Social enterprise d.light design, a company that started in our Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability class, recently hit an important milestone: two million people around the world are using their solar-powered lanterns.
That represents a tremendous global impact, as d.light’s customers often don’t have electricity and lack access to safe, affordable sources of lighting.
Just over three years after the founders finished graduate school at Stanford and raised initial seed funding, d.light has grown to a 70-person multinational corporation with four international offices and distribution in over 40 countries around the world. These are significant milestones for the company, but their ambitions—to reach 100 million people by 2015—are even bigger.
Four of the five co-founders of d.light—Sam Goldman, Ned Tozun, Xianyi Wu and Erica Estrada–met in the Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability class in the fall of 2005. While the initial challenge was to develop a product related to water needs in the developing world, the team was more compelled by the need for lighting that they saw during a trip to Myanmar. The families they spent time with were using candles, which produce unhealthy fumes and present a serious fire danger. What the team saw isn’t uncommon: throughout the developing world, 1.6 billion people lack access to electricity and must rely on dim and dangerous kerosene lanterns or candles for light. During three months of initial prototyping, the team created a safe, affordable solar-powered lantern.
Solar lighting solutions for the developing world have been around for years, but the design thinking instilled by Stanford’s d.school has played a key role in allowing d.light to differentiate their products from the competition. The emphasis on customer-centric design has resulted in solutions in which every single aspect has been vetted and approved by potential customers, from the functionality to the design to the price. This ongoing feedback loop has also informed d.light’s second-generation product line, ensuring that customers continue to access the latest technology at the best possible price.
Deeply understanding their target markets and a value for constant innovation have also served the d.light team well in expanding marketing and distribution. Reaching extremely remote rural families in developing countries is extraordinarily difficult, but d.light has achieved unparalleled success, thanks to a strong network of diverse distribution partners and creative distribution strategies, such as recruiting rural entrepreneurs to serve as d.light sales representatives in their own communities.
“The passion and the design thinking initially forged at the d.school continue to drive the culture and mission of d.light,” said d.light CEO Sam Goldman. “Solar lighting is just the beginning; we see ourselves as a provider of renewable energy in the developing world, and we’ll continue to expand our product solutions and distribution networks in the coming years.”
You can read more about d.light here, in an article and video by fellow d.schooler and journalist Priyanka Sharma.