Amir Hakak – Founder & CEO
Geoff Habicht – President & Co-Founder
Smoking Vapor, now “Mi-One® Brands”
How did Smoking Vapor get started?
Amir: I had moved to the United States from Israel where smoking was very common. During a barbecue in my own backyard, I noticed my friends giving me the stink eye for smoking a cigarette right next to everyone. I was making them food, and they still had a problem with me smoking.
Geoff: That moment was an eye opener for Amir. It made him realize how unaccepted smoking was in the United States. That feeling of being ostracized as a smoker in his own home paired with a chance meeting with a friend who showed him an ecig for the first time, lead to him being able to quit smoking in a matter of weeks.
Amir: At that time, I didn’t even want to quit smoking cigarettes. The ecig worked so well, I didn’t even have to try. I found vaping to be so easy. It was cleaner and no one was giving me a hard time about smelling like an ashtray. So that’s when I started attending some trade shows and getting really excited about the product. The owner of the company Smoking Everything, who first introduced me to vaping, flew me to Miami, asked me to join him and begin training with his business. He had some kiosks in the mall where I worked for a few months before I knew it was time for me to open my own business. I flew back to Arizona and opened my own business in March of 2009.
When did you decided to start manufacturing your own products?
Amir: From 2009-2010 I was carrying mainly cigalikes and similar products, but we had a lot of customer complaints about the quality and the flavoring. I tried reaching out to the companies to request they make changes and improve their products, but that never happened. So, I called one of my connections that did a lot of business in China and told him to take me to China. I was connected to a few factories there, and in 2010 I started manufacturing Smoking Vapor products. The business quickly grew to 18 kiosks in malls in Arizona, Texas, and California.
When did Smoking Vapor become more than retail?
Amir: In 2013, the malls started to crack down on vaping. You could no longer vape inside and that’s when I happened to meet Geoff.
Geoff: My background is in Fortune 200. One of the people who I worked with at the time ran a PR firm and her son worked for Amir. She ultimately introduced us, and Amir told me all about the product. I was in the process of selling another business and smoking a lot. I tried the ecig that Amir gave me and in just a few weeks, I was able to completely quit smoking. I was blown away and realized there was really something to this. Amir told me he was looking to rebrand and go into some different channels of distribution and asked me if I wanted to help him. We worked together for a little bit and really hit it off. After the sale of my other business, he asked me if I wanted to continue working together. So, I ended up purchasing half of the company, but it was contingent on me going to Burning Man with him. I had no clue what Burning Man was but agreed anyways. Amir told me that if we could survive seven days in the desert together, with no communication from the outside world, then we could probably get along as business partners. It was a wild trip, but we truly did bond over that week and reincorporated the company as SV in January of 2014.
What do you feel has been the most important factor in your success?
Geoff: Amir and I are two halves of the business whole. A wise man once said that “from chaos comes innovation and from process comes progress.” Amir has an uncanny ability to understand the consumer and the products. He also has an intuition about how things need to feel to stimulate all the senses. At the end of the day, the product is not just about how it vapes, but about how it feels in your hand, how it tastes, what the texture is like, and how it smells. All of these tiny details matter, and we take that very seriously. Coupled with my background in engineering and understanding how to put a process in place to operate efficiently and effectively, we together we have both halves – the yin and the yang.
What sets Smoking Vapor apart from similar companies in the industry?
Geoff: Hands down it is our customer service. From day one that has been our number one priority.
Amir: When I started in 2009, I was unknowingly selling a product that was designed to fail. I would sell to customers, and they would return in 2 days telling me that the product stopped working. I didn’t believe in charging my customers for something I didn’t believe in myself. So, I was very aggressive with the supplier I worked with at the time that was supplying me with these products and I told them they needed to back me up and send replacement parts. I would consult with my customers and replace what I could. I built up trust with my customers and that’s what kept them coming back, but ultimately, I knew I need to start making a product that was a higher quality.
Geoff: We stand behind every single product that we design, engineer, manufacture and sell. Our products come with a full warranty and if a customer has any issue, we are here to replace it. I think one of the most unique things about us is that in the hardware business, there are very few American companies. So, if a customer buys a product from company that isn’t located here in the United States and they have an issue, there really isn’t anyone to take care of them or answer their questions – especially not in a timely manner.
One of the things that we are really proud of is that all of our teams – sales, customer service, marketing, warehouse, etc – put forth a lot of love and care to ensure the customer is happy. We are our own customer; we’ve been through products that don’t work and experienced the frustrations of not being able get replacements. By creating a product that replaces somebody’s cigarettes, you a filling a void in their life, so if the product doesn’t work – it’s beyond upsetting. You can ruin your customers day or week or however long it takes for them to get their replacement and you risk them going back to something that is extremely harmful for them.
