Circadian Optics’ is the company that Amber Leong leads as CEO. Famed for her recent appearance on the hit show “Shark Tank,” Amber’s company, Circadian Optics, is a maker of light therapy lamps that are especially useful during the Daylight Savings Time months which begin on November 3, 2019.
A Minneapolis-based startup, Circadian Optics innovative line of light therapy lamps intend to mimic natural sunlight to help users regulate sleep and boost energy levels and improve mood, especially during the winter season.
Amber’s story is as compelling as her creation. She grew up in Malaysia and lives in a house without indoor plumbing. Coming to the U.S., the family cashed in a retirement account that was borrowed from a family member and sent Amber to school in Minnesota. After contracting toxic shock syndrome during her first semester in college, Amber was given a 50/50 chance of survival. She spent 10 days in the ICU, drifting in and out of consciousness but ultimately survived. The experience taught her to cherish every day and this was the main driver for starting Circadian Optics.
Circadian Optics was born in a dark office during a long Minnesota winter. Leong was always tired and had trouble concentrating. The lack of light was getting her down. She learned about light and the circadian clock and purchased a light therapy lamp. It was a huge, boxy device that wasn’t truly user friendly. She designed a smaller, good looking light therapy lamp and Circadian Optics was on its way.
Amber Leong recently discussed her experiences running a startup and working as an inventor via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): You grew up in Malaysia under poor circumstances. How much did your family do to escape that life and how much emphasis did they put on education?
Amber Leong (AL): My parents worked hard every day of their lives and sacrificed everything to send us to good schools and then to college in America. I used to have to travel over an hour to get to school and back because my parents wanted to send me to a better school in the city center. They believed in the power of a good education and strived to afford us the best opportunities in education.
MM: How did you get interested in lights and lamps?
AL: Coming from tropical Malaysia, I was used to getting a lot of sunlight. But after moving to Minnesota, I found the days short and overcast for many months out of the year. I would go to work in the dark and return home in the dark, and spent the whole time in a dimly lit office. I read about light therapy and decided to purchase one. I bought the most popular model and it worked. My mood improved, had more energy and was less tired. The only problem was that the lamp was large, boxy and clinical looking. My co-workers would tease me about it. I realized that there had to be a market for light therapy lamps that not just worked, but also looked good. That’s where the idea for Circadian Optics was born.
MM: What made you decide to create Light Therapy Lamps and how tough was it to turn the thought into a product?
AL: Creating an actual product was way more challenging that I expected it to be. I worked with a world-class industrial designer to create concepts, iterate versions of the concept, create engineering drawings, create prototypes, pay for production molds, and finally you have a product. And after all that, you have no idea if people will like it or actually purchase them. It was many long nights and lots of stressful work, but that makes it even more gratifying to see people purchase a product that you have created.
MM: How did you find the materials and the company to manufacture it?
AL: We were able to find an excellent manufacturer after talking to multiple factories and they have been great partners to us all these years.
MM: What sorts of health benefits does this product offer?
AL: There are many research studies that have been done on the benefits of light therapy. The three biggest are that they improve your mood, energy and sleep. While it may seem like big claims, all of these are controlled by our body clock and light therapy is an effective way to regulate your body’s circadian rhythm. It’s simple but it works!
MM: How did you get on “Shark Tank” and why do you think this pitch was unsuccessful?
AL: It was a long journey getting on “Shark Tank.”. Over 40,000 people auditioned. I auditioned in Las Vegas on a whim, when I found out they were having auditions in the same location I was attending a trade show. From there, it took many months to get to the final selection and filming of the segment. It was so exciting being on set and learning about the process of shooting a TV show. I think the reason the pitch was successful was that I connected with the Sharks, and they saw in me the potential to grow the business and achieve our goal of bringing light to America.
MM: How did you end up getting this product on the market and then sold globally?
AL: I launched my first Circadian Optics product in 2016 and it started selling well right from the start. That’s when I knew that I had discovered a market that was untapped. I continued to expand our product line and today we have 5 different, very unique models of lamps that makes us confident that there is a lamp for everyone.
MM: What sorts of feedback have you gotten so far and are you planning to invent anything else in the future.
AL: The feedback has been great and we have gotten thousands of positive reviews about how our lamp has been helping improve peoples’ lives and how much they love their lamp. The most gratifying part of what I do is reading all the positive feedback I get from our happy customers.
MM: What else might you like to mention?
AL: To all my fellow entrepreneurs out there: We spend every day in the trenches, and sometimes things can look like it’s the end of the tunnel. The only thing we can ask of ourselves is that we do our best.
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To learn more, visit the official website of Circadian Optics.