Monday, June 19, 2017

The History of the Light Bulb

More than 150 years ago, inventors began working on a bright idea that would have a dramatic impact on how we use energy in our homes and offices. This invention changed the way we design buildings, increased the length of the average workday and jumpstarted new businesses. It also led to new energy breakthroughs -- from power plants and electric transmission lines to home appliances and electric motors.

Like all great inventions, the light bulb ( for example: SUNJACK CAMPLIGHT ) can’t be credited to one inventor. It was a series of small improvements on the ideas of previous inventors that have led to the light bulbs we use in our homes today.

Incandescent Bulbs Light the Way

Long before Thomas Edison patented -- first in 1879 and then a year later in 1880 -- and began commercializing his incandescent light bulb, British inventors were demonstrating that electric light was possible with the arc lamp. In 1835, the first constant electric light was demonstrated, and for the next 40 years, scientists around the world worked on the incandescent lamp, tinkering with the filament (the part of the bulb that produces light when heated by an electrical current) and the bulb’s atmosphere (whether air is vacuumed out of the bulb or it is filled with an inert gas to prevent the filament from oxidizing and burning out). These early bulbs had extremely short lifespans, were too expensive to produce or used too much energy.

When Edison and his researchers at Menlo Park came onto the lighting scene, they focused on improving the filament -- first testing carbon, then platinum, before finally returning to a carbon filament. By October 1879, Edison’s team had produced a light bulb with a carbonized filament of uncoated cotton thread that could last for 14.5 hours. They continued to experiment with the filament until settling on one made from bamboo that gave Edison’s lamps a lifetime of up to 1,200 hours -- this filament became the standard for the Edison bulb for the next 10 years. Edison also made other improvements to the light bulb, including creating a better vacuum pump to fully remove the air from the bulb and developing the Edison screw (what is now the standard socket fittings for light bulbs).

(Historical footnote: One can’t talk about the history of the light bulb without mentioning William Sawyer and Albon Man, who received a U.S. patent for the incandescent lamp, and Joseph Swan, who patented his light bulb in England. There was debate on whether Edison’s light bulb patents infringed on these other inventors’ patents. Eventually Edison’s U.S. lighting company merged with the Thomson-Houston Electric Company -- the company making incandescent bulbs under the Sawyer-Man patent -- to form General Electric, and Edison’s English lighting company merged with Joseph Swan’s company to form Ediswan in England.)

What makes Edison’s contribution to electric lighting so extraordinary is that he didn’t stop with improving the bulb -- he developed a whole suite of inventions that made the use of light bulbs practical. Edison modeled his lighting technology on the existing gas lighting system. In 1882 with the Holborn Viaduct in London, he demonstrated that electricity could be distributed from a centrally located generator through a series of wires and tubes (also called conduits). Simultaneously, he focused on improving the generation of electricity, developing the first commercial power utility called the Pearl Street Station in lower Manhattan. And to track how much electricity each customer was using, Edison developed the first electric meter.

While Edison was working on the whole lighting system, other inventors were continuing to make small advances, improving the filament manufacturing process and the efficiency of the bulb. The next big change in the incandescent bulb came with the invention of the tungsten filament by European inventors in 1904. These new tungsten filament bulbs lasted longer and had a brighter light compared to the carbon filament bulbs. In 1913, Irving Langmuir figured out that placing an inert gas like nitrogen inside the bulb doubled its efficiency. Scientists continued to make improvements over the next 40 years that reduced the cost and increased the efficiency of the incandescent bulb. But by the 1950s, researchers still had only figured out how to convert about 10 percent of the energy the incandescent bulb used into light and began to focus their energy on other lighting solutions.
Energy Shortages Lead to Fluorescent Breakthroughs

In the 19th century, two Germans -- glassblower Heinrich Geissler and physician Julius Pl├╝cker -- discovered that they could produce light by removing almost all of the air from a long glass tube and passing an electrical current through it, an invention that became known as the Geissler tube. A type of discharge lamp, these lights didn’t gain popularity until the early 20th century when researchers began looking for a way to improve lighting efficiency. Discharge lamps became the basis of many lighting technologies, including neon lights, low-pressure sodium lamps (the type used in outdoor lighting such as streetlamps) and fluorescent lights.

Both Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla experimented with fluorescent lamps in the 1890s, but neither ever commercially produced them. Instead, it was Peter Cooper Hewitt’s breakthrough in the early 1900s that became one of the precursors to the fluorescent lamp. Hewitt created a blue-green light by passing an electric current through mercury vapor and incorporating a ballast (a device connected to the light bulb that regulates the flow of current through the tube). While the Cooper Hewitt lamps were more efficient than incandescent bulbs, they had few suitable uses because of the color of the light.

