Like many people living in cold Northern climates, Amber Leong was suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Looking for solutions during the long cold Minnesota winters she bought a light therapy lamp but wasn’t pleased with the design or the interface. It was from this experience that her business idea was born: a well designed light therapy lamp that balances circadian rhythm. Since quitting her job to run her business Circadian Optics Light Therapy Lamps full time she’s found success on ABC-TV’s ‘Shark Tank’ winning investment from not just one, but two sharks – and even being called, “The American Dream” by Mark Cuban.
Leong’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
Circadian Optics was born in a dark office during a long Minnesota winter. I was always tired and had trouble concentrating. The lack of light was getting me down. I learned about light and the circadian clock and purchased a light therapy lamp. It was a huge, boxy device that wasn’t truly user friendly. I realized that there was a big need for light therapy lamps that looked good. That’s truly entrepreneurship 101: solve a problem or make something better. I had the idea for a better designed light therapy lamp for quite some time. I didn’t act on it immediately because the idea of starting my own business was so scary; but, it’s a process that every entrepreneur has to go through before making the big leap of faith. After a while, I did decided to quit my job and pursue my dream of running my own business. It has been such a fulfilling experience – solving the problem of a lack of light in people’s lives, and hearing from our customers about how much they love our lamps.
The definition of success is that I feel fulfilled in what I do. I love my work and how my Circadian Optics lamps help people to live better lives. Success is making a difference. Leaving the world a better place. How will the story of my life be told? Those things motivate and drive me. Deciding to choose creativity over certainty has been difficult, but also tremendously rewarding. By being a creator, of lamps, of strategy, of basically everything it takes to keep a company running – that is priceless to me.
Being chosen to pitch on ABC-TV’s “Shark Tank” was a top success. However, having TWO Sharks commit to investing in my vision was truly validates what I do in bringing light therapy to consumers. I’m proud of achieving the “Shark Tank” dream for my company. On the broadcast, I was called the “American Dream” by Mark Cuban. It doesn’t get any better than that.
My goal for Circadian Optics is to have one of my light therapy lamps on every desk in America. Light therapy balances circadian rhythm and reduces symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) . I want to educate the public to understand and effectively use light therapy for better moods, better sleep, and better lifestyles.
My top challenge in starting and running Circadian Optics Light Therapy Lamps would be my own self-doubt. The desire to flee back to the security of my 9-5 job was a tremendous challenge. Everyday, choosing to work on this uncertain business without being sure where it was going to go was an internal struggle. Going into the unknown is a decision that I make when I wake up each morning. With entrepreneurship, there is a constant gnawing fear; a fear that something catastrophic is right around the corner. Even when things are going well, the fear is there; that even if things are going well now, something bad is going to inevitably happen. The way I overcome it is to feel the fear and do it anyway. Don’t let the fear make you freeze or paralyze you. Just keep executing and plowing on.
When I came to the U.S. to attend college, I was hospitalized with toxic shock syndrome. After being given a 50/50 change of survival, I pulled through. I know that life is a gift, it is short and it should not be wasted. I have to reach for the bigger dream of growing Circadian Optics Light Therapy Lamps to larger audiences.
My most important role model is my great grandfather, who left China and went to Malaysia with nothing and started a business with nothing. I like to feel that I am following the family tradition by coming to the United States and starting a business and growing that successful business.