Q+A: Michael Hennessy of Wavelength Lighting
Wavelength Lighting is a DUMBO business that leases LED lights for commercial spaces, simultaneously lowering prices for customers and providing an attractive alternative to fluorescent and incandescent lighting. DUMBO BID intern Amanda Salguero met co-founder Michael Hennessy at our favorite DUMBO coffee spot to talk about why LEDs are the lighting of the future.
What makes Wavelength Lighting different from any other lighting company?
We offer lighting as a service, which means we don’t sell lights, we lease them. We don’t charge them anything upfront for the implementation of those lights, we just charge them every month for the use. So it’s like buying any other service, except actual light bulbs are involved. We probably are the only ones doing it, at least the only ones I know of. That’s what’s rare about us, if not unique. And it’s useful because when people think about LED lighting, the first thing that comes to mind is that they’re very expensive, and the second thing that comes to mind is that they might look blue and hideous. Our service gets around those two things. The upfront cost is not an issue because we lease the lights, and the quality concern is taken care of because we specialize in aesthetic spaces; galleries, retail spaces, nice offices, hotels, and coffee shops.
So where did the inspiration for lighting as a service come from?
I used to be in the clean energy investment business, and LEDs are just a really good looking, clean energy investment. I knew if there were a way to get around the upfront financial concern that a lot of buildings have, it makes a ton of sense longer term. So we were able to demonstrate that; we can finance these light bulbs for people, and the fee that they pay us still leaves them a lot of savings. It’s a really easy financial picture. That’s how I came at it, but now that I’m in the industry, I realized that lighting is a highly nuanced field; it’s not like solar or wind, where the only decision making pieces are economic. In lighting there’s aesthetics and there’s feel; you want your product to look a certain way. There’s always a lot to it. The traditional lighting industry doesn’t take that much time to deal with the aesthetic side. So we can do the work, but we have a design aesthetic about what we do.
Why do you think the aesthetic of lighting is so important for a commercial space or a business? Do you think it can make a big difference?
It makes a huge difference. A poorly lit space is an uncomfortable place to be, and no matter what you’re using the space for, that’s not what you want. On one extreme, if you’re showing artwork, lighting is your product. It’s so important that your lighting looks right, that your colors are rendered correctly. So that’s one extreme, where it’s absolutely central. And then you have an office building, where light quality is important because you have people spending 12 hours a day there, and you need them to be productive and comfortable. Fluorescent lighting, which is what most offices have, is terrible, but people have gotten comfortable with it because it’s inexpensive. When we work with an office building, sometimes we’re introducing them to the concept of better lighting. We’re enthusiastic about it because it’s hugely satisfying for us to do a commercial space, and to have the customer be super happy with the way it looks. They enjoy the economic benefits over time, and that’s great too, but right away, they love how it looks.
Why LEDs? Why not any other kind of lighting?
It just has to be LEDs. In terms of the technology, LEDs are so far and away ahead of other light sources, in terms of being able to bring quality, longevity, and efficiency into the same package. An LED, structurally, is a lot like a computer chip; it’s the digital version of lighting, as opposed to the analog. LEDs are improving every year, getting easier to use, lasting longer. It’s super exciting. And there’s a lot of stuff that hasn’t happened yet. Being able to control lights from your device is something that will happen with LEDs that could not happen with other light types. It will be what people use; they’re already beginning to use it, but every light will be LED in short order.
What do you love about working in DUMBO?
DUMBO is a place of work; it’s relatively non-residential, and relatively non-retail. The architecture and industrial stuff makes it a place that reminds you there’s work to be done. Places like midtown remind you there’s money to be made; you come here and it reminds you that there’s work to be done. A lot of the people that I’ve met, the people that are in my building or the people that I work with, are very much “work to be done” types, and I think that’s cool. It also happens to be beautiful, and I have a great view of the city from my office. Pretty awesome. It’s changing, so we’ll see, but for the moment it’s a pretty great place to have a small business, and I’m enjoying it.