you there.
Amazing. Alan, thanks so much for joining us. Audience, thanks again for tuning in. Make sure to visit the website, artofthekickstart.com for the notes transcript, links over to the campaign, and all the other fun stuff we talked about today. And of course, big shout out to our crowdfunding podcast sponsor over at ProductHype, the top newsletter for new products that just launched. Alan, thank you again for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.
Thank you for having me, Roy.
Thank you for tuning into another amazing episode of Art of the Kickstart, the show about building a better business life and world with crowdfunding. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode as much as I did, make sure to show us some love by rating us and reviewing us on your favorite listening station, whatever that may be. Your review really helps other founders and startups find us so they can improve their craft and the achieve greater success like you.
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