Joshua Ward, Co-founder at Tala
With such ambitious growth and development planned for the next few years we thought it was time to shine some light on one of the powerhouses that started Tala in a garage a few years back, Joshua Ward, one of our three co-founders.
We sat down with Josh on a brisk morning in Tala Studios and discussed his upbringing, why he decided to start a lighting business and the importance of sustainability.
The road to Tala
Life before Tala, where to begin!? I was born in Vancouver and grew up on a small island called Gabriola. It was an artistic and pretty wild community. My parents ran a gallery on the island with friends and we enjoyed a lot of freedom with access to all the beautiful nature British Columbia has to offer.
We then moved to the UK just outside of London, Zone 6 at the end of the Metropolitan line, a gritty contrast to Canada but looking back, I’m super grateful for the move.
I learned a lot about work ethic at home. My mum would work back to back night shifts as an NHS nurse for weeks on end whilst my dad would travel the world working on big construction jobs. The way I see it now, I had two big advantages – no money and good parents. Like most, by the time sixth form came around, I couldn’t wait to bust out of that neck of the woods!
After completing my MA at the Business School in Edinburgh I realised I wanted to dive into the deep end of environmental science and economics. I stayed on for an intense year-long MSc in Carbon Management. By this point, I had held more part-time jobs than you can shake a stick at. I got my first job at a pub at 14, I was a lifeguard, a terrible mixologist, a sustainability consultant, the list goes on. I’d also been lucky enough to meet some wonderful characters along the way, including my future co-founders – Will and Max. We became good friends quickly and it didn’t take long before grand plans of a startup took hold. At this point, we didn’t know it would take at least two years, several pivots and some gruelling jobs to even get it off the ground.
Couch surfing and hopping between cheap flats in London was the starting point. We worked Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Southbank street food market for two years whilst working on Tala the rest of the week. “How’s your startup going?” became a bit of a painful question near the end of my apron wearing days, but to be honest it only made us more hungry to make Tala work.
We wanted to start a company that could tackle our generation’s most important issues, namely the environment. Initially, we looked into developing solar projects and the architects involved began to ask us about sustainable retrofittable lighting. We did some research and were surprised at what we discovered. Here was an industry that wasn’t really driven by design and there seemed to be a big lack of simple but attractive products.
To begin with, everyone thought we were mad to start a light bulb business. We set ourselves the task to decommoditise low energy lighting on the principles of design, technology and sustainability.
“Sustainability” is really about making intelligent and responsible decisions. It’s a concept that, hopefully, in 20 years people will look back on and think ‘Wow, that was obvious. Why was that even treated as a different category of thinking or doing business?’ Ecological systems simply cannot deal with the pace at which we humans are messing everything up. The good thing is there are so many ways to counteract this and change the way we do things. All the information is right in front of us.
One of my favourite new quotes at the moment is from Yuval Harari’s new book which sums it up:
“In a world in which everything is interconnected, the supreme moral imperative becomes the imperative to know.”
Ignorance isn’t a valid defence anymore. I think voting with your feet and with your money is a good place to begin.
Sustainability brings depth to your actions, your choices and your day-to-day. No one is perfect and at Tala we value momentum in the right direction. Changing procurement policies, upholding our product standards, tracking emissions, interrogating packaging choices are all very normal discussions for us.
The brand has evolved a lot over the last five years. There are so many projects and mentions it’s hard to distil. Our exhibitions probably track our development the best. When everything is so digitally focused, a physical presence has become even more important in helping people experience the brand, our identity, ethos and designs.
Euroluce, Milan 2017
Our first show in Milan was really special two years ago at Euroluce and we’re looking forward to our second edition this year in April.
The most exciting moment for me as a co-founder was opening Tala Studios here in East London. It’s our global HQ and has been a real game changer for the company. Another highlight was one of our first collaborations in New York with the divine Apparatus studio. Our first piece in AD felt really good, especially the feature on Will and the Tala New York team.
Tala Studios, Global Headquarters, Hackney.
The Future of Lighting
I think the future of lighting will adapt to a few disruptive and exciting topics:
1) Limitless forms and new production methods – the underlying tech and breakthroughs in materials science will allow for even more creativity
2) The Circular Economy – the right to repair and design for recyclability will allow new operating structures to emerge
3) Light as a communication tool – lighting is well placed for our acceleration towards connected architecture and living
4) Lighting and its link to wellness – More science-based research and product design is coming out to support our health and wellbeing.
Advice for future entrepreneurs
– It’s almost impossible to over-communicate in a startup
– You need to grow thick skin
– Time and focus are the most important resources
– Be data-driven from the start, a culture shift at the scale-up phase is hard
– Find mentors and don’t be afraid of rejection. It’s only a ‘no’ or even better, a ‘not now’ anyway
– Get in front of customers, don’t overthink things from the safety of your desk
– Momentum is super important, don’t try and be a perfectionist all the time
– Hire very carefully, startups are a team sport
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us Josh, it’s really interesting to hear your journey as a co-founder and to learn about your outlook on sustainability.
Stay up to date with Tala by subscribing to our newsletter and follow us on Instagram – @tala.
If you’re a designer or buyer and are interesting in specifying our products please get in contact with our sales and specification team by heading to our Professionals page.