More Than a Bright Idea

Ray Sjolseth didn’t need a college education to know a career could be made in clean lighting. Seesmart’s president and cofounder stands here with a few of the company’s commercial and industrial LED products.

Working at Seesmart is a sweet deal with perks like tuition reimbursement, at least 26 birthday cakes a year, and, looming on the horizon, yoga retreats.

Just any old office environment won’t cut it for Ray Sjolseth. After all, if the boss isn’t happy—nobody’s happy. That’s why he makes sure the workplace culture at the Simi Valley, California-based Seesmart, Inc. is one in which he—and his employees—can thrive. “At the end of the day, for me to spend a lot of time at work I want to make sure the environment is one I’m happy in,” Sjolseth says. “I tried to create somewhere that I want to work. I look at it from that standpoint. And it’s not just me, but the other people around me. I’m trying to recruit people to be on my side.”

Founded in 2008 by Sjolseth and Ken Ames, Seesmart designs, manufactures, and engineers LED lamps and lighting fixtures. Authorized dealers and distributors then deliver these products to the public, where they hit a broad range of markets, the most common being commercial, residential, government, school districts, and retailers.

Sjolseth is modest about the company’s beginnings. While he and Ames come from a consumer electronics background, neither excelled academically. “Neither Ken nor I went to college—we both barely made it through high school,” Sjolseth says. “We had been watching the clean-tech space and clean energy and decided that LED was worth investing in. We took a risk. However, it was very much a calculated risk based on what we saw going on with energy. It was a strategic decision based on where we saw opportunity in the clean-tech space with technology.”

Years ago, energy-efficient lighting wasn’t on the radar, but today it’s flourishing. “There are a lot of opportunities—that’s the way we’re shaped,” Sjolseth says. “Everything is an opportunity. How are we going to do it bigger, better, faster? We try to differentiate knowing light space is evolving into the technology corridor. And being that we’re a technology company, the company is packed with young, progressive people that embrace technology, whether that be wireless technology or being able to virtually work on servers. Our environment is by no means boring.”

Neither is it uptight. Seesmart offers its employees numerous workplace perks. “We provide water and coffee,” Sjolseth deadpans. But also, health benefits paid 100 percent by the company, as well as dental, vision, and life insurance, flexible spending, and even birthday cakes. “We do birthday parties for everybody in-house,” Sjolseth says. “It’s a big shindig. Lunch is catered, and there’s some type of birthday cake. We have about 26 cakes a year, if not more.”

Other perks include schooling and tuition programs for reimbursement, and requiring dealers and distributors to attend training sessions so that they can, in turn, educate customers on the importance of LED technology. For those who want to reach a different level of enlightenment, Ames and Sjolseth are looking into yoga retreats. “Skills come in a variety of shapes and forms,” Sjolseth says. “We definitely support the cause for anybody who wants to be educated, and encourage those lessons wherever they are. The yoga retreat is something we’ve been thinking about doing for a while. It’s on the list to implement for this year. It’s not going to be for everybody, but it’s something we would like to be able to offer our employees.”

Most importantly, the duo tries to cater to the individual needs of its employees. “Not only is the company growing, but they’re growing, too,” Sjolseth says. “A lot of our staff are younger, and they’re being promoted from administrative assistant to manager to owning a department
with multiple employees. We’re trying to support
them.”

Employees aren’t the only ones that continue to grow with the company. Ames and Sjolseth continue to work hard to raise the bar and drive their business. “Everyday is a push to educate the public on LED technology,” Sjolseth says. “We have grown over 100 percent the last three years due to our drive. We are very proud of that. Ken and I are both extremely driven and have the take-no-prisoners attitude on getting where we need to go.”