For over a decade, the team behind PAX Labs has been steadily reimagining what it means to vape. Once a novelty confined to the fringes of smoking culture, vaporizing has emerged in recent years as a more refined experience for those who enjoy loose leaf pleasures and e-cigarettes mainstream alternative to cigarettes.
What started as a thesis project at Stanford's product design program, PAX was introduced in 2012 as a simple, portable loose-leaf vaporizer—an elegant alternative to the desktop models and overdesigned options on the market. Dubbed the "iPhone of vaporizers" by TechInsider, PAX Labs has been on the forefront of defining a design aesthetic for smokers beyond head shops and seedy underground coffee shops traditionally associated with smoking marijuana. In a nascent market with huge potential, PAX Labs is leading the conversation with their thoughtful approach to packaging, storytelling and design engineering. With the introduction of their e-cigarette JUUL and a smaller, lighter PAX2 in 2015, the company is making strong headway in reinventing the overall experience for smokers.
Below, we speak with Core77 Conference keynote speaker and PAX Labs co-founder and Chief Product Officer James Monsees on how he decided to take hi student thesis project from concept to market, how the vaporization market has changed over this decade-long journey and what the future might hold for PAX Labs.
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Core77: You co-founded PAX Labs (then Ploom) soon after graduating from Stanford's Product Design Program. What were some of the factors you considered in making a decision to take your thesis project to market?
James Monsees: Adam [Bowen] and I graduated from the Stanford Product Design Program. I worked at the d.school after graduating while also working on Ploom. We saw a huge unmet need and resonance with friends, family and team members who used early, low resolution prototypes of our product. The big question at the time was whether or not investors would understand the opportunity, given it was in a space that wasn't frequently pitched. We prototyped that question with some early meetings and built some confidence, knowing that while financial support would be a difficult challenge, it could be achieved. From there it was game on.
What does the team at PAX Labs look like?
Diverse! This is a complicated business. We have all the hurdles and challenges of several companies all rolled into one. We manage the complete product and brand architecture, research and development, manufacturing, distribution, customer service, compliance and regulatory affairs and more. It is a dynamic environment where people with vastly different backgrounds work and play together to solve what we all believe is an enormous problem and opportunity.
PAX2 is a portable loose-leaf vaporizer that is sleek enough to fit in a pocket and sits nicely with other personal technology on the market.
The PAX2 vaporizer is sleek enough to blend in with other consumer electronics but a standout in the category, not to mention some nice surprises embedded into the product for a unique user experience (the lights and easter egg interactions). How did you decide on the look and feel of the vaporizer? Why add the extra layer of experience?
The look and feel of PAX was an early bet we placed. We believed that there were a lot of people who resonated with vaporization but not with products and brands that were marketed and designed towards more advanced, experienced users. We believed regulatory changes were on the horizon, which would help facilitate broader conversations amongst people who were rapidly becoming more personally engaged with technology they carried with them. We recognized our technology had a unique place in the quiver of stuff that people would carry and value…it should be the most fun thing you can have in your pocket. The team got really into that idea and started adding a bunch of little surprises, and we all loved it.
JUUL is a lightweight closed-system vaporizer that utilizes flavored nicotine salt pods
You've been working on refining PAX for over a decade — what have been some of the biggest shifts in consumer expectations for the vaporization industry?
There have been incredible changes in the industry over that time. When we got started, a vaporizer was predominantly a desktop appliance and e-cigarettes were novelties not yet available in the US. These days, vaporization is a household concept and we like to think we have played an important role in making that happen. We fully expect the pace of change to continue. We expect a near term future where burning things and inhaling them is viewed as just as silly as it sounds.
With your new CEO in place (Tyler Goldman from Dezeer and Buzzmedia), what new directions is PAX hoping to expand into in its mission to "making smoking obsolete"?
We have a lot of ideas up our sleeve. In general it's all about the consumer journey for us. The markets we play in are still at fairly early stages of the big evolutionary pushes we're seeing right now. We're a company with too much opportunity. Our plan is to retain focus on our two brands (PAX and JUUL), to expand and to improve the consumer experience with each of these brands, and to offer new experiences that push the bounds of what these products can do for people. If we succeed in continuing to offer magic to consumers, we expect smoking to become clearly antiquated by contrast.