Speaking of Signify

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In this episode of Speaking of Signify, Ryan Millar chats with George Yianni, the co-creator of Philips Hue. They discuss the story of Hue: where does it come from, how did it change people’s understanding of what lighting is, and what lessons continuously developing such a revolutionary product taught him.

Show Notes

Every great journey has a beginning. In the case of Philips hue, this was a humble remote-control device – at least that’s what the project that eventually became Philips Hue started out as, George explains.  That idea, of using a smartphone to control the lights, seemed small-scale. Keep in mind that we’re in the (now, seemingly ancient) year of 2008. The groundbreaking iPhone just came out, and how we understood apps were really different. George and his team built up the prototype for Philips Hue during the dawn of third-party smartphone applications – and they soon recognized the potential in this. 

 Philips Hue was pitched as an “internal startup” – a consumer-centered lighting app. This approach led them on a new, and exciting route, where they could explore not only the product, but market entry points as well. Putting it on the map was a different undertaking than selling traditional lightbulbs. George admits that it was a bit of a gamble – after all, people may think that it was just a gimmick, and that the increased price tag was a bit too steep (even though all test audiences absolutely loved the product).  

They had to show that they really made a splash with Hue – so they turned to one of the trailblazers of innovation: Apple, who saw the potential in this new way of lighting. Thus, brand new smart lightbulbs were beginning to sell alongside brand-new smartphones – and boy did they sell well. When George saw that Philips Hue sold out upon launch, he knew that something big was about to begin. 
Philips Hue has a passionately engaged community. And they are active parts of its development cycle. George is amazed at some creations that Hue users have uploaded on its subreddit. Hue has a roadmap, which is influenced by customer feedback. Its development is partially steered by what users say, what do they like and dislike. However, the roadmap also holds quite a few surprises – after all its novelty is what made Philips Hue special.  

Among future plans, you can find ambiance creation and decoration – after all, changing your light is easier than repainting your walls or changing your curtains. In addition, Hue’s making great strides in the field of entertainment, and last, but not least, it is aiming to heighten its focus on wellbeing. 
Creating Hue was a learning experience, and George sure has some insights to share. Firstly, widen your horizons. You can’t do a breakthrough from solely a technological/innovation perspective. To really leave your mark, you have to think in parallels and consider many perspectives: marketing, sales, and long-term strategies alongside technology. Secondly, embrace the power of platforms, and take your customers on a journey with you as you develop the product. It may be scary to launch something without knowing what it’ll be in the future but keeping up with innovations of platforms can multiply your product’s value. It’s a leap of faith, really – but it sure did work with Hue. 

Finally, George mentions how the lighting industry in general does not get the exposure it deserves. After all, it is an industry, the products of which are around us almost 24/7. So let’s leverage this, he argues. It’s a fertile ground for innovations, such as Philips Hue, but its also our challenge to let people know how impactful what we’re doing here at Signify. 

But the episode is not only about Hue – it’s also about the mastermind behind it, its co-creator, George. So Ryan’s Five Alternative Questions (FAQs) will let us get to know him a bit: how he built a custom Settlers of Catan set, his fascination with superheroes, some of his favorite meals, and many more – but it’s better to hear all this from George himself!  

What is Speaking of Signify?

The podcast features illuminating conversations between host Ryan Millar and a selection of innovators and decision-makers at the world leader in lighting.