Hello Dan. Thanks for talking with us today. Please tell us a little about yourself. When did you begin hiking and backpacking, and how much time do you currently spend outdoors?
I try to be in the outdoors as much as possible. Whenever I am not working I am either hiking with my dog in the hills of Berkeley or riding my bike along the bicycle boulevards that run through the city. When I get a chance to get away for more than a few days my wife and I head out to some of the amazing national parks that are nearby.
What are some of your favorite places to climb, hike, or otherwise hangout in the great outdoors?
My wife and I met more than 10 years ago while rock climbing in Devil’s Lake WI. Since then we have climbed all over the world, but there is still a special place in my heart for “the Lake.” Other places that I consider very special include Red Rocks, Nevada; Yosemite National Park; The Wind Rivers in Wyoming, and the Cascades.
So, you are the founder of Bosavi, manufacturing a very interesting headlamp, correct?
Yes, I am not only the founder of Bosavi but also the engineer, the industrial designer, the programmer, web developer, marketing director and everything else at the company. That said, I want to emphasize the incredible amount of help that I have received from family and friends. In particular, my father Larry has been instrumental in the business development of Bosavi and m y wife Christina has spent countless hours listening to my ideas.
The way that I work is: I identify a problem and then I obsess about it until I slowly chip away at a solution.
When did your moment of brilliance strike?
I don’t know that there was ever a specific moment of brilliance. The way that I work is: I identify a problem and then I obsess about it until I slowly chip away at a solution.
I identified a problem with the way that modern headlamps work years ago. I was always bothered by how much waste my friends and I created as we burned through batteries using our headlamps. Then, a couple of years ago I was in Joshua Tree with a bunch of friends and we all had dead or dying headlamps and nothing but piles of old batteries. Being in that relatively remote place without a means of re-charging our lights got me to thinking about how the current design of headlamps could create frustrating and/or dangerous situations. That experience pushed me to quit my job and actually work to solve this problem that had been annoying me for years.
You must have some serious skills to pull of the design and implementation of this project. How did you manage to do it?
I have been a lifelong tinkerer and inventor, but at the start of this project, I didn’t really have all of the skills necessary to create a working headlamp.
In truth, I was only able to achieve this goal through the help of others. It is amazing how many people are willing to teach you for free. There are thousands of tutorials on the internet that can teach you everything from industrial design to circuit board manufacture. And a lot of them are willing to get on the phone with you directly if you send them an e-mail.
If you are willing to put in the time and are able to filter out all of the misinformation that is online, I truly believe you could learn just about anything these days. And you can do it for free by harnessing the passion and generosity of strangers.
Was any one aspect of the design more difficult to accomplish than the others?
Yes: the buttons!. It is amazing how sensitive human hands are. If a button is too easy to press it feels soft, if it travels too far it feels loose, if it doesn’t give any auditory feedback it is hard to tell you pressed it. The differences between a good button and a bad one are thousandths of inches and fractions of grams. Designing buttons that worked and felt right was definitely the hardest part of the project.
Why Mt. Bosavi (PNG) as a namesake?
Mount Bosavi is one of the most remote places on earth and is almost completely untouched by human hands. Inside of its extinct volcanic crater scientists recently documented an entire ecosystem of previously undiscovered species of animals. I like to think of my headlamp as a new, undiscovered species in its own right—one that will allow people to travel to and explore places like Mt. Bosavi without leaving a large impact on the environment.
Where are you manufacturing your products?
All of the prototyping and pilot production has been done in a small space I rent in Berkeley. I produced about 100 units using equipment at the TechShop in San Francisco as well as some old equipment I found on craigslist and got in working order. To make the circuit boards I actually used an old toaster-oven that I retrofitted for my purposes. So far all of the labor has been done with my own two hands. Currently, we are preparing to scale up to make 1000 units and are still looking into manufacturing solutions.
Why make em locally? Do you have any thoughts on off-shore manufacturing?
The most important things I keep in mind when thinking about Bosavi are my goals to maintain ethical business practices, to create a high quality product, and to strive to achieve my original goal of creating a headlamp that is more environmentally friendly than those currently on the market through a smart design which reduces the need for lots of batteries. My wife and I live simply and are not looking to make a lot of easy money.
I am purposefully being vague about where future manufacturing will be done because I am still in negotiations with several manufacturers. All of my potential manufacturers are US based companies, but for the sake of full disclosure, I will say that at least some of the headlamp will be made overseas. This is primarily because some components are not available domestically. As it turns out shipping all of the components individually is more expensive (and worse for the environment) than shipping larger sub-assemblies.
My dream scenario would be to have an injection molding machine and sonic welder of my own and do all of the assembly of the foreign and domestic components in my shop in Berkeley. We’ll see. Maybe I’ll get there someday.
A “Made in Berkeley” label would be pretty cool… speaking of Berkeley, got any favorite places to eat over there?
