The first few months of 2020 have been a rough time for vaporizers. Just as the mysterious vaping illnesses linked to chemicals in black-market hash oil slowed, the COVID-19 pandemic began. While neither medical crisis was directly tied to vaporizing flower, both have impacted how vaporizer companies like DaVinci operate.
A Nevada-based company that produces handheld vapes for herbal use, DaVinci has been forced to navigate obstacles in both public health and marketing over the last year, and according to CEO Cortney Smith, the hurdles don't end there. We caught up with Smith to learn more about the future of vaping.
Westword: What's life been like for a vaping company over the last year? It seemed like the vaping illness crisis was just going away when COVID-19 came around.
Cortney Smith: When you’re in a market that faces as many barriers as cannabis does, you learn to embrace uncertainty and adapt quickly. Over the years we’ve developed a thicker skin and a nimble mindset, and we were ready to roll with the punches that came this year.
Fortunately for DaVinci, we’ve built responsibly, using clean hardware from the start, so during the vaping crisis our customers were confident they could trust our devices. More challenging was when Apple announced a ban on vaping apps, effectively cutting off access to dosage-control features right before we launched our IQ2 device. In response, we invented a solution overnight and created the world’s first Load Your Own & Know Your Dose feature, which provides dosage information right on the device itself instead of relying on an app. In the meantime, our engineers have also been hard at work developing a brand-new app, which we plan to release in the next few weeks.
In every crisis, there is an opportunity. I would argue that the crises of the past year have moved the cannabis industry forward, because the industry is full of creative minds that are all too familiar with the adage “Innovate or die.” As a result of COVID-19, we’ve already seen retailers pivot to omni-channel shopping and brands shift to virtual events. I predict that some companies will come out of this stronger than before.
How have either affected sales or your business strategy?
It has absolutely impacted our business strategy. As a brand that relies both on dispensary traffic and digital traffic, we’ve had to get creative to continue reaching consumers. Cannabis brands are banned from the traditional avenues of digital advertising, including Facebook Ads and Google AdWords, so we have focused on our social media strategy to continue engaging and educating consumers outside the store experience.
It’s been working. Our e-commerce sales have doubled, and it’s encouraging to see that our customers are embracing online shopping. The demand for cannabis is still there, especially as more people look to cannabis as a solution for well-being and comfort.
We’ve also recognized the implications of COVID-19 on hygiene. Sharing devices has always been a part of cannabis culture, but seemingly overnight, the norm has shifted to individual consumption, meaning everyone should have their own personal vaporizer. To help address this need, we offered our MIQRO at a lower price point — the first time we’ve sold a vaporizer for less than $100 — and we’ve seen a huge uptick in online sales for the device. People are searching for ways to consume individually while social distancing, and we’re glad we can support responsible consumption.
Ten years ago, the term "vaporizer" largely meant some desktop device with a tube or a bag attached to it. Now you have intricate handheld devices and vape pens. When you think of a vaporizer, what comes to mind?
It’s been a journey! I founded DaVinci in 2011, and even then I knew there had to be a better alternative to the devices on the market at the time. The impetus for creating DaVinci in the first place was to design a portable device that would make vaping more accessible and user-friendly. I’m proud that the DaVinci Classic still holds up today, even as we continue releasing new iterations.
When I think of a vaporizer, I think of an engineering feat. The human ingenuity that it takes to fit such a complex, sophisticated mechanical process into a compact device has never stopped amazing me. Today we have devices that surpass the standards of traditional consumer technology companies like Apple and LG. My hope is that we will soon reach a point where mainstream consumers equate vaporizer devices with innovation and quality, and DaVinci will continue leading that charge.
Are these machines all performing the same process — vaporization?
It really depends on the technology approach that is being used. Not all things called vaporizers are created equal, nor do all vaporize. For instance, if the device has an exposed heating element, it is likely flash-heating to a surplus of 600 degrees, and therefore combusting. However, if a machine offers precise temperature control below 430 degrees, whether utilizing a conduction or convection method, it is essentially vaporizing. The difference comes down to the quality of the materials being used, which has an effect on heat-up time, safety and flavor.
What is your favorite temperature to vape flower or concentrate at?
I'm a flavor chaser, so I like to keep it low and slow. With flower, my go-to temperature is 365 degrees to start, and I slowly ratchet up to 385 degrees over a period of time, usually ten minutes. With concentrates, I tend to start a little higher, around 385 degrees, and go up to 430 degrees. Most notably, flavor and intensity changes with temperature, with lower temperatures offering more pronounced flavors for a longer time period, as the terpenes are not being destroyed by the heat. Of course at different temperatures, different cannabinoids are also peeled off, lending to a heavier "high" feeling at higher temperatures, as well.
I noticed your vaporizer performs aromatherapy — something mine allegedly does as well — but I've never really explored that option. How does aromatherapy work with a vaporizer?
Vaporizing cannabis is akin to aromatherapy. You are using heat to activate the same terpenes that are found in herbs such as lavender, rosemary and chamomile. Vaporizing these herbs alone has substantial health benefits, but when paired with cannabis, it can completely change the terpene profile of the strain you are vaping, and therefore change the feeling garnered.
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