Mark Collen grew up in Aspen before snowboarding was a thing. His entrepreneurial spirit got its start on the mountain.
"When I was a kid, snowboards hadn't happened yet," he recalls. "My brother and I got some business cards and just started selling these things. We called up Jake Burton, and it was just him making them, and we got an exclusive in the whole Rolling Fork Valley...and it was just me and my brother. Those were the early entrepreneurial days. It kind of dates me, but that's where it all started."
Today he's the man behind SilverStick, a marijuana one-hitter company that he runs out of his house in Boulder.
Collen was in India when Colorado legalized cannabis, and says he felt drawn to come home and contribute to the cannabis marketplace in some way. "People were high-fiving me when they found out I was from Colorado," he recalls. "It felt like I had to come back and do this."
Collen had always enjoyed smoking flower more than other forms of marijuana, but now found himself envying the vaporizer crowd who could load it, charge it and take it with them anywhere. He wanted flower smokers to be able to have that same experience.
"I like smoking flower, and I thought it would be nice to have it all together in a bite-sized container," he says. "You can put it in your front pocket or purse."
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Collen developed the original model in 2014, after he came home from the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. He'd take that prototype model out on hiking trips or to other music festivals, and his friends grew attached to the product.
Collen had met his current business partner, Shannon Thomas, when they attended the University of Colorado in Boulder. "When I first had the idea, we were bouncing it around," Collen says. Thomas had worked in tech, launching web-based services and products, but always had an interest in retail, particularly accessories. His excitement grew as he realized that this was a product he would love to have himself.
The result was SilverStick, made from an airline-grade aluminum-based alloy. "I wanted it to feel good in your hand," Collen says. "Each step along the way, using good materials matters." But the SilverStick also takes health into consideration: The base unscrews so you can fit a replaceable filter in the bottom, which reduces the amount of tar.
SilverStick comes in a leather pouch, with a silver lighter and plastic container to hold extra weed. There's also a poker and a cover for the hitter. "It's nice that every piece gets used," Collen says. The leather pouch even has drawings on the inside to indicate where each item fits.
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For cannabis users, it's easy to tell when a product is created by a fellow toker. "It's all about providing the right experience through design," Collen says. "As it starts to wear, it's like it becomes yours at some point. The leather gets worn into your shape.
"When you're smoking, it's nice to not have to think about every little piece you need to put together. There's something about keeping it organized. When you're stoned, you lose things; it's just part of the deal," he says, laughing. "It's nice to have those etchings, because it's an extra reminder that...you need to ask for the lighter back or it won't be a complete kit."
But smoking isn't just for the casual smoker, Thomas points out. He wanted something a business professional would be proud to carry around. "This is one of those things that's a little bit transcending," he explains. "You could find it in any store, not necessarily a head shop."
For now, you can find SilverStick at the Herban Underground and online. The leather covers come in brown and black, but there are plans for other colors and different finishes for the cases, as well as a smaller one-hitter. Find out more at thesilverstick.com.