What are they
Lukas Pilat and Robert Kopka
Founders and directors of Luke Roberts GmbH
Lukas, Robert, you’ve established a startup company and called it “Luke Roberts”. What exactly do you do? How did it come about?
Robert: We met when we were both working on a project in Zurich and instantly got on well together. At some stage we realized that we’d both always had the ambition to set up a company. As we were comparing our ideas, Lukas thought of creating a smart lamp. He’d already done something like that during his studies as a side project. This eventually led to the decision to take the risk and create a startup in the smart lighting sector. But we didn’t know right from the outset which product it should ultimately be. So we set off for the world’s largest lighting fair and took a look around at what was already available in that segment. It became clear to us there that if we wanted to succeed in this market, we needed to develop an innovative technology to give us a clear competitive advantage — just a new design or distribution strategy was not enough.
Lukas: Obviously, that was a process that took many months that we conducted in our little available spare time. During this period, we noticed that most of the major players on the market were simply trying to pack the new LED technology into old lightbulb shapes — in other words, focusing on a kind of replacement strategy. There were hardly any genuine smart lamps on the market. We then thought about what kind of project we could create in this space, based on our technical know-how, our expected financial resources, and a reasonable time frame. We finally came up with a smart pendant lamp that allows you to move the light in any direction using a smartphone. That way you can perfectly illuminate any room and create different lighting for any situation.
Once the idea was clear, we applied for a public sponsorship and started product development. Then, about one year later, we launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to attract first customers and start the first production run.
To what extent did your time at Booz & Company and Strategy& shape this development?
Robert: When I left university it was clear to me that I wanted to work as a consultant for a couple of years to learn important skills such as project management, financial modeling, and strategic decision making. Consulting projects are often not really tangible, though, unlike developing a hardware product. As Lukas and myself both have engineering degrees, we thought about going back to our roots. Although we didn’t have a large development team, we did learn during our time as consultants that it was important to find the right experts for each section of a project. And of course we mapped out the entire product development process on slides and spreadsheets beforehand. We had to start many sub-processes at the same time, including the technical development of the lamp, the product design, app programming, marketing, and finance; keep track of them all; remain in control at all times; and finally fit them all together. We learned how to plan and manage projects of this complexity when we were working on projects at Booz & Company and Strategy&. Also, we retained some of the processes we used as consultants, such as the weekly planning meetings and the closed-loop sessions.
Lukas: In the course of our work, we got to know many other startup founders and quickly realized that with our technical background we had something of an exotic status. Many of them could visualize a product and imagine its design but had little idea about the technology or functionality. So they have to outsource these core processes. They often have great difficulty in finding the right experts and then coordinating them. This is because an expert who can program an app will generally have no idea about product development. We planned the optical and technical designs ourselves using modern engineering tools, and were also a bit surprised at how badly outsourcing works. As the client, you have to keep a close eye on all the various aspects at all times and be aware of what is happening.
Right at the start, we also thought about the USP of our product. Although we, like many other startups, are able to launch a product within a very short time, a major player can quickly catch up and our initial advantage of being the first can then rapidly disappear. We also tried right from the start to see our lamp through the eyes of the customer and incorporate our findings into our plans. Just because something is new on the market doesn’t mean that it will sell in large numbers. Our ability to think all this through strategically in advance was certainly sharpened though our experiences at Booz & Company and Strategy&.
The work/life balance is always an issue with us, and in strategic consultancy in general. How is it with you, and what does your typical day look like?
Robert: We don’t really have a typical day. Because we are doing everything ourselves and our work covers so much ground, every day is different. One day we are meeting with production teams, the next day we are handing out leaflets at the university to recruit employees. Sometimes we wear shorts and sandals, and sometimes we need suits and ties. We could be putting together a PowerPoint presentation one moment, and new shelving the next.
Lukas: Obviously we are not working any less than before in strategy consulting. It’s often quite the opposite. We are working throughout the week and often also at weekends. But it feels different because we are working on our own product for our own company.
What is your advice to Strategy& colleagues? What experience would you like to share with us?
Robert: We learned a lot as consultants, and I don’t think we could have created a startup straight after university. Consulting work is ideal for giving you the tools to establish a company. And hard work should not be an alien concept either.
Lukas: Before becoming self-employed, however, you should think carefully about the lifestyle you have and your private needs, particularly if you have a family. Salaries for consultants tend to be on the high side and that’s something you get used to over time, and you develop certain expectations. In most cases you won’t have to lower your expectations a great deal if you switch to industry or move to a large company. But with a startup, you start without a safety net, such as a regular salary, for a long period of time. That’s definitely something you should be aware of.
Disclaimer: Please note that historical references to Booz & Company and Booz Allen Hamilton are found in this article/section since the alumnus featured here left the firm prior to Strategy& joining the PwC global network of firms.