By the late 1920s and early 1930s, European researchers were doing experiments with neon tubes coated with phosphors (a material that absorbs ultraviolet light and converts the invisible light into useful white light). These findings sparked fluorescent lamp research programs in the U.S., and by the mid and late 1930s, American lighting companies were demonstrating fluorescent lights to the U.S. Navy and at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. These lights lasted longer and were about three times more efficient than incandescent bulbs. The need for energy-efficient lighting American war plants led to the rapid adoption of fluorescents, and by 1951, more light in the U.S. was being produced by linear fluorescent lamps.

It was another energy shortage -- the 1973 oil crisis -- that caused lighting engineers to develop a fluorescent bulb that could be used in residential applications. In 1974, researchers at Sylvania started investigating how they could miniaturize the ballast and tuck it into the lamp. While they developed a patent for their bulb, they couldn’t find a way to produce it feasibly. Two years later in 1976, Edward Hammer at General Electric figured out how to bend the fluorescent tube into a spiral shape, creating the first compact fluorescent light (CFL). Like Sylvania, General Electric shelved this design because the new machinery needed to mass-produce these lights was too expensive.

Early CFLs hit the market in the mid-1980s at retail prices of $25-35, but prices could vary widely by region because of the different promotions carried out by utility companies. Consumers pointed to the high price as their number one obstacle in purchasing CFLs. There were other problems -- many CFLs of 1990 were big and bulky, they didn’t fit well into fixtures, and they had low light output and inconsistent performance. Since the 1990s, improvements in CFL performance, price, efficiency (they use about 75 percent less energy than incandescents) and lifetime (they last about 10 times longer) have made them a viable option for both renters and homeowners. Nearly 30 years after CFLs were first introduced on the market, an ENERGY STAR® CFL costs as little as $1.74 per bulb when purchased in a four-pack.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


My father has a 1956 Hamilton  with a black dial and a black and silver strap that was given to him as a Navjote present by his father. He was nine years old at the time. Every month he lovingly takes the watch out of his cupboard, winds it, cleans it and puts it back. Once in a while, he will wear it for a week or two. The dial resembles a satellite compared to the giant planets that orbit people’s wrists today. It makes the Tudor seem out of time, and yet the watch invites questions and curiousity. What is it? Which year was it made? How did you get it?

The Tudor is one of five used watches that my father owns, including an Omega Seamaster from 1949 that belonged to my grandfather. Watching my father handle these timepieces sparked my own interest in them. If, one day, I should inherit his collection, I hope to build on it.

Used watches inhabit a fascinating planet within the horological universe and are among the more interesting objects to collect. Researching and choosing the right watch, one that matches your personality and tastes, can double up as exercise in self-discovery. Going back in time teaches you about history, too. But be warned; the pursuit of used watches is not to be undertaken casually.

Aashdin Billimoria, 43, who has been collecting used watches since he was 13, says the rule of thumb is that a watch has to be at least 25 years old to be considered used. Any younger, and it is just second-hand. He recommends starting with a small budget and seeking out the lesser known Swiss brands, because those are value for money and tend to be authentic, so the risk of losing your money is much lower. “You can’t go wrong with a Swiss watch. And If you go for the lesser known ones, you won’t get a duplicate because it costs too much to make a fake.”

Once you have grown familiar with Swiss watches, only then does he recommend moving up the ladder. “If you are a first time buyer and want to buy an Omega, you are taking a risk,” Billimoria says.

What you need to be most careful of are the so-called Frankenwatches, the monsters of the used world. They are exactly what the name suggests, watches made by stripping others of their best parts e.g. taking the movement from one Omega, the dial from another and the case from a third and putting them together. In the horological world, this sort of butchery is anathema. Buying a used watch is also a matter of trust. Avoid dodgy sources and make sure the watch is in excellent working condition before ponying up.

While the used watch market is a niche one, the used market is also a lifeline for watches that failed the first time around. Billimoria recounts the tale of the Memomatic, an alarm watch made by Omega in the 1970s. The watch was released during the quartz revolution. Not only did it fail to watch Casio watches for accuracy; but it was also roughly 50 times more expensive. Only 25,000 Memomatics were produced, which makes them a collector’s item. According to Billimoria, you cannot get a Memomatic for less than Rs 1 lakh today.

