Ney Corsino On Shifting Nanolumens From Niche To Full-Range LED Display Vendor

March 22, 2023 by Dave Haynes

Nanolumens was an early player in the LED display space – known mainly in its first few years for innovative  display products that were super-light, thin and flexible … at a time when just about everything else on the market was heavy, thick and solid.

The Atlanta-based company was still pretty much known for that kind of product when Ney Corsino was hired on as CEO, at the start of 2020. Experienced as a business transformation and turnaround guy, Corsino has evolved Nanolumens from a company with an interesting niche product to one that has a full range of display options – from conventional video wall set-ups and all-in-ones to transparent mesh displays and the thin, flexible units that first gained attention.

Nanolumens has also got more focused on some key vertical markets – arguably the biggest ones being airports and public spaces. Several new air terminals that have been built or renovated in the last couple of years have featured Nanolumens product in its signature public art, messaging and experiential installations.

Corsino and I chatted about how he has also put in the hours with his team to clarify how it goes to market, and how it specifically works with integrators and solutions providers.

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Ney, thank you for joining me. You joined the company from Barco, so you would’ve already been well-versed in LED displays. What attracted you to Nanolumens? 

Ney Corsino: Thanks for having me. Yes, I came from Barco before Barco, and before that, I was at Phillips, Philips Electronics, a European company, and Barco, also a European company, and now at Nanolumens, a US-based company. But to be honest with you, at Barco we paid little attention to LEDs. We have a deep engineering base in projection there and we venture with click share. 

LEDs have been up and down at Barco and at Nanolumens, all we do is LED, so we are pretty much focused here. 

Because you knew the business, was there something in particular that attracted you to Nanolumens? Because they’re relatively small and US-focused as opposed to a big global entity like Barco. What was your perspective on all that? Why join them?  

Ney Corsino: I think for good or bad, I developed my career in improving businesses, transforming and improving turnaround, and I felt that the impact I could continue to do would be more valuable in companies like Nanolumens. So I think it was a good encounter between a company that needed this kind of action and someone that had experience in doing this at a corporate level in many different business units. So now I could come, and exercise all I have learned all by myself and I’m very glad I did that.  

When I first got to know Nanolumens, let’s say 10 years ago, their calling card, so to speak, was these flexible, almost rug-like displays with removable modules, they called them nixels at the time, and I think they still do. 

It was very unique on the market at that point, and those were the early days anyways for LED displays. I wouldn’t say they’re not still unique, but I don’t get the sense that’s the kind of the main growth driver for Nanolumens these days. 

Ney Corsino: The company has run for about 17 years. It has been one of the pioneers in the LED display market, has been involved in many innovations, and has almost a hundred IPs, but most notably, like you just said, it is the invention of the flex module, which is still called nixel where you can basically do smooth curve wall. So we hold IPs on that. But since then, it has evolved quite a bit especially in the last three years, we continue to do of course very well on the curve. But we have re-engineered and extended the portfolio for cabinet-based modular units, also mesh, all in one. So we now have a very extensive portfolio.

Now if you ask about the sales, it’s almost half of it. It is still customized, which includes the curved modules, and the other half is more on the standard flat solution.

Why do you think it’s played out that way? 

Ney Corsino: I believe that the brand commands that customization aspect, the DNA of creativity, wow effect, doing things that are let’s say complex and difficult, but we engineer to make it possible. So I think that’s the inheritance of the brand and continues to be. What we have tried to do, part of my arrival here is to continue that, but create us not a next segment that gives the possibility of of scaling up the business, and that’s why, as I mentioned before, re-engineer the flat segment all in one mesh outdoor if it is more on the architecture. It’s the one step in the direction of extending the portfolio to scale the business and find a consistent regular growth path for the business. 

So if you stayed primarily with these lightweight flex products as your main product line, that would restrict you to being a niche manufacturer as opposed to broadening it and becoming a general manufacturer that would give you scale?

Ney Corsino: Exactly. It is very architectural, customized, and therefore you could call it niche. It’s a good portion of the market. We do very well there, but if we have bigger ambitions and big plans, then we need to play in other fields as well. 

In paying attention to projects that come on stream, and knowing that in many cases the customer doesn’t allow the manufacturer to say who it is that’s providing some of the technology, I still get a sense that Nanolumens is doing a lot of airports in particular, and I’m curious why that’s played out like that. 

