Edward Madongorere is the creative mind behind the MOON UltraLight, which is a highly advanced and sleek light for your phone or most any tech product with a camera. I got to sit down with him via Zoom, and was able to ask him a couple questions about his creative process, influences, and tell us more about the MOON UltraLight.
*Were you African raised? Tell us a little more about your family life and how that influenced who you’ve become.
Edward Madongorere: To a degree, my parents are both of African descent and my family heritage is Southern African in Zimbabwe. Wasn’t raised per se that way, But I had an opportunity when I was younger To actually go live in Zimbabwe and go to school there when I was a young adult, and that was pretty transformative.
So would you say you’ve spent more of your time in America with the parental influence of your roots in Southern Africa?
EM: My parents to a degree were very Americanized, so my mom is western educated And traveled the world actually working as a flight attendant for major airlines, so she traveled all over the world when I was a kid, and my dad worked in government so he traveled a lot too. I really had a multicultural upbringing; I grew up in New York City, so that was pretty much the melting pot. I was around twelve years old and had a chance to go to Zimbabwe for the first time; it was important for me to go because I sort of knew there was a little bit more to who I was, and I felt disconnected from it. Having that opportunity really changed my perspective on everything.
Why are you so passionate about tech?
EM: This sort of ties into my upbringing— I love design more than anything; I love tech. I just love the whole idea of design; in fact, I actually got accepted to attend a design school in California when I was out of high school, and I couldn’t afford to go. At the time, my parents had split up before then, and my mom wasn’t really in a financial decision to send me to school.
But I always had a passion for design, and that got me into music, and every time I needed to fix a problem, I’d use design tools that my friend would teach me how to use. I always had a reason to learn something, and after I learned it, it became part of the core values of who I was. And because I still loved to design, I was just always designing whether it was websites or user interfaces, but I love gadgets and tech. I used to buy all kinds of tech gadgets, so I always had a keen eye for design. So when Apple was really taking off, that became my gold standard; I was very impressed by what Steve Jobs and his team did with Apple. When you think about it, it was so monumental when you think about the level of design that was put into it, and that always stuck with me. When the idea for the MoonLight came about, I used all those certain chops I had learned over time.
Was there ever a specific time like with Apple’s “rise to power” in which you thought, “hey, I could totally do that?”
EM: I didn’t even think I could do it to be honest, it was more of serendipity. So when I had the idea for MOON, I had already been a cinematographer, I’d been a designer, I’d worked in the corporate world (Cisco) where we did a lot of video conferencing, and form all that, I learned so much about tech in general. But for me, my goal was just to continue to design and film; I never intend to make a product. When the idea hit though, it just made me say, “wait a minute, I should make this product.” I knew I actually had the skills to pull this off and I knew enough about myself and lack of ability, to know I personally wasn’t going to be able to make the product. However, going back to Steve Jobs, he didn’t per se make the products, but he did envision the products and where to go, and I knew I could potentially do the same thing.
EM: I just knew that to do it I had to find my team, my “Wozniak” so to speak, and I was lucky enough that I did find somebody was able to partner with me as my co-founder. So, it took a lot of my creativity and my understanding of video and lighting and all those things I learned over time, and then my co-founder bringing all of his skills in making physical products— we just became an unstoppable force.
The first design that we had was the actual product we ended up making. We agreed on the size and we were committed to doing everything we could to accommodate that vision.
What sets your product apart from the various other types of selfie lights, like the Selfie Ring? Or one of those phone cases that have lights built into their perimeters?
EM: I’m a creator first; I love to create content. As I was thinking about not only the consumer, but how I would like to use it. I didn’t want it to be stuck in a place that was just for my phone. Selfies are great, they’re limiting. If you get one of the selfie rings then you can just use it for selfies, and similar products are also really bulky, and for you to pull that out in an environment where you want to create content, it almost limits you from doing anything because you feel so self conscious of holding this giant light in public to create content.
Size was a discretionary thing, we wanted people to not have that anxiety of being embarrassed to take out this huge light for one picture. So size is definitely one of the biggest things that sets us apart from other products; nothing is as small as we are.
And further than that, it had to look and feel like something you wouldn’t be embarrassed to carry around. Similar to when Beats by Dre came out and people started wearing them as badges of honor more than they were using them as headphones. It was because it wasn’t an embarrassing or bulky pair of headphones to put on your head or carry around, and so it became a fashion trend. Our goal was to create a product that you could have on your phone and it would be a casual thing where more people could create the content they want and be like, “hey I have a MOON UltraLight on my phone,” and it can almost become part of your identity, similar to Beats.
Our product also really lets you get the lighting just right. The precision with which the lighting adjustment options is complexity unique to our product. You can manipulate the light size and dimness all the way down to the color tone of the actual light. This is again, really important because when you are going out with friends you’ll see everyone is unique in their tone and complexion, and so we wanted to accommodate every single person so they may have a good photo— especially in the tricky situations of group photos. You want to be able to easily capture the moment.
Many of the products one can find on amazon in the wider sphere of phone camera lights, are priced at an average of $25 dollars or lower, yet the MOON UltraLight is priced at $60. How would you explain the the higher price to someone in the market for a detachable phone light? Do you think it would be a deterrent to those in the market as the uninitiated?
EM: When you think about the level of our product, the consumers are paying for the highest of quality because we use the best material, best metals, best engineers, along with everything right down to the unboxing experience. Also, we spend almost $1000 on our cell phones that can take these amazing pictures in the right lighting, however, that lighting is not very precise or of high quality. SO if you’re going to spend all of this money on a quality phone, the picture quality should be great as well. The MOON UltraLight gives you an opportunity to experience lighting technology with the same level of craftsmanship as your smartphone.
All of those things considered, the fact that we actually back up our products with technical support unlike some of the cheaper lights you can find on the internet, is a big part of our experience.
They say necessity is the father of invention, so what problem, if any did you set out to solve with the invention of this product?
EM: It was actually an “ah-ha” moment in real life. Our youngest son is autistic and when we found out he had autism, our life mantra became to capture as many moments as possible because we knew one day everything was going to click for him, and the main question would be how did he get here— wherever “here” was in life. At the time my agency was the biggest thing and when my son is older he’s going to ask “how did you do all this?”, and especially as a young black kid seeing a guy come up and build something, it was very important for me to be able to tell that story for him. Capturing content and moments became our entire life— didn’t matter where we were, we were always taking photos.
One night, we were in a particularly dim restaurant and my wife was trying to take a picture of us and it just wasn’t working out, and I was super frustrated and she was super frustrated and in that moment she challenged me, “You know what you’re the cinematographer. You know light. Why don’t you come up with something?” With the combination of my ego and my desire to just be able to eat already, I just decided to try something for that moment. I literally just took two phones and held them together back to back while I took the picture with one, using the flashlight in it as a light and took the selfie of us.
She was blown away, and I was semi-blown away, but I was kinda like “Of course. Lighting solves this problem.” It was just sort of inherent to me; it wasn’t until this couple two tables away from us tried the same thing a few minutes later, where I realized my wife had a point and maybe I was supposed to solve this problem.
What advice would you give to inventive people? Those who have vision and need for people to believe in something that is yet to exist.
EM: You just have to get up and do it. You need to believe in it so much that everyone around you just cannot deny that belief. Don’t take doubt to heart in fact, take in feedback and pocket it to mine for potential fixes to future problems. Not all feedback is gold, but it is some of the best ways to improve.
You need to be willing to sacrifice. It’s not going to be an easy road and you’re going to have to make some sacrifices, meaning you’re going to have to sacrifice your time, maybe even friendships (hopefully not), but you will have to sacrifice something—you have to be okay with that.
Some of the best ideas I’ve ever had came from people who were “hating” on the product. Really internalize the criticism; that is how you solve all of the potential problems with it.
If everyone around you and on your team think you and the product are the greatest thing in the world and it’s brilliant and genius and only saying positive things, then you’re surrounding yourself with the wrong people on your team. You need people who can actually bring reality to the project.
Where do you see this going in the next few years?
EM: A global brand. Definitely. MOON is going to excel in all things content creation, especially lighting. I want to be able to create products that make visual content creation much more accessible while still maintaining the quality of many professional creators.
Are there any other products coming from the MOON brand that you’re able to currently disclose?
EM: I can’t disclose yet, but I can say one of them is going to be pretty awesome as an accessor to the UltraLight, and the other one is actually the next generation of the MOON UltraLight.
I can’t really share the details (I wish I could) but I’ll tell you this: all I can say is… no wait… as a creative it is something that I am personally excited about, as I have been creating content with my mobile phone lately, and using smaller point and shoot cameras lately. That’s all I can really say but when I can disclose more information I’ll definitely let you guys know.
Where can people find your product?
Moon Instagram: @mymoonultra
Edward’s Instagram: @edemante
*Responses are not verbatim. They have been edited down for brevity and applicability.
Photo Influencer: Level21 TV: Yamaris Polanco