The story of Puffco is the story of a man, his time and place, his passion for hashish and a team of creatives pushing his company forward. And it all started as a hobby when Vape pens set the scene in New York in 2012.
“For me as a New Yorker, it was extremely liberating because as somebody who has been arrested for cannabis before, it allowed me to go around the city and consume cannabis in a very discreet form that gave me the freedom of not being afraid of being arrested anymore,” Roger Volodarsky, CEO and founder of Puffco told Benzinga in an exclusive interview.
Although Roger was obsessed with vaping, his devices kept breaking. One day a friend asked him why he didn’t make his own. “I had just enough ignorance to try. I knew how hard it was. I was asking people in manufacturing and there weren’t very many. I learned by making mistakes.”
Think About The User
Puffco released its first product in October 2014 and went on to win High Times Vaporizer of the Year. “We were a two-person company. Outsiders who got catapulted to being the most visible company as far as consumption goes. Then we started building things out ourselves and seeing if we could build our supply chain to get things done.”
One might assume the secret recipe behind Puffco’s success was its branding strategy. Production at scale was not the case, so what was it that made it the most popular vape company in the world?
Volodarsky says the reason was that the device resonated with people and his goal wasn’t to just build a business.
“I was making a product that I would like to use and enjoy. It was designed in the people’s favor, not to sell them features, not to say ‘this is the best thing out there.’ We weren’t using glue or plastic, or fibrous materials, on something that is thoughtfully designed in favor of the user, not in favor of selling the product.”
Volodarsky started smoking when he was 13. As he grew up, it became harder to incorporate cannabis into his life, that is until he started vaporizing concentrates. Then everything changed.
“I said ‘Oh my God, this can get me so much higher than a flower can.’ When you’re vaporizing concentrates at a lower temperature you can use cannabis throughout the day and it won’t negatively affect your output.”
Another reason why he’s so passionate about hash is flavor; it never occurred to him that weed could taste like an orange or a banana. “These were flavors that were somewhat present in flowers, but very quickly lost when you’d smoke. And the nuance that I see in cannabis is something I could have never seen with flowers,” he explained when comparing hash and marijuana.
Although when he began smoking concentrates, he found the butane hash oil (BHO) to be unpleasant. “I tried vaporizing it, but, the technology was hard. You had to use a piece of metal and heat it.”
Referring to Puffco as a new way to enjoy cannabis, he said the race for innovation began when hash and its forms of consumption improved.
“People are making better hash, and it became this symbiotic relationship between hash, technology and consumption trends.” He called Puffco a beautiful story of innovation at the cross-section of plant and technology.
“Cannabis has always needed technology to work with humans. We have to cook it, wash it, or press it to consume it. We have to put it through some type of process to be able to feel the effects of what cannabis has to offer. Technology has been a part of consumption going back to as soon as humans discovered this plant.”
Volodarsky now has a 17-person product department with professionals from industrial designers to electrical engineers.
“They’re all deeply curious and have to do all of the tests for Puffco products. We do the absolute best in the industry to protect the flavor, they’ve smoked tons of hash with me.” He said his team has been instrumental in streamlining the supply chain and in Puffco’s growth. When the time came, they went to manufacturing experts to finish the process.
“We went to the top three or four biggest factories in the world that are making Xbox (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Apple(NASDAQ:AAPL) devices in China, with a 90% completed design and we let them make up the rest of it as they see fit from their supply chain. We’re not leaving them much room. We ask them to complete the rest of the design to have an efficient supply chain. But the magic, the absolute magic of what we do is our product department and the operations team that supports them.”
All About The Flavor
The biggest problem, Volodarsky said, was in the early days and the fact that most people weren’t aware of how complex it is to make hash.
“If you go back ten years, people were torching, dropping really large amounts down, and sometimes passing out. People have the impression that hash is something that you go to for strength. But for us, its flavor and how it fits into the day and the way that we communicate back to people is by working on our community.”
Now, things have changed as the community gains understanding. “We have a highly engaged community that understands this experience better and communities become advocates for the experience. Any other way is really hard to do. It’s not like we can advertise on Hulu. We don’t have that luxury. All we have is our community and the advocates within that community. We leverage them as much as possible not to tell our story, but to tell the story of hash.”
“Europe is of interest to us, but it’s going to take some time for Germany to release its recreational program. We look at markets that already have an existing hash culture such as Barcelona, where it’s massive. The people there that are consuming this new modern hash is a large group now for us,” he said.
“We’re not going there because we want to sell them a ton of Puffco devices. We’re going there because we want to ensure that these markets understand what a good hash experience is and that they see value in it.”
Global expansion is less about the money the company can make today and more about the markets that will be created a decade from now.
This is why the company invests in smaller markets such as Uruguay. “That market will likely not be able to pay us back on our investment in it for a very, very long time, if ever. But if we know that there is a good culture of cannabis in hash there, other countries will also develop that culture. And when there’s momentum there, that’s when Puffco can step in and make our devices available to people.”
Fostering A Hashish Culture
“We’re just trying to foster a hash culture around the world, beyond the recreational market or boiling it down to where can we make money. We’re looking at that as a question to be answered five years from now, not today. Where we think it will be in five years is where we’re investing today,” Volodarsky concluded.
Photo Credits: Roger Volodarsky, Yarygin on Shutterstock and photo on LinkedIn.