It’s been an amazing journey to get to where we are today. As with any product and business, we have had many problems and challenges to overcome, while at the same time, it has been exciting, and fun and opened up many new opportunities along the way.
Many people have asked how Knuckle Lights was born, so we created this overview of how it all began.
A LONG TIME AGO, ON A COLD DARK STREET
I’m Dan Hopkins, the founder of Knuckle Lights, and it all started nearly a decade ago when I decided to set a big fitness goal and signed up for my first half marathon. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Not only was I not really a runner, but my wife and I had a 6-month-old at the time as well as 2 elementary-age kids. I had a full-time sales job with travel, emails, and endless meetings, so the only time I could train was early in the morning, long before the sun came up.
That first morning of my training I was excited! I jumped out of bed, quickly dressed, and shot out the door. I immediately realized just how dark it was outside at 5 a.m. I was not prepared, I had nothing—no light, reflectors, or safety vest. I was in my neighborhood, so there were a few street lights, but I could still barely see where I was stepping. A few blocks later there was no light and it quickly became dangerous not being able to see any potential tripping hazards. It slowed me to a walk and luckily I made it back without incident.
I wasn’t going through that again, so I stopped at my local running store to explore lighting options. I was disappointed to find only headlamps on the shelf. I never liked the look or feel of wearing a headlamp, but it was my only choice. The next morning I had my new light strapped onto my head, but in less than a mile into the run it became uncomfortable—was it strapped too tight? I loosened the strap a bit, but then it started flopping around on my head, which was even more annoying. Also, something I never would have thought about--it was winter in Oregon and very cold. When I exhaled, the steam from my breath would come between the light and my line of sight, essentially blinding me for a second. That was more unnerving than not having a light at all.
FORGET THE HEADLAMP!
Next run: the alarm goes off way too early--this routine was going to be much harder than I anticipated, but I headed out the door, headlamp in tow. I refused to actually put it on my head though. Instead I wrapped the strap around my hand and something interesting happened—I could see the ground better than I did with it on my head.
I got back home and knew what I needed: lights that I could wear on my hands, just grab them and go. The one headlamp worked okay, but since it was a spot beam, there was a lot of movement of the light caused by the swing of my arm. Perhaps one light in each hand would counteract the movement of the other light.
I went online and searched for running lights that I could wear on my hands. A simple Google search led to no results, so I checked multiple sporting goods websites with no luck. Instead, I just bought a second, inexpensive utility headlamp, and was ready for my next pre-dawn run.
MY FIRST KNUCKLE LIGHTS
With a headlamp strapped to each hand, I had what I was looking for. The setup wasn’t ideal: the straps were too big and, although I wrapped them a number of times around my hands, they would work themselves loose during the run. Also, while the two lights were better than just one, the spot beams still danced around a bit too much for my liking. I went about training for the half marathon the rest of the winter with those lights on my hands.
Each time I was out running with my homemade Knuckle Lights I would wonder if other people hated wearing a headlamp as much as I did, and if they were commonly used by runners simply because there was no other option. I would see others out running or walking in the dark, some carrying a flashlight, a few with a headlamp, but a lot with nothing at all. So I decided to take action and develop Knuckle Lights into a real product to give another option for nighttime runners and walkers.
IT’S SO EASY TO LAUNCH A WEBSITE
I found a product designer online to come up with some initial sketches of the product. We settled on the look and function of the lights, which would include only using wide flood beams, no more of the headlamps’ spot beam. I checked GoDaddy and KnuckleLights.com was available, so I launched a simple website to see if anyone would actually buy this crazy thing. Amazingly, within a few days, I started getting orders. I’m still not even sure how people were finding the website at that point.
By the way, we took good care of the people who purchased on the website during this test phase. They received a full refund and we also shipped them a set of Knuckle Lights when they eventually became available.
BUT IT’S SO HARD TO MAKE A PRODUCT
With the orders coming in, I had validation that others were looking for this solution, but then it hit me: I actually have to figure out how to get this thing made. I shut down taking orders on the website and started looking for a manufacturer.
The Internet is a wonderful thing. Sitting in front of the TV, laptop open watching reruns of Friends with my wife, I was able to research LED light manufacturers from all over the world to see if any of them had something close to what I was trying to make. No, they did not, but no problem; I will simply send them a message asking if they can manufacture my new invention and they will be falling over themselves to work with me. That first night I emailed 10 manufacturers. Let the bidding begin! Not a single answer. A week later I had expanded the search to just about every LED manufacturer on Alibaba.com and finally did get a response from one. They were a new startup company too, looking to produce LED products and hoping to succeed.
I discovered that most factories are not anxious to work with guys like me who simply have an idea for a product. Even though I was willing to pay the mold fees and costs of production, it was a long shot that it would ever lead to a second order. Factories can spend a lot of time working really hard to help bring a product to market with no long-term payoff. I got very lucky and ended up connecting with a very responsive and reliable factory that was able to grow and survive along with us over the coming years.
EVERY NEW PRODUCT WILL HAVE PROBLEMS
After eight months of going back and forth finalizing the product, providing packaging design, and sending more money than I was comfortable with, the factory shipped out the first actual sets of Knuckle Lights. When the boxes arrived I anxiously opened one up and immediately was in shock: the packaging had completely fallen apart during shipment! The factory didn’t use strong enough glue to keep the shell attached to the cardboard. The vibration while shipping caused the shell to fall off the cardboard (remember the Label Maker episode of Seinfeld, where all the labels slide off the boxes? It was basically like that). I spent many hours with a glue gun in my hand making the packaging presentable to be able to send to customers. We got this fixed for the next order, but it was only the first in a long line of problems that would occur over the first few years.
Fortunately, these experiences have helped us create a fantastic product that people love and have given us the ability to quickly grow and innovate, launching a number of different versions of Knuckle Lights, reflective gear, and other safety lights.
I am proud of our journey; not only the excitement of innovation and growth, but the difficult challenges we have faced and overcome. Knuckle Lights have been featured in well over 100 media outlets, some of the biggest including The Wall Street Journal, Runners World, Shape, Self, and Women’s Health. However, the most rewarding part has been hearing from people who use Knuckle Lights every day, and the positive impact it has had in keeping them safe while running or walking in the dark.
Personally, since training for that first half marathon that inspired me to create Knuckle Lights, I do finally consider myself a runner. I typically run 4 times per week, have completed the Portland Marathon twice, and multiple half marathons. One of my favorite events is the Hood to Coast Relay and plan to participate in Cascade Lakes Relay next year.
How about you? I would love to hear your story. If you have questions or if I can offer any advice from what I have learned, I would be happy to do so. Feel free to reach out.
Thanks for reading. Stay safe, be seen, and Own The Night!