(Photography by Marie Constantin: HitLights founder and CEO Bin Yu)
Purple and gold colors flicker brightly from Bin (pronounced “Bean”) Yu’s eyeglasses as he sits behind his desk wrapped with LSU colored LED lights.
As the founder and CEO of HitLights—a supplier of LED light strips, light bulbs and accessories—Yu uses his engineering background to develop new LED products for his company.
“R&D is my interest because with an engineering background that is just who I am,” Yu says.
One of the most recent projects to come out of his R&D efforts are the Game Day Lights that line his desk, walls and other cubicles around his glowing office. The light strips are waterproof and fully customizable, with the ability to easily program them to any team’s colors with a remote.
Since starting his business in February 2010 with the help of LSU’s student incubator, Yu has managed to grow his company to $7 million in revenue in 2015 and is one of the top three vendors of LED lights on Amazon.com. Not bad for someone who never saw entrepreneurship in his future.
He arrived in the U.S. in 2007 on a scholarship to LSU pursuing a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. While studying for his doctorate he partnered with a neighbor to start an e-commerce business selling everything from T-shirts to MP3 products on Amazon and eBay.
After attending a trade show in Las Vegas, he noticed large electronic manufacturers displaying LED lights and decided to parlay his e-commerce knowledge into an LED lighting business.
“It was very good timing that I guessed that LED should be the future,” Yu recalls. “So after the show, I came back and decided to switch to only LED.”
Now with steep LED competition in the online marketplace, HitLights differentiates itself by offering an extra layer of customer service.
“People find us through our brand on Amazon and call us, and we offer more service compared to Amazon, because on Amazon, the service and the functions are limited,” Yu says.
While his company spends a significant portion of its budget on online advertising platforms, Yu finds the creation of organic content such as blogs and instructional videos brings the best return on investment.
“LED, especially like these novelty items, you kind of have to inspire people how to use it,” Yu says. “Every product you order is a solution. For example, it is a solution for your kitchen, like underneath your cabinets, or on your patio or in your game room.”
Yu was first inspired by LEDs because of his passion for the environment and the technology’s ability to serve as an affordable and efficient energy solution.
“Right now the big concept is smart lighting,” Yu says. “When LED came out, you could connect the LED to your home automation control very easily.” However, like many other cutting-edge technologies, Yu says he always has to keep learning to stay on top of industry trends.
Along with constantly keeping up with developments in his own industry, Yu also invests a lot of time in the professional development of himself and others.
As a member of the Louisiana chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization, or EO, a global network exclusively for entrepreneurs, he participates in learning and growing through peer-to-peer interaction with other business owners.
“This business group has really helped me to transform myself from a specialist [in engineering] to a generalist,” Yu says, explaining how he has developed finance, human resources and marketing skills from EO.
For the past two years, Yu has served as an Accelerator Champion for EO, helping businesses reach $1 million in revenue.
Between his passion for professional development and his business know-how, Yu is often on the road—or in the air, to be precise—traveling to China to check on his manufacturing facility, to Istanbul as the U.S. delegate for the G20 Young Entrepreneur’s Alliance Summit, or more recently to Singapore for an EO event.
While Yu faces the common day-to-day challenges of many small business owners, such as hiring the right people and keeping everyone on the same page, he says the most difficult part of running his own business is that English is his second language.
Matt Slack disagrees. Slack is the owner of Baton Rouge-based AV Solutions and Yu’s accountability partner in EO, meaning they are responsible for helping each other overcome obstacles and meet goals they each set for their business.
“His work to improve his English may be moot, since language barriers don’t slow him down from connecting to the many of us who meet him on his local and global journeys,” Slack says.
Slack remembers that Yu once unexpectedly grabbed his hand and filled it with foreign coins, recalling that Slack’s 8-year-old loves coins.
“If you can imagine the impact exotic coins have on an 8-year-old collecting mostly pennies and quarters, you may glimpse Bin’s talent,” Slack explains. “Bin deposits dream-making conversations, ideas [and] gifts that reshape who we are and where we are going, changing perspective in significant, unexpected ways through simple means. Though he’s a successful businessman and sharp engineer, thoughtfulness is his most potent tool, underpinned by his humble, self-effacing way.”