Samantha McKenzie – Acustico Lighting

Introducing Acustico Lighting, design beautiful and functional lighting solutions that address wellbeing and comfort. Founded in 2017 by designer Samantha McKenzie, Acustico Lighting’s range of products address both form and function. Their products have been designed to absorb and reduce noise, whilst also being aesthetically beautiful. Using environmentally responsible material choices and manufacturing methods, each of the products has been designed to be good for the planet. They are manufactured locally by local hands, in Melbourne. 

We sat down with Founder, Sam to find out more about her entrepreneurial journey.

Where did you get the idea for your business?
My background is in interior design, which I studied at RMIT. My passion is in residential interior design, and I did have a business with a partner who I met through the RMIT Interior Design course. We worked together for a few years and after that time she moved to Sydney. At that point I had another opportunity present itself, which was to get into more corporate interiors. In every corporate job I did, the clients would talk about the problems with the acoustics. In fact, in the last job I did the client was basically screaming out for acoustic comfort. She had a boardroom that echoed and she was desperate to fix it. That’s when I actually had the idea, so I did a little bit of research at the time, and I just couldn’t do both. I couldn’t develop the product in time to get it into her boardroom, but it did give me the idea how I would go about developing something.
Is acoustics part of studying interior design or did you discover the need for this on your own?
That’s a good question, it needs to be part of the whole design. I am not trained in acoustics and the way that sound waves behave in space, so that was one of the first things I tried to learn through my research. I wanted to learn what materials and products can absorb sound and also learn about the way sound travels within a space. From that research it became evident that sound is absorbed best close to the source of the noise, that’s why a pendant light became a really obvious solution. The lights are fully customisable. They come in a variety of colours, textures, sizes, and shapes and they are made in Melbourne from sustainable materials. The lights are most suited to hospitality spaces, restaurants, bars, and education spaces – anywhere with a lot of sound!
What were the first steps you took to get your business off the ground?
I did lots of research! As I said, I don’t have a background in sound, so I needed to learn as much as I could because it’s sort of like a dark art. Understanding sound is basically an engineering degree, it’s not something you can learn from just reading a few textbooks. I don’t profess to know everything, I’m very happy to curate information about it, but I can’t actually go into a space and make an acoustic design. What I can do is provide these lights. These lights have been tested by a staff member at RMIT who has a Ph.D. in Indoor Environmental Quality. They have been independently tested to show that they can absorb up to thirty percent of sound.
Back to how I got my business off the ground – I was working from home at the time so I went and rented a desk at a coworking space. It was good but it felt a little empty and lonely. I found out about RMIT Activator through an Alumni magazine and just decided to come along to a Bootcamp, not knowing anything about where it would take me. I had no idea I’d end up here, six months later!
What are some of the most important lessons you have learnt on your business journey so far?
Everything takes longer than you think!
Be prepared to pivot, just because you desperately want something to work doesn’t mean its going to. For my first product, I couldn’t actually get the design to work, so what I had to do was relook at the materials and the processes and what I ended up settling on was something completely different to the original. It’s a far richer product for it. I also think getting involved in a program like RMIT Activator is an amazing thing when you’re low on funds. There’s so much information that’s provided.
What does your team look like at the moment?
I have a staff member who is my equal in terms of life and business experience, but at this stage, I didn’t want a co-founder. That’s not to say I won’t in the future. I feel like I probably will take on another partner at some point, but I feel like that would probably be for international expansion. I’ve got the design and the interiors covered, but I do need skills in other areas.
How important is it to have a business mentor?
Very. I’ve had two businesses prior to this, one was with a business partner in Interior Design and another one was in my twenties. I didn’t have a mentor with that and I kind of felt like I knew everything – which clearly, I didn’t. There were some areas I had covered but there was an awful lot I didn’t. That business was called Wedding Wishes, Australia’s first online bridal registry. Not having a mentor I took on a business partner and I took on a person who I just didn’t have aligned values with. In terms of having a mentor I’ve really only had the mentors here at Activator, these are my first mentors. I really see the value in it. I’ve already lined up a mentor for post-Activator, someone who has many years of business experience in the sustainability and financial sectors. Having the diversity of mentors at Activator has been incredible, they’ve really been able to give different advice, sometimes conflicting but that’s okay! You just go with your gut then.
What are your top 3 tips for starting a business?
  1. Do your research in all things. Your market, your customer, the time you can commit to it, finances, your relationships. You really need to know and understand all of that before you begin!
  2. Realise that things are probably going to take you longer and cost more than you think.
  3. Learn from an accelerator program like RMIT Activator.
How would you describe your life as an entrepreneur in 3 words?
Invigorating, energising and challenging!
What podcast are you listening to right now?
  • Small Business, Big Marketing by Tim Reid, that had some great marketing tips.
  • There’s also a book called Oversubscribed: How to Get People Lining Up to Do Business with You by Daniel Priestley, which is an interesting read. It’s great for a different take on how to acquire customers.
  • Who are five people dead or alive you would love to have dinner with?
  • Patricia Urquiola who is a Spanish designer living in Milan, Zaha Hadid who was a British-Iraqi architect, Reese Witherspoon, Princess Diana, and Michelle Obama – five women!
What is a saying you live by?
I’ve always loved the saying ‘fortuna audaces iuvat’ which translates to ‘fortune favors the brave.
What has been the best part of your Activator journey so far?
That is a tricky question to answer because there are many things. I’d have to say the clearest thing is the clarification of my direction, so I’ve definitely changed my business model since I’ve been at Activator. I’m now much clearer on IP and pitching, and the other great part of it has been the connections I’ve been provided with. I’ve been put in touch with people that have then lead to amazing opportunities. I’ve also loved being part of the greater team and having lots of inspiring people around me, I will miss that when I leave. Being at Activator has also given me confidence in making decisions. When you’re own it’s sometimes a bit harder to know if you’re on the right track or not.

Want more?

Keep your eyes and ears peeled for Acustico Lights around town and check out the website for more info

Leave a Comment