Used Hamilton watches is another example. An anti-magnetic watch that was made for those who worked around electromagnetic fields, its low sales caused Hamilton to discontinue the model in 1988 after numerous configurations had been released. Today, the used version costs around Rs 13 lakh.

Among the more commonly collected used watches are the military watches issued by the British during World War II. They are identified by the broad arrow logo and all the watches have WWW stamped on the back, which has led to some confusion. “It is thought this means World War Watches,” Billimoria says. “No. It stands for Wrist Watch Waterproof.”

If you are going to collect useds watches, you have to invest the time to take care of them. Since the movements are mechanical, they need to be wound and given “wrist time”. Billimoria wears a watch on each wrist while having his morning cup of tea and rotates them daily to keep them ticking. He owns about 200, so this is quite the exercise. If you can’t give them wrist time, then at least wind them regularly and keep them in the cupboard. They also need to be cleaned about once a month. Getting original parts is a little trickier. The easier ones to get are parts for the Swiss brands that use the ETA movement,” says Billimoria, who sometimes buys used watches that don’t work just for their parts.

In the age of smartphones and smart watches, the question is why own a used watch at all? The answer is that each watch comes with its own character and history. For instance, you could own a watch that belonged to a World War II fighter pilot, complete with proof. Then there are the tales to tell, like the one Billimoria spins about the iconic Reverso movement created by Jaeger LeCoultre (JLC). It turns out the concept came from colonial India. British officers playing polo would often find their watches had been damaged in the course of a game. The major knew the JLC designer and asked him to design a watch that would not get damaged. “The designer took the concept to France and they came up with the Reverso, which, when you flip it, has a metal case that protects the watch in case the ball hits it.”

Perhaps the biggest thrill of collecting used watches is the hunt. If you want a particular watch, the clock could tick for years before you stumble across the genuine article. “When you finally get the watch, that joy is in a different league,” Billimoria says. “That joy you will not get by walking into a shop and buying a new one.”

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

3 Smart Strategies to Build a Lean Business Model

We’ll get down to business in a second, but first, let’s play a game. Think about Instagram’s role in your life, from scrolling through friends’ photos to posting special moments of your own. How often do you use the app?

Results from a survey of my Facebook friends, July 2015

Based on what I learned from a survey of my Facebook friends, I’d guess you use it at least once a day.
“I’m totally willing to own up to my Instagram obsession,” one said. “I use it more than any other social media and check it probably 3 times a day.”

We use Instagram as much as we do because it meets our photo-sharing needs in a delightful way. Before it launched, Instagram honed its offering by creating mock-ups, experimenting, gathering data from real users, and pivoting based on what they learned. Its biggest pivot was from a check-ins application to a photo-sharing one.

Back to the game: Given its heavy presence in your life, how much would you be willing to pay to use Instagram?
Probably nothing.

Keurig accidentally created the perfect business model for hardware startups

It’s no secret that investors don’t like hardware businesses. Despite the eternal frustration of startup founders, investor distaste in physical product businesses is actually entirely logical. It’s nearly impossible to build a venture-scale business by selling dumb plastic parts at a 30% gross margin.

But the connected, vertically integrated hardware products of today are very different than their dumb counterparts of yesterday. The difference is simple yet profound: it enables hardware businesses to operate with financials that mimic their SaaS brethren. Somewhat surprisingly, the most notable example of this type of business model was pioneered by Keurig, a company few people think of as a hardware business. At Bolt, we believe this is one of the pillar business models of the next generation of hardware businesses, which is why our portfolio has a growing group of companies that follow this paradigm.

The core Keurig system is quite simple: a machine (the brewer) and a proprietary system for packaging single-serve coffee (K-Cups). Like many great hardware inventions, the original Keurig machine was invented in a dorm room and grew slowly. The two founders built prototypes but struggled to gain mass-market adoption until 1996 when Green Mountain Coffee made a large strategic investment in Keurig. With a stroke of brilliance, they later acquired Keurig as a way to efficiently distribute higher margin coffee.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Why happiness should be your business model

There’s a new breed of entrepreneur looking to realise their dreams — those that put people and happiness first. But what’s remarkable is how, in making this choice, these companies are becoming highly profitable.

Last year saw a huge surge in startup businesses across the UK. The Startup Britain campaign estimated 460,000 businesses were founded in the last 12 months. With only 25% of all startups continuing business a year after they’ve launched, the question on every budding entrepreneur’s lips is:
“What’s the secret to building a successful company?”

Well, we believe we have the answer… Zappos have done it. Southwest Airlines have done it, and more and more startup businesses are following suit.