CU Sushi is about a block from our house and it is great quality food for dirt cheap. The menu permanently has “half off” written on the cover and every single price is crossed out and written in with half the price. It seems like it would be a junky restaurant, but my wife and I think it is the best kept secret in Berkeley. Sorry not to throw out something more impressive like Chez Panis.
So, in the entrepreneur rich Bay Area, do you consider yourself a start-up, pop-up, cottage industry? Perhaps another term better describes your company?
I have been part of a Bay Area start-up that had a billionaire venture capitalist backing it. We spent millions of dollars on our development and worked 60 hour weeks in a factory with no windows or natural light. That wasn’t the most inspiring experience. Thus, I wouldn’t call Bosavi a start-up. I would call it my dream; a new way of creating a business.
Awesome! As a smaller, independent manufacturer, what can you say to folks out there who haven’t taken that step away from the mainstream? What should they expect with Bosavi in terms of customer service, and product quality?
Right now we are trying to create as many advocates of the company as possible. To do that we need to create happy customers who are impressed with the high quality of our product. What is so neat about being a one-man show is that I can incorporate customer feedback quickly and easily. If you take a chance on Bosavi I can guarantee that if you aren’t blown away by the product, you will have the chance to talk with me directly about ways to make it better. Because we want this headlamp to be the best product possible, we are trying to stay small until we have gotten more feedback from our users as to how to improve it.
Ok, let’s talk about the headlamp for a minute. Please tell us a little about the various lighting modes and how they can be customized. Also, how do we recharge the battery?
When I first started making the headlamp I got a lot of input from a lot of friends. Everyone wants something different. Some said that it must be super light, or very bright, or long lasting, or have lots of modes, or not have too many annoying modes, or it must be customizable, or it must be simple. Bosavi actually seems to make everyone pretty happy.
The way I accomplished this was creating a simple method of customization. If you are an advanced user you can use a series of button presses to do some simple programming of the headlamp to remove modes that you don’t use. If you are not excited about learning all of the advanced features a single button will take you through a wide range of modes.
The modes include a low power white LED that is completely adequate for most situations and will last for a long time, a red LED that preserves night vision, a high brightness LED that is crazy bright, a strobe to be used on a bike and a boost button that makes Bosavi absolutely blinding.
The headlamp also has a “Gas Gauge” that can tell you how much battery is left. Once the battery starts running low, you can charge it by plugging it into any USB port including a car adapter, a solar charger, a computer, or a AAA battery pack.
You seem to have packed a lot of functionality and versatility into this small package. Were you able to implement everything you originally envisioned? You haven’t stashed any ultra compact lasers in there have you?
Actually, it had crossed my mind to put a green laser for star gazing in there. I even spent some time looking for laser diodes. I decided it probably wasn’t a good idea to have a laser attached to your face that could accidentally blind your friends.
There are still some things that I would like to incorporate into future products, but for the most part I think the current product is pretty awesome and is a product I am going to use for a long time.
You’ve also come up with this super neat origami lantern attachment… that’s made from the headlamp’s own packaging, of all things?
Yeah, I’m pretty proud of that. I was working for months and months on the headlamp everyday and had been avoiding thinking about packaging. I saw packaging as a necessary evil and wasn’t very excited about it. Then, and I know this is weird, I literally saw the box transforming into a lantern in a dream. I woke up in the middle of the night to drew a sketch on the first piece of paper I found. It took a couple of days to complete the design but the end result looks remarkably similar to that first sketch I made in the dark.
Do you have any new products, developments, or accessories in that you can share with us?
The thing that I am most excited to get out there is the AAA battery pack. I am working on sewing conductive threads through the elastic strap that will conduct electricity into the device through the strap connection points. That will turn the headlamp into a hybrid rechargeable/conventional headlamp that should work for just about any trip you can think of.
Looking toward the future, what’s your vision for yourself and your company
My goal is to keep my company small and focused. I don’t have any plans on expanding into various product lines or having multiple headlamps available. I want to keep refining the single product and turning it into the best headlamp that has ever been made.
Complete this sentence: “I hope that Bosavi products will …”
Inspire people to chase their dreams, be a product that will be taken to amazing places, last forever.
Dan, Thanks for taking some time with us. Is there anything else you’d like to add, or any sage advice to bestow upon those reading this interview?
If you have an idea you should go for it. It is going to be harder than you can possibly imagine, and you are going to have second thoughts throughout the process, and it might not work…but you should do it. Life is too short to wait for the perfect time to chase your dreams.
Coolness. You can be sure we’ll follow up with a review of our Bosavi lamp (and the Solio Bolt) when we receive them later this year. In the mean time if you’re interested in checking in with Bosavi you can take a look at www.bosavi.com
on the web, and for the curious here is a link to the kickstarter project
. Hike It. Like It.