Founders ‘bootstrap’ Crossroads LED into an industry leader
By Scott Meacham
i2E first wrote a column about Crossroads LED back in 2011.
At the time, the company wasn’t yet a year old. Dana D. Stefanoff, Crossroads president, and her husband Buddy, Crossroads LED Vice President and chief engineer, had developed a patented high-output, multicolor LED lighting control system that offered exciting effects while reducing power consumption and operating costs.
‘We had been in business forty-five days,’ Dana Stefanoff said, ‘when we got the contract from the Texas Motor Speedway to do a first-of- its- kind caution lighting system. We built the system in our garage.’
From that moment on, Crossroads LED has bootstrapped its way to becoming the industry leader in LED lighting. In the entrepreneurial world, bootstrapping means figuring out creative ways to pay as you go so your new company gains traction and revenue without incurring debt or selling equity.
Bootstrapping meant that the Stefanoffs turned their house into their first production facility with engineering in one bedroom and a back office administrative hub set up across the hall.
‘You use what you have and make it go far,’ Dana said. At the end of 2010, the company moved into their own facility without any debt.
The company has always invested a significant percentage of the business assets in research and development.
‘With LED technology, if you do not put intentionality and priority in research and development,’ Dana said, ‘you will be behind the curve in six months. To keep that our priority, we had to bootstrap.’
Even though Crossroads LED was very successful with multi-colored LED lighting for the entertainment industry with installations at Six Flags, the Coca-Cola Museum in Atlanta, as well as other amusements parks and entertainment venues in the U.S. and abroad, the company learned a hard but welcome lesson about market validation.
‘We made that new company mistake,’ Dana said, ‘making assumptions about customers and what they wanted. What customer wouldn’t want high quality lights with lower lifetime maintenance and energy costs? Except that in amusement parks and venue businesses, the operational focus on was on seasons not years. We did well and got recognition, but how do you distinguish yourself in a market that is all about short-term, when your advantages and attributes are all about long term?’
Crossroads LED’s reputation in the industry began to attract calls about other LED lighting applications, including outdoor lights and high output lighting for venues with 40-foot ceilings.
‘We had always studied the market,’ Dana said, ‘but we had to be intentional about studying our customers and not presuming what we ‘think’ they need. Today over 85% of our customers are municipalities. If you really want to know what a city needs, talk to the engineers.’
One of the first municipalities was the City of Tulsa where Crossroads LED retrofitted the acorn-shaped post-type lights, preserving all the infrastructure while swapping out old technology for new. ‘That was our start in 2014,’ Dana said. ‘Now we are in states like Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, and more. In over 11 years, we have had no field failures.’
With a record like that, naturally Crossroads LED has earned numerous entrepreneurial and technical awards. The company is well-known for its integrity. ‘Our growth has been mostly by word of mouth,’ Dana said. ‘The lighting industry is close, especially in cities and municipalities. Everyone knows what everyone else is doing.’
There is no doubt that Crossroads LED is a visionary company built on a commitment to serving customers with the strongest engineering talent available. Recently, the firm received a different type of recognition. Crossroads LED was honored by the International Dark-Sky Association for the company’s revolutionary ‘Astrophile Series’ of dark-sky certified LED amber streetlight luminaires.
‘We get so used to it we don’t recognize how little of the night sky we actually see until we are in a place that has no sky glow.’ Dana said. ‘Until we began helping cities realize the benefits of being sky compliant, I had no idea of what I had never seen.’
There is a perfect symmetry in an innovative Oklahoma lighting company inventing industry-leading LED solutions that let individuals and families in cities and towns enjoy the dark as if they were out on the plains. Only in Oklahoma is there innovation like that.
Scott Meacham is CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model. Contact Meacham at [email protected]
Founders ‘bootstrap’ Crossroads LED into an industry leader.