Business COVID-19 Startups Technology

Start-Up Spotlight: Nanoleaf CEO, Gimmy Chu, is Leading in Business Through Empathy

For the last seven year, lighting company Nanoleaf has dedicated it’s business to reshaping the landscape of the lighting industry. CEO Gimmy Chu with Co-Founders Christian Yan and Tom Rodinger have taken their vision from a Kickstarter campaign to a successful business.

Fast forward to today, the company is now using it’s to supply chain connections to source and donate personal protective equipment (PPE) to frontline medical workers as the COVIC-19 pandemic continues to place strain on the medical field. When the COVID crisis began, I was watching the news every day and seeing the chaos unfold,” said Chu, “It felt wrong to simply stand on the sidelines and do nothing. Speaking to our team in China, it quickly became clear to everyone that we could help with sourcing and supplying urgently needed supplies to frontline workers and hospitals.”

Through this connection, Nanoleaf is capable of sourcing up to 300,000 masks per day. To date the company has donated 50,000 masks and launched a GoFundMe campaign to open this initiative to the public. 

Social distancing has become the new normal for millions of people world wide. In the middle of a global pandemic this mass separation can make people feel isolated and unsure how best to help those in need. Nanoleaf’s GoFundMe campaign was created to inspire those who want to get involved but are searching for a good place to start.

“I knew there were a lot of people like myself – sitting at home, worried and anxious – who also wanted to contribute and help in some way. The GoFundMe empowers everyone to contribute and give back to our communities fighting this – big or small, every single donation counts,” said Chu. 

Bay Street Bull caught up with Gimmy Chu to discuss the new intuitive, why it’s important and how leading with empathy solidified a team of employees strong enough to weather the storm.

Q & A

What was a pivotal moment in your career and how does it inspire how Nanoleaf is run during this time?

There wasn’t a single pivotal moment in my career. Prior to Nanoleaf, I worked in a major consulting firm and I was lucky to have worked under many different managers and executives during my 8 years as a consultant.Looking back, I think one of the most important lessons I learned in becoming a leader is knowing how to truly empathize with the people I work with. It’s about that understanding and relationship that you build within your team that determines success.

What advice can you give to another young company, a lot has changed in a very short period of time, how would you advise them to navigate this?

This year’s COVID-19 crisis is definitely one of the biggest hurdles that our company has had to encounter and it’s the same hurdle that millions of other businesses are facing. My advice to them is to think bigger than your business and think about the lives and health of those around you. Your business is not what defines you. In times like these, we need to focus on doing what is right – and that may be different for each company. The right thing to do may be to change your marketing strategy to speak to this new way of life or to get involved and help provide supplies to frontline workers and hospitals. The right thing may simply be just to close their doors and take care of the people within the team as best as possible. At the end of the day, we’re all going through it together and I think it’s important to remember that this is a shared experience – the good, the bad and the uncertainty of it all.

The company’s designs have disrupted the traditional lighting market in many ways, how have things changed in the wake of COVID-19? How have you been prompted to innovate in different ways now?

At Nanoleaf, we have friends and family on the frontlines as doctors/nurses and we have had immediate family members that have contracted COVID-19 who have needed urgent care in the ICU. As a team, we knew we needed to do more to help. We have an extremely experienced global supply chain team that is capable of performing QC and importing a large volume of high quality PPE. Our marketing team also started a GoFundMe page in order to raise funds to begin immediately shipping out supplies to hospitals. Since then, we’ve sourced over 2M orders of masks to hospitals across North America. We believe very strongly that we can get through this if we all work together collectively, and this is the least that we can do to help fight this pandemic.

How has your team navigated working from home and social distancing? What have you found most helpful in implementing to ensure productivity and the maintenance of employee morale?

Our team has done a great job making the transition to working from home. We’ve maintained our daily morning scrum meetings to check in with each other and make sure everything is on track. One thing I have noticed is people are a bit shy about turning on their cameras during online meetings. I’ve been trying to encourage everyone to make this a habit! While we can’t meet in person right now, I think it’s really important to have that face-to-face time to help us connect and make this situation feel as normal as possible.

A daily ritual we have at the Nanoleaf office is push ups at noon. At the office, we used to do this every day at 12 o’ clock – 15 minutes of push ups, squats and planks. We’ve continued this online with a conference call where everyone joins in for a quick mid-day workout. It’s been a great way to stay healthy, motivated and connected with everyone at this time.