Dave Dawson on 15 years in business with Editor at Large

The Urban Electric Co.'s founder, Dave Dawson, shares his reflections on 15 years in business with Editor at Large.

My wife and I started our lighting company  in a tiny workshop in downtown Charleston, South Carolina.  As a former attorney without design or manufacturing experience, I had almost no idea what I was doing and, perhaps worse,  I had no idea what I didn’t know. I’ve learned a lot of lessons, most of them through trial and error or just plain failure.  

 When I was just starting Urban Electric, I dove headfirst into every new idea. Big or small, bold or bad, every idea was an opportunity to prove we were up to the challenge.

 Though I sometimes miss that brash, younger self, today I try to be more measured in what initiatives  are worth pursuing, particularly if they involve substantial resources or risk. This spring, we’re launching a new collection of exterior lights. And while this is intended to pay homage to our beginnings (a time when we were almost entirely focused on exterior lanterns), our product range has come a long way. Today, it includes everything from sconces and pendants to floor and table lamps and lampshades. The diversification of our product line has happened steadily over a number of years, often as a result of that early,  brash confidence.

 As with most small companies, we’ve had scant data or analytics to guide our product roadmap, so we’ve most often relied on pure gut—which was not necessarily a bad use of instinct at the time, given its relative low risk: Design a new product based purely on what we love, put it into the world, and let the market tell us whether or not it was a good idea.

Kensington pendant in Hewn Brass, Interiors by Workstead
At our core, we are a design company.   While we are committed to a regular cadence of new products each month, we refuse to compromise on the integrity of the designs.  In that regard, I am lucky to have an incredible creative director  in Michael Amato, whose strict attention to detail and uncompromising commitment to quality has kept our standards high. The Kensington pendant, for instance, took us three years to develop and a significant amount of R&D investment to get right—the size of the glass globe, the subtle curved frame, and the LED paneling made it an incredibly difficult product to execute, but it was worth it in the end. Perhaps not completely justified on a spreadsheet, but justified nonetheless, because we had created something beautiful—something we were proud of.