Sean Raphael and his father Rick Raphael and mother Leslie Fuller are the founders of SLX grinders.
Sean has experience running media production for publicly traded companies, commercial photography, digital marketing and content management. Sean manages both SLX Grinders and Urban Herb, a new company focused on cannabis industry media creation and product promotion. You can find SLX grinders at slxgrinders.com (wholesale) and slxherbgrinders.com (retail). Sean can be found on seanraphael.co or urbanherb.pro, and you can contact him him via [email protected], [email protected], or [email protected]
Rick Raphael has an extensive background in motion pictures and television production going back to the sixties where he grew up in the hippy culture, like so many in our business!
Leslie Fuller, mother, wife and a motion picture makeup artist, was the visionary spiritual force that brought the business together. Her indefatigable enthusiasm and energy for SLX made the business work.
How did SLX Grinders get started?
We started work on SLX in 2011, just after I graduated from UVM. We smoked a lot of joints in college, and our grinders were always getting stuck. Just after graduation, my roommate asked “Why has no one ever made a non-stick grinder?” That was the light bulb moment! I started working on prototypes – sourcing companies for both grinders and coatings. We got about about five working prototypes built, and passed them around to our friends. Everyone loved them – they were a huge hit, with people offering to buy them from us. At that point we knew our non-stick grinder worked, and people were willing to pay for them! Time to stomp the gas pedal!
But then reality set in. We were young, and we didn’t have any idea how to run a physical product business. We didn’t even have the capital to take the prototypes into production. I mentioned our idea to my father, Rick, who asked “Do you think you have a viable business here?” I said “If anything, the market is stronger now than when we started.” So we teamed up, and Rick took SLX from prototype to production in about 9 months. We launched at Champs in July 2014 with Version 1.
What makes SLX Grinders unique?
SLX Grinders are the only grinders with a broad patent that covers non-stick coatings for herb grinders. We have a unique product that does exactly what we say it does, never sticks. Before SLX most grinders were throwaway, disposable accessories.
Our priorities are consumer safety and satisfaction, so finding a coating that works for this application was extremely difficult. Teflon, PTFE, PFOA – basically all the go-to non-stick coatings are toxic when heated and inhaled. So we worked with the largest US coating manufacturer to develop a safe, non-toxic coating that’s durable, low-friction, FDA compliant for food contact – and non-flammable! This type of coating didn’t even exist when we made out prototypes – it’s really cutting edge stuff.
• Our exclusive non-stick coating is applied to every surface of the grinder.
• Curved trapezoidal teeth give SLX a fluffy grind.
• Eliminated one set of threads so the screen slips in and out of the bottom chamber without unscrewing. Customers love this feature!
• Use it as a 4 piece or a 3 piece without the screen.
• Exceptional pollen collection.
• 2 sizes: 2.4” standard and 2.0” pocket size.
• 7 colors: Black, Silver, Charcoal Gray, Champagne Gold, Leaf Green, Purple Haze, Yellow Gold
What is the most challenging part of your career?
We take quality control very seriously. Each grinder must pass multiple QC checks before shipping and we replace any part that fails in use.
My favorite part is when I get a comment from a customer that validates all our work. Something as simple as “I love your grinder – I’ll never use any grinder other than SLX again!” can turn a bad day into a reminder of why I started this journey. Knowing that our product is improving someone’s life in a tangible way, is solving the problem we tackled, makes all the tough days worthwhile.
How do you enjoy spending free time?
Free time? That’s a thing? Jokes aside, I swim 1-2 miles a day. This industry can be stressful – but when I’m in the pool doing laps, all the static is blocked by 300,000 gallons of water. I come out of the pool focused and ready for the next challenge.
We alternate between our beautiful home in southern Vermont and the most exciting neighborhood in New York city, West Greenwich Village. So we have the best of both worlds.
How do you set personal goals for yourself? What is the process like?
Job one is to produce products that enhance the lives of our customers. Revenue growth and geographic expansion are important but at the end of the day my goal is to make someone’s life a little better through continual improvement of our products.
To that end, I spend a lot of my time responding to customer feedback. I handle all of our customer service, so I’m always taking notes on suggestions our customers offer. It’s an incremental process, making small changes that reflect the needs of the end user. Our current model is SLX V2.0, but it’s actually closer to V2.4 with all the modifications we’ve made since launching V2 in 2016.
To what do you attribute your success?
Perseverance, thick skin, a solid team, and unending support from other vendors in the industry. Phil from Empire Glass taught us the ropes of trade shows, Dustin from Dipstick Vapes gave me the run-down on working with suppliers… we’ve learned so much from other vendors. It’s critical that a new company listen when a successful brand offers advice.
An example of the help experienced industry vets can give you is Meryl Work from Flashbacks – with 40 years in the business. Everyone knows Meryl and she’s introduced SLX to all her friends in the retail side, and driven a lot of our expansion. Without the generous support of our friends in the industry, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
On top of that, we have terrific distributors: Master Minded, Kulu (EU market) True Wholesale, Randy’s, and a host of others who keep the product flowing to our retailers.
But my father is the true hero of SLX Grinders. He works day and night to make this business run. From the first production batch through our latest distribution deal, he’s constantly pushing SLX. His energy is the reason SLX is now one of the top-selling grinders worldwide.
How do you measure success?
Personally, it’s as simple as one new happy customer at a time. For the team, we target revenue growth and expansion into new markets. We’re always on the lookout for that next opportunity – whether it’s a high volume distributor relationship, a collaboration with an influential brand (the Shine Papers collaboration was an early milestone) or fresh positive reviews on YouTube.
What are you most proud of so far in your career?
The SLX team suffered a tragic loss in 2017. My mother, Leslie Fuller, passed away in November after a 7 month battle with cancer. I’m extremely proud that we managed to persevere despite losing 1/3rd of our team, and the most important person in our lives. She treasured SLX, and continued coming to trade shows right up to the end. All the buyers loved Leslie!
She was the glue that brought all the parts together – our bedrock. She was person who always said “don’t give up – this is just a temporary setback. You can do it,” any time we hit a snag. I’m proud of her and that our team pulled together to keep SLX growing even when things were at their absolute worst.
How are you involved in your local community?
With the launch of Urban Herb, we’re featuring local glass artists and other startup innovators. We have a background in commercial and fine art photography, so I started doing glass photography at trade shows for artists who couldn’t afford to get their work professionally photographed. Urban Herb is taking this over, and we’ll be promoting up and coming artists who couldn’t otherwise get the exposure needed to break into the scene. We received a lot of help along the way, and Urban Herb is going to pay that back in any way we can.
Looking forward to the future, what are you most excited about? What are you most concerned about?
We’re most excited about SLX Version 3. It’s a pretty hush-hush product, but we think it’s going to be a significant step forward in grinder design. We’re in early prototype phase now, and hope to launch some time in the next year.
On the Urban Herb side, we’re excited to accelerate content production and really help push new and innovative brands into the mainstream.
As far as concerns, we just hope our suppliers can keep up with demand! We’re expanding so rapidly that we’re adding additional manufacturing capacity just to keep up with our existing client base, while keeping an eye on the horizon to make sure we deliver enough units to keep store shelves stocked.
If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out in this industry, what would it be?
JUST START. Don’t wait. There’s never a perfect time to launch your product or brand. Your product will never be perfect. You can only progress by getting a product to market and iterating based on how the market responds. Go to the industry events – everything from the major trade shows like CHAMPS, to local meet-up events in your city. Network. Listen. Develop relationships. Talk to people about your idea. But most importantly – get your idea out of your head and into the hands of customers. Stop dreaming and start doing.
Hey – it worked for us.