Why are you guys winning so much of the business in airports? Apart from that, I’m sure you’re gonna say because we have great products, but, there have to be other reasons.

Ney Corsino: Yeah, that’s a very good question and probably not easy to answer. The product definitely makes an important play there. But I would say, Dave, that the airport is one of the most complex and demanding environments. You have the airport itself, you have the airlines, and you have the advertising agencies or companies. There are a lot of things going on in an airport. You have very tight schedules where you can work and when you can’t. We have security aspects to it. 

I think over the years the company just got to understand how all these cards are played, and then more importantly, we learn and we learn to adapt and not fight the system, but work with the system, right? Whatever the constraints are, wherever the demands are, we translate that into a workable plan that involves product, involves people, involves a process, and there we go. 

How much of it does Nanolumens take on versus channel partners and integration partners? 

Ney Corsino: I think about the past of the company and then I have seen not only Nanolumens, but also in my past, there is confusion within the company as far as the go-to-market is concerned, and that’s not a good thing. It was no different here. Nanolumens from its past behavior has confused the market in terms of whether it is going directly, is it going through the channel partner. So one of the things that I’ve done since my arrival is basically to clarify that and commit to a go-to-market plan, and it is my strong belief and that’s where the company is settled now. We go to market through channel partners. So that’s our approach. So there is no more to it.

So you don’t do direct sales? 

Ney Corsino: No, we do have some house accounts, legacy ones but less than a handful, and whenever we have a company that wants to do direct business, we sit with them and we explain all the risks associated with taking a technology company that is focused on creating things and trying to make it a turnkey company that will be distracted with many other things. And through that dialogue, we always introduce channel partners that work with us very well, and I think, I think 99% of the time we end up in a good alignment that we will play through the channel to the end user, and everybody will be satisfied. 

One of the things that have come up in LED manufacturers for marketing is because a lot of the “channels” didn’t really have a lot of background and experience in deploying LED displays, they didn’t know how to specify it, they didn’t really know how to sell it or anything else. So a lot of the manufacturers came up with these all-in-one finished displays with fixed sizes and they would come in a kit and everything’s there and you just open it up and deploy, and it’s a 186-inch big ass TV that sort of thing.

I’m suspecting that the channel partners you’re working with are beyond that because they’re doing mega walls and airports and so on. 

Ney Corsino: We do also have these big-ass TVs as you call them. It’s part of the working out distribution model for the company. Our channel partners work with them from a very early stage where we train their designers, we train their salespeople of course if they are open and welcoming to it, and most of the time they are. So we actually work together to make them more comfortable with the technology and entertain the prospect of their business, but ultimately that will come back to us and we will engineer the solution as a final project anyways for them. 

So it sounds like this is more about getting the right channel partners as opposed to getting lots of channel partners.

Ney Corsino: Oh, definitely I mean there are thousands of them out there. We work very well with many, but I think there is a right balance and we try to be very cautious of it. 

The marketplace seems to be inexorably moving towards increasingly fine-pitch displays. Are you seeing that or are you still experiencing some customers who understand that the dynamics of the environment we’re in 4 millimeters is fine or even 6 millimeters? 

Ney Corsino: I would say that the answer is: Yes. For the most part, every two-three years, the volume goes into the next narrow pitch size, right? It used to be the 2.5, and then it went to the, let’s say 1.5, and to the 1.2. So it feels like it moves, 3-3+ years, and that is not changing. 

However, I think that’s very interesting for the LED marketing industry. LED is going in places where nobody would have a screen before. That’s number one. So it is growing into something new areas, new applications. The Second is also replacing some of the projection technology, and the third is also replacing some of the old LCD solutions. So it’s a market that keeps growing, and I say that because, with that kind of penetration in so many applications, you end up with a need of almost any pitch size, any fine pitch, meaning, the 4mm might be very good for certain applications and the 6mm from some others if it is outdoor or indoor. 

I will give you an example. In airports, there are a lot of 2.5 millimeters going, and they say, why is that? Why don’t they go finer? It’s because terminals and lobbies are usually very big in airports, so the screens are far from the person and therefore you don’t need a super fine pitch, a 2.5 does an excellent job. 

Is there a kind of a sweet spot, like I was hearing in the last couple of years that seems like the market has settled a lot on, as you were just saying, 2mm to 2.5mm works for most applications if you’re getting away from really close end things in retail or museums.

