Tell us about you, your career, how you founded FindLight.
Both co-founders of FindLight, Vahan Senekerimyan and I, come with a science background. We earned our PhDs at UC Irvine in Chemical and Material Physics. During our studies we used a lot of photonics equipment and procured quite a few [products]. Later on in my career I went onto selling capital equipment for a relatively big company, while Vahan continued his career in engineering and remained on the “buy-side”. One problem we noticed was how inefficient the industrial market for photonics was.
As a buyer (in my PhD years) it was quite difficult to source state-of-the art equipment. We often relied on word-of-mouth while search-engines did a mediocre job in recommending suitable products for such highly specialized branches of technology. On the sales side the situation was worse: during my sales calls and visits I could not help but notice that the scientific and engineering communities were leaning predominantly towards bigger brand names in terms of their knowledge of what’s available. This effectively left most companies out except for the top few, who had the marketing muscle to promote themselves.
It was then that we conceived an idea to flatten the field and give everyone an opportunity to compete. Welcome to FindLight – an online marketplace and a search engine for industrial products. As a centralized catalog FindLight creates a user friendly place where buyers and sellers around the world connect to transact on thousands of photonics products. For Buyers, FindLight is a centralized place to browse through products from suppliers from all over the world and reach out to them. For suppliers, it’s a place to promote their products on a highly visible and organized platform.
How does your company innovate?
As an e-Commerce platform, the number one metric is the number of connections between buyers and sellers, hence conversions has always been top priority early on. To that end we have define three key priorities early on:
- Well-organized flat site architecture: from the very early days of FindLight we focused on ensuring that each product is only within a few clicks from a vendor. In fact, we advertise that on our welcome video: we map the entire photonics industry into a 3-level hierarchy so that browsing and finding products becomes a breeze.
- Linear decision making path for buyers: Another key element of success in user experience has been the linear decision making. When a customer is looking for a product, we help him/her narrow down through a well-organized hierarchy structure and filters. Equally importantly, we ensure a linear browsing path to the target product with minimal distractions along the way.
- Low barriers of engaging: Finally, we constantly find ways to reduce the barriers for buyers to transact or interact. This involves both suppliers and buyers. For instance, a couple of years ago we introduced the guest-mode that allows buyers to engage without registering on FindLight. With reduced number of steps to destination we get higher conversion rates and more transactions.
Strategically, we are in a constant process of reevaluating our business model, while keeping our eye on new trends.
How the coronavirus pandemic affected your business and how are you coping?
Being a fully online venture, net-net we came out benefiting from the shifting trends. Let me explain. In the early stages of the pandemic, the entire photonics industry went through a bit of a shock, as supply chain was disrupted, along with major demand interruptions and workforce restrictions around the globe. As the tech world was adjusting to the new normal, sales and marketing departments of all companies were also adjusting their tactics and strategies.
With indefinite travel restrictions and limited face-to-face meetings, they were increasingly turning to virtual interactions, be it replacing the face-to-face meetings with zoom or focusing the marketing initiatives to online opportunities. We saw gradual shift of mindset on how they started supplementing the physical, the print, the face-to-face with virtual, digital and online. It took a while and not all suppliers moved with the same pace but, I would say, the pandemic simply accelerated what was inevitable.
What has been particularly stressful and how have you dealt with it? Did you have to make difficult choices?
Taking a two-sided platform off the ground is quite a challenge, as you deal with two sides of the marketplace (suppliers and buyers). Not only you have to make a product that pleases both communities, you often have to address seemingly contradictory and mutually exclusive wishes of these two segments. Unlike the one-sided platforms, two-sided platforms have a very long run-way and can burn out the founders before take-off. Extreme discipline and frugality have been two virtues that we have consistently relied on, especially in the early stages of formation. Resources were limited and we had to carefully select among the competing priorities. So, yes, definitely we had to make many difficult choices.
Who is the audience for FindLight? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
In the strict definition, our customers are the high tech suppliers, although the buy-side is equally, if not more, important. We have a generous free tier for suppliers while the buy-side is open to all. Many of our suppliers start with the free tier, then learn and understand the platform before moving onto paid tiers. Given the nature of the business, we also encourage one-on-one meetings and demos with key suppliers. This gives us valuable insight into what’s needed and important.
Your final thoughts
The field of eCommerce is rapidly evolving and many tactics that were relevant a few years ago might be irrelevant now. New mediums of interactions and modus operandi rapidly emerge while others vanish in the horizons equally rapidly. Leading the frontier, while staying focused, is the name of the game. That said, some key elements are constant: deliver an outstanding product that works flawlessly and delights both sides of the platform!
About us: FindLight is an online marketplace and a search engine for industrial products. Originally focused on photonics industry it has expanded to include manufacturing and robotics in recent years. As a centralized catalog it creates a user friendly place where buyers and sellers around the world connect to transact on thousands of photonics products. FindLight currently serves about 2,700 suppliers worldwide. Originally focused on photonics industry it has expanded to include manufacturing and robotics in recent years.
Our website: www.findlight.net
Our technology blog: www.findlight.net/blog
Suppliers start here: https://www.findlight.net/get-started/
Key people: Hrant Seferyan | CEO and Co-Founder: Previously: Corporate Treasurer at NortonLifeLock, Head of Sales at Novanta’s Ultrafast Laser Group. Head of Products at TherMark Holdings, Inc. Holds MBA from Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley and PhD from UC Irvine
Vahan Senekerimyan | Co-Founder: Previously held lead engineering positions in the semiconductor equipment manufacturing industry and a Post-Doctoral appointment at California Institute of Technology. Holds PhD from UC Irvine
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