We first interviewed David back in 2012 about his Melbourne-based lighting and energy control company Brightgreen. Since the company’s conception in 2008, Brightgreen has been awarded numerous design and sustainability awards for its market-leading LED lighting technology.
Since then, in addition to running Brightgreen, David has launched a new wave of start-ups, including sister LED lighting company Loomi, product development consultancy Spring, and gourmet pre-prepared food brand Palate.
Committed to ethical business practices and the philosophy of conscious capitalism, David also recently spearheaded the Light Up Kenya project, a solar-powered charity initiative that aims to educate and affect change around the issue of light poverty in off-grid areas of Kenya.
Editors note: This is the first time we have interviewed the same person twice – but we thought it would be pretty interesting to re-interview people a couple of years down the track to see where their ideas are at and what they’ve learned. If you’re interested in more of these interviews, let us know who you’d like us to re-interview
Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
Since my brother (Barry O’Driscoll) and I founded Brightgreen, we had been looking for a chance to start a social initiative. We started thinking about issues that Brightgreen was best positioned to help with and the more we started looking into the affects of light poverty, the more invested we became in the idea of tackling the issue.
We linked up with one of our distributors in Mombasa and started talking about the logistics of helping the 35 million Kenyans who don’t have access to permanent electricity. We really wanted to find a sustainable solution for each family, so we developed a solar LED kit that includes a portable solar panel, two LED bulbs, a universal phone charging dock and a battery.
The response so far has been incredible. Australian families who light up their home with Brightgreen lights can register their unique voucher online and actually see the family who received a solar LED kit because of their choice.
We’ve been getting great feedback from our partners in Kenya too. When a family receives a solar LED kit it means that children can study and families can conduct business in the evenings. Some of the homes we’ve lit up are on the edge of a wildlife conservation area, and apparently our lights actually help to prevent elephants from wandering into the village.
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?
I have a lot to be excited about at the moment.
We will be working towards getting Light Up Kenya recognised as a non-for-profit, with the ultimate goal of spreading the initiative throughout all of Kenya.
Our gourmet food brand, Palate, is currently taking on investors, and we’re racing to keep up with the incredible demand from our retailers.
Brightgreen has some major product releases coming up, and we are planning to shake up the LED market even more by rolling out some great new Loomi products.
I’m also really enjoying working with our Spring clients to help develop their ideas into viable businesses. Spring has an amazing talent pool of designers, engineers, researches and strategists who handle everything from product design through to intellectual property security, manufacturing, brand development and marketing. Being able to assist people through the challenges of building a start–up from scratch means a lot to me — I can’t help but get excited about great ideas.
How do you make ideas happen?
I always start by identifying a need — all ideas that are worth pursuing enhance people’s lives in one way or another. If it doesn’t, I scrap it and go back to the drawing board. After that, it’s all about market research, refining the concept and then a lot of hard work.
What does your typical day look like?
No two days look the same for me anymore! I try to go for a run on the Yarra River in the morning to set me up with the energy and clarity that I need for whatever I’ve got on that day.
Between Skype meetings with our international offices and manufacturers and checking in with local stakeholders, I always allocate some time for marketing brainstorms and my main love, product design. I find staying in the loop with what’s happening in every department better positions me to develop business strategy that makes sense for the whole team.
We also provide the team with a healthy lunch everyday which gives me a great excuse to take a breather and catch-up with whoever is in the kitchen. We have a resident chef Xaivier Tocco with us from a three Michelin star restaurant at the moment; that’s making lunch very interesting indeed.
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
Small, lean and high cycle user testing is so powerful and so underrated. Business culture seems to be steeped in more traditional long cycle planning and executions that often lead to the wrong product with the wrong message being deployed at the wrong time.
What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?
My friend Nadia Woodhouse is doing great things at B Lab Australia. Her work involves certifying companies that meet very high standards of social and environmental performance. I think it is so important to have a non-for-profit entity like B Lab to champion companies that are driving positive change in their sectors.
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
I am a firm believer that aid and business can work hand-in-hand to build a better, more financially sustainable world. For me, Light Up Kenya was a natural progression for Brightgreen. We have always designed products that defy planned obsolescence, challenging wasteful consumption cycles, resulting in less harm to the environment. Light Up Kenya took our holistic approach to business one step further — not only are we creating products that benefit our customers and have less impact on the environment, we are taking direct action to improve people’s lives.
I think that real, large-scale positive social change can only come about when businesses choose to operate responsibly. I also like to think that customers are becoming more discerning about their purchases, that they are more likely to support ethical companies than ever.
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?
Absolutely! Anyone who is interested in learning more about light poverty or purchasing one of our $90 solar LED kits for a family in Kenya can learn more here.
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
The Everleigh on Gertrude St in Melbourne is fast becoming a favourite. It has an incredible ambience with an understated, old-world style, and they customise cocktails to the point of hand cutting the ice in your drink.