Ney Corsino: Yeah. That is right, and I think there is a second trend toward volume on the 1.2mm, especially in applications where people don’t want to have a tile LCD solution. They want to have a more smooth, seamless, and large screen. So therefore you also see in that particular part of the segment where people are closer to the screen, the market’s moving very fast for the 1.2mm.

I was walking around Integrated Systems Europe about a month ago, and looking at displays that were R&D products at that point, or R&D efforts but I saw 0.4 millimeters and I didn’t see it personally, but I saw the PR after a Chinese manufacturer saying they had 0.39. So just a hair thinner even and I wonder, are they just marketing, trade shows, eye candy kinds of things? Is there really a demand for the LED to be that tight in pitch? 

Ney Corsino: Technology-wise, there is a pursuit for that, that’s correct. I think one of the reasons is that you need that kind of super-duper fine pitch to reproduce what LCDs or OLEDs are doing nowadays in the market. Now for the consumer-based screens, you will need to go that low. So technology tips, pushing the boundaries, pursuing that route, no. When you look at the business side of it, the business is run in 0.9mm to above pitch size. Even when you say 0.7mm, many companies are now displaying 0.7mm, is it doable? Yes. Is it expensive? Yes. Are there volumes? No. There will be very, very selected products or screens being made on a 0.7mm at this point. 

So I just try to give you a relative situation between a technology that pursues eventually to be in a consumer kind of demand but still is in a professional kind of market. 

We’ve seen in the last few years the emergence of mini LED and then micro LED. Is most of what Nanolumens is doing still for, to simplify the description, conventional SMD or four-in-one LED? 

Ney Corsino: Yeah, so we do conventional. Nowadays also moving to COB and therefore going to mini LED. That’s where we play. I think the term micro LED is a little bit overused in applications that are not micro LED. I’m trying to be polite, but there is a big marketing push on the use of micro LED at this point. 

Do you see your company going to that? If some of the mass transfer challenges and production challenges get overcome, because I keep hearing that when those get figured out, that’s really gonna greatly reduce the cost of micro LED and make it something that you could use for something other than just super premium applications.

Ney Corsino: Yeah. At that point, it is almost like a process industry. If you don’t control the yield it cannot be cost-effective. So they will have to operate at a very high yield. I think the company will go with the market. As part of the transformation from the early days of Nanolumens, we are now very market-centric and we will respond to the market demands in the short, mid, and long-term.

So when you say you’re market centric, you mean you’re focused on certain verticals like airports? 

Ney Corsino: Exactly, yeah. We try to translate unique aspects of those segments into the portfolio, and into the design that we will provide.

Does that kind of apply to going after larger public spaces, that sort of thing? 

Ney Corsino: Yes. So let me also give you a little bit of insight into the business. The largest portion of the revenue mix was on the airport and also in theme parks, so large projects that come every other year. But since then we are now having a very evenly distributed mix where we operate in airports for sure, theme entertainment for sure. But now we also do lots of business with corporate, large venues, but also, especially their lobby and briefing centers. Higher-ed has been investing nicely, Sportsbook, and last but not least, the golf segment. I think those segments are all growing for us, and that gives us a more evenly spread mix in the top line.

Why are all these different segments now investing in LED versus 2-3 years ago? Is this just a function of price and awareness? 

Ney Corsino: I think so. I think the product became more affordable. The product became better, therefore it can be applied in different ways, on different surfaces, and I think the previous solutions they had has already depreciated, and LED becomes the next technology that’s future-proof that provides a more immersive experience.

And I think not to overplay the word immersively, but there’s an enormous trend in an immersive experience, and when can you achieve that? And I think LED from a screen technology is very capable of doing that. 

Yeah I’ve certainly seen this emergence, particularly of these experiential venues where they’re using projection, and I love what some of them do. I’ve got a good friend who has one in Montreal, but I just wonder if that’s a technology that’s gonna be taken over by LED with time, because you’ve got more flexibility, it doesn’t have to be a darkened room and you’re not confronted by some of the environmental issues.

Ney Corsino: True. I think my belief is that no, the technologies will coexist. One technology opens up a new application like those new kinds of museums u or experiential centers that you mentioned. Eventually, some of them will move to LED when they find it is appropriate to have an application to do so. Projection will still stay there. So I think they will coexist, but they will find a new balance in terms of sharing the market. 

One thing I believe your company has expanded into in terms of broadening the product line, is some of the mesh LED products that are both for indoor and outdoor use. Are you seeing a lot of activity there?

Ney Corsino: Yeah, we started that more than a year ago. We installed the big landscape here in Atlanta, the TKE building. I think that got a lot of media exposure. It’s a large surface up high in the building. 

It’s an elevator test facility, right?

Ney Corsino: That’s a test and showroom facility. So there’s a lot of elevators going up and down. The building has a glass facade so people could go into the elevator and yet see the stadium down there and see the city, and they didn’t want to block that view so we engineered a match solution where you go through the elevator and you still see through and enjoy the same view. However, if you are on the road, in the stadium and you look back at the building, you have this beautiful branding screen there, and that was designed about two to three years ago. It was delivered about a year plus ago, and since then we have seen the pipeline increase.

People became aware of it and the possibilities of it, especially the architects and consultants are very interested to see what the new possibilities are, and we’ve been engaging more and more in those conversations, and with that, the pipeline keeps growing. 

I assume that one of the reasons there’s a lot of interest in that is because it’s pretty lightweight, and as you say, it doesn’t block light coming in, in the way that a solid kind of cabinet-based system would do. Is that a big attraction?

Ney Corsino: Yeah

You mentioned earlier working with the channel and with integrators. Are you also trying to circulate and drive awareness amongst the design and architectural communities because I kind of see LEDs becoming a building material. 

Ney Corsino: Yeah, we have a separate group within the company here that deals exclusively with the AUC group and we have lots of certified material for training. We do lots of hands-on learning, and we find out that, although we are a very known and improved and growing brand, there are still a lot of people that need to know us better. So that’s definitely one aspect of importance for us and we enjoy it because it’s not a sale conversation. It’s more of a solution conversation in many cases. 

You’re based in Atlanta, you do your design, all the specifications, and everything in Atlanta and like everybody else, you get some of the manufacturing done overseas. You’re competing with a hell of a lot of companies that have sales offices here and maybe some degree of support, but most of what they do is on the other side of the Pacific. Is that a kind of a key marketing plank that you are based in the US and somewhat designed and assembled in the US versus the others? 

Ney Corsino: A hundred percent. We are very proud of it, and let me quote a customer the other day. The customer, it’s a new engagement channel partner and he asked, “When we deal with your company, we actually don’t need to use Google Translator. Is that right?” I replied, “No, we don’t need Google translator. We are here. We have the full skills here. We are very easy to do business with. We respond very quickly, and we are very adaptive.” At the end of the day, if you put everything into Excel or into the papers it is more cost-effective to have it this way. 

And are you finding just generally that the people you’re working with, they are familiar or they’ve had enough experience in the marketplace to understand that you can have a Chinese manufacturer that has a sales office over here, but support everything else is overseas and that becomes problematic?

Ney Corsino: True, and Chinese manufacturers knock on my door every single, and they offer me, and of course, they offer many other people out there. So then the question is, what’s the value proposition? What’s the uniqueness? 

So we are very tied with our supply chain. We have made improvements in the last two years. They are paying off nicely, and our channel partners working with us have appreciated all the value that we have been bringing to the table, and once we go through that experience, a hundred percent of the time, it’s becoming repeatable and the repeatability of it gives me the comfort that we are adding value to their business, and we can do that in a profitable way for the industry, including ourselves. 

Where are you at as a company in terms of headcount and are you public or private?

Ney Corsino: We’re a privately owned company. Therefore we don’t share business metrics. 

But do you have 50 employees, 100 employees, or 5k employees? 

Ney Corsino: Around a hundred. 

Okay, and is most of that in Atlanta? 

Ney Corsino: I would say 70 to 80% in Atlanta, and the remaining part spread.

For your manufacturing, do you have people over in China or wherever you get some of your product made or components made? 

Ney Corsino: Yeah, so we work with a contract manufacturer but we have R&D and a supply base in China. 

If people wanna know more about your company, where would they find you online?

Ney Corsino: We have refreshed the website and brought a lot of tools into it, making the experience a lot more user-friendly and that’s where we’ll find us. 

Great. All right, thank you for spending some time with me. 

Ney Corsino: It was my pleasure. Dave.

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