Strategy Session: Is Lytro Camera 3.0?

Strategy Session: Is Lytro Camera 3.0?

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Jeff Hansen is the vice president of Global Sales for Lytro, a technology upstart that is making plenty of noise in the world of photography with their new Lytro Illum light field camera. I recently sat down with Jeff to talk about Lytro, the launch of their new products and their retail strategy.

JG: So how did it all start?

JH:
Back in 2006, Ren Ng, our founder, was working on his doctorate at Stanford in light field technology. The genius of Dr. Ng was to take this global concept of light field imaging and build it into a practical, affordable handheld consumer camera. Out of his work came the original Lytro camera, which can focus on an image after it is captured and allow viewers to explore into each image and discover new possibilities within the image. Out of that thesis and the work that Ren did, he started Lytro with some investors, and of course it took a number of years to develop something that was commercially viable.

Did he always think of it as a camera as he was going forward, or more about the technology?

I believe he envisioned a device able to capture images. The first iteration came out as what our first-generation Lytro camera is—a very unique design. It looks kind of like a kaleidoscope. It was good and bad in the sense that the form factor was so different from what a camera looked like, it created some hurdles for adoption. But the technology itself is amazing.

One of the things we’re emphasizing is a focus on content—what can be done with the camera. So instead of talking about specs and functionality, we’re talking about what we call “Living Pictures.” This technology provides the ability to tell visually immersive stories that allow photographers to not just capture the moment but the whole essence of that moment. This in turn permits consumers to create several perspectives from a single composition. We can also render every image taken with Illum in 3D—something no other camera can do. As a general rule with the press, I prefer to steer clear of referencing another company when describing our strategy.

So is your initial target the pro photographer?

I would say the pro and prosumer are absolutely our primary targets, what we term Creative Pioneers—professional photographers and dedicated amateurs who are looking for new ways to tell deeper, more immersive stories. Take the examples of Christine Haan, who shot the first 3D digital lookbook for Chromat during Fashion Week (vimeo.com/108165542), and Mike Sternoff out of Seattle who shoots Seahawks games.

We also have customers who are early adopters and who want the latest and greatest. But the camera is really for anyone who is looking to tell a unique story, and we believe that it will certainly appeal to different levels of photographers.

The ability to manipulate depth of field after the fact is amazing. Companies like HTC and some others have come out with apps that simulate what we do; they actually blur out elements in the images that are already in focus to simulate what we do. But we have the full depth of field, so you can have everything in focus or just certain things in focus. We’re starting to see reviews that are referring to such new technologies as “lytro-like.” So I guess we’ve become the standard for refocusing.

Are there commercial applications as well?

From a pro photographer’s perspective, you’ll see a lot of very viable commercial applications like wedding, portrait and even sports photography. As I mentioned, we’ve had photographers shooting the Seahawks’ football games. Industrial photography—product images online, in particular—can be portrayed in an interactive or very dynamic mode. Those kinds of images are really the beginning of what we see happening—people using their creativity with the Lytro Illum to tell stories that are completely unique.

Are there other versions of this product on the horizon?

Ultimately the technology itself, which captures the direction and angles and intensity of light, can be used across a myriad of medium. Think of anything with a lens and a sensor being able to use this technology—from smartphones to spy satellites and everything in between. We’re not going into the spy satellite business, but who’s to say someone won’t take the technology and do it. 

What about video?

The capability is there right now to record video. For example, think about being able to change the depth of field and the focal point in a video after the fact. It’s unbelievable; it’s mind-bending. However, the Lytro Illum does not shoot video, because the industry lacks a processor that is powerful enough to process all the data captured by our camera. We’re talking about gigabytes that would be streaming in on the video side. But it is on the forefront of the minds of our developers.

What does your retail strategy look like?

What’s important in any marketing function is to be where the target customer is going to be. And because we just talked about the fact that the pro and prosumer are our real targets, we want to be in places that are going to serve them best. That is photo specialty. We will be in Amazon and B&H as well, but at the same time we are really optimistic and will support dealers to drive traffic to them. This is a product that needs a little extra explanation, and education, and we want the retail experience to feed that to our customers. Photo specialty dealers tick all the boxes for us.

What about marketing programs to drive customers into stores?

Our primary marketing investment is in supplying assets for the stores—whether it be POP, apps to work on tablets, images they can play on an in-store TV, or of course training. Those are all investments. At the same time, it’s important to connect with the dealer, as we want to work with them to drive the customer to the store. This is a new technology and a unique reason for customers to come in and talk to the dealer. So we’re willing to partner with dealers in their direct marketing activities to help drive customers into their stores. We are also investing in different publications to drive general awareness.

This is an intriguing product for their customers. It’s a nice add-on sale with a new technology. So, is the Lytro Illum shipping now
?

Yes, we’re shipping now but we’re highly constrained—a good problem to have with more demand than supply. We’re catching up to that, but there are still allocations specific to the photo specialty channel, and we’ll start shipping to them next week.  We are aiming toward having a number of trainings and events to support specialty dealers leading up to the holidays.

So, if you were to project a year from now, what do you want Lytro to stand for in the market?

We’re a little different from many companies in this industry. We are the only company sitting at the intersection of photography, computer graphics and even virtual reality. We’re an American company; we’re based in the Bay area, and the mentality and culture of the company is very youthful and energetic. It’s actually a great environment to try to inject into the photography channel.

Quite frankly, this industry can use a little pick-me-up, and between the technology and our approach to the market, I think we have a great story for our dealers. It doesn’t solve all of the problems in the industry, but we call it Camera 3.0. Camera 1.0 was film, 2.0 was digital, and we look at 3.0 as possibly the future of photography. That’s why we want our dealers to be on the cutting edge, and launching with us.

To answer your question, in a year we should be very well penetrated; we should have successful dealers, and our content should have permeated the market and be well understood. We believe that providing Creative Pioneers with the ability to tell compelling stories using our technology will ultimately influence and then drive a revolution in the photography market.

What keeps you up at night?

Right now, stock availability, because we have more demand than supply. We really want to make sure our dealers succeed. This is our big launch, and sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. So we’re going to be on a learning curve to figure out how to help our dealers, and keep the competitiveness there. It’s important for us to have our content available anyplace; we want it to be ubiquitous. Most of all, we want to be responsive to our partners.

If dealers are interested in carrying Lytro, what should they do?

We have an authorized dealer program. Probably the best way to contact us is to send an e-mail or give us a call. This information is available on our website, lytro.com. Or they can send an e-mail to partners@lytro.com or to Art Cervantes, head of our go-to-market strategy, at acervantes@lytro.com; or to Debbie Smikoski, head of our U.S. specialty sales, at debbie@lytro.com.

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