We do everything that we can to ensure that if a customer ever has a problem, we replace it immediately. All of our distributors and retail stores are encouraged to take care of the customer on the spot and all they have to do is call us at the end of the month how many damages they had, and we will replace every single one.
In staying so transparent with your customers, does that open channel of communication help you make improvements to your products?
Geoff: Absolutely. Knowing that they are going to be taken care of, our customers are more comfortable being honest with us. A lot of times when customers have to call up a company for a replacement, they are not honest because they are afraid they will be denied what they are looking for. When customers know we are here for them, there is this level of vulnerability and transparency that gives us incredible insight into changes we can make on our products. Since we are in control of our manufacturing process, we can make those changes rather quickly – even the most minute changes.
We are also very upfront about changes that we make to our products. If it is something serious enough that we have to fix, we are the first ones to send out an email blast to all of our distributors and customers to let them know they can contact us for a free replacement.
What is your favorite part about working in this industry?
Amir: For me, it’s seeing people get their lives back. Where I am from, we are very open and upfront about everything. If you have lipstick on your face, I will tell you even if I don’t know you. In America people are passive aggressive. So, if you smoke you may start to loose friends who aren’t interested in being around you when you smell strongly of cigarettes. They won’t make a big deal about it, but they’ll just stop calling you or making an effort to spend time with you.
For example, my neighbor Karen is 78 years old and I met her three years ago when I moved in with my family next to her. Karen smokes two packs of cigarettes a day. She the kindest woman – she’s the kind of person who will put my garbage can out for me if she notices I have forgotten. A while ago she started bringing me gifts for Hanukkah, so I returned the favor and always got her something for Christmas. This year I gave her a Smoking Vapor ecig and she was able to stop smoking cigarettes. She came over to talk to me about it and I told her how good she smelled. No smell of smoke. For 60 years she smoked cigarettes and when she came over and we spent thirty minutes together and you would have never known she used to smoke.
Geoff: To summarize that in a bottom-line kind of way, there is an element of joy we get from reconnecting people. For smokers that connection, seemingly through no fault of their own, can be taken away from them. For people to be able to use a product that they get joy out of that also allows them to stay connected – that’s why we are in this business. The success stories light us up.
Amir: We get calls all the time from people who have told us we have changed their lives and it inspires us.
Geoff: We are adding quality to people’s lives and that’s what it is all about.
In an industry of cloud chasers, what inspired you to create the Mi-Pod™?
Amir: The reason we made the Mi-Pod was because in 2013-2014 we saw this huge growth of products that were all about making huge clouds. We wanted to make a product that was cute, small, and sexy for smokers who didn’t care about the clouds. The big box mods were intimidating to non-vapers.
Geoff: We had a word we created around here called vapoesity. Which is like the obesity of vape. When the industry started to get super obnoxious, we knew there had to be a more elegant way. We wanted to create something that was small, but still offered the best flavors and had the battery life to get you through the day. We looked to the trends of the fashion industry to help us create designs that would fit into our customers everyday life, and then we quickly found 50% of our customer base was women. Up until the Mi-Pod, vape hardware had become so industrial. The big box mods came in black or grey or bright racecar red – the industry was ignoring half of its customers that were women looking for something a little softer and more elegant. By serving the entire market with the Mi-Pod we learned so much. We learned how to stay relevant and fresh and took it to the next level by accessorizing it. The Mi-Pod is almost like jewelry. It offers designs that are for every adult smoker or vaper.
Looking forward to the future, what are you most excited about?
Geoff: It’s interesting because since the back half of 2016 we haven’t been able to make or release any new products legally in the US market. We are fortunate that the FDA has told us that the Mi-Pod is one device and that the different colors and skins can continue to be released because the internal components are not changing. It has been challenging in the US market specifically because there has been no enforcement of that rule and so the Chinese manufacturers continue to release new products every week – which is a constant battle to maintain relevance. So in lieu of new devices, we focus on listening to the consumer on new designs for the Mi-Pod™, building stronger relationships, growing brand awareness, and developing merchandising programs to support our retail partners. Going forward a lot of the products we are developing will be going into markets overseas. We are also excited to be in the process rebranding our company from Smoking Vapor to Mi-One® Brands. We believe it is an important step as we have evolved to finally remove the ‘smoking’ connotation from our corporate identity.
With that being said, we do have a sister company within our organization that focuses on the cannabis business. Several years ago, we looked at how outdated the technology was in that space and started figuring out how we could use what we were already engineering and apply it in the cannabis space as well. We have been doing a lot of white labeling for big extractors throughout the cannabis industry and because of that success we are getting ready to release the Wi-Pod™, which has been specifically designed for use with distillate. We believe it is an amazing device and are proud to be able to create products that improve the consumer experience everywhere we can. SVBS
To learn more about Smoking Vapor, visit them online at www.smokingvapor.com, follow them on Instagram (@mionevape) or Twitter (@SMOKINGVAPOR), or subscribe to their YouTube Channel